RIP Lorne Main, tennis legend

Sad news on Tuesday as Canadian tennis legend Lorne Main has passed away.

Main, 89, died on Monday.

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He was the living embodiment of tennis as the sport for a lifetime.

Back in the days when there weren’t many Canadians in the major events, even in the amateur era, Main was out there.

He won Monte Carlo back in 1954, as an unseeded underdog. That year, he played three of the four Grand Slams  – Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Championships (which was on grass back then). And he reached the third round in all of them.

Main played the US event every year from 1950 to 1958, and played Davis Cup for Canada from 1949-1955, and was the captain between 1956-61.

It was a different world back then; most of his appearances came at the (still thriving) Mount Royal Tennis Club in Montreal. The club, now with Har-Tru courts, had grass courts back then.

It was not an era of packed stadiums; the likes of Vic Seixas, Tony Trabert, Budge Patty and Frank Sedgman would “come to the club” and play.

Seniors king

Main played No. 1 singles and doubles for Cal-Berkeley in the late 1940s, before going on to playing – well, we want to say “pro”, but of course that wasn’t a thing during the “shamateur” era.

But it was in the seniors ranks that Main became a legend.

According to the ITF’s records, Main started playing the seniors in 1986, when he was a young pup in the 55-and-overs, and won the world singles title. He played seniors for 30 years – all the way until 2016 – and was ranked No. 1 in basically every age category through that period.

Main won over 40 titles in the singles, doubles, mixed and team events at the ITF senior world championships. On four occasions, in a single tournament, he swept the individual singles and doubles, as well as the title for Canada with his teammates.

Main in action at the ITF world seniors in Turkey in 2008. He was playing John Powless, an American serve-volley a foot taller and two years younger, in the 75-and-over singles final, It remains the most incredible seniors match I’ve ever watched. Powless prevailed – 7-5, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (3). Now 87, Powless (and his superb silvery mane) are still going strong, having just won the doubles with King Van Nostrand at the just completed world super-seniors in Croatia.

 

He was given the first award for “Outstanding Services to Seniors Tennis” as the ITF champions’ dinner at the 2012 French Open.

(A photo gallery of his seniors exploits can be found here).

Main’s last seniors world title came in mixed doubles with the equally-fabulous Montrealer, Rosie Asch, in Umag, Croatia four years ago.

Have rackets, will travel

(Screenshot: Tennis Canada YouTube video)

Main was the ultimate tennis mercenary – and we mean that in the best way.

For years, he travelled around in a 1998 Chrysler Sebring convertible that had more than 200,000 miles on it. His wheels didn’t actually have an official address, so he could be hard to track down. But you knew when he was in town.

If you wanted him to play for you, or with you, you just had to get him there. 

“Another friend took me to Europe one year. Sometimes you meet these wealthy guys that want to play doubles and they say — ‘I’ll pay all the bills.’ And I say: Let’s go,” Main told the National Post back in 2012.

A second chance, well taken

He never shied away from talking about his problems with alcohol as a younger man. He married his wife Ivy back in 1951. She died while still in her early 40s.

Main was an ad salesmen for the now-defunct Toronto Telegram newspaper at the time. 

“Ivy died from it in July 1974. I kept drinking until John Robertson, a great writer with the Telegram, got a hold of me and got me into Alcoholics Anonymous,” Main told the Post. “I haven’t had a drink since October 1974. Ivy didn’t get a second chance, but I did.”

He made the most of that second chance. Main was pretty popular with the ladies – especially the younger ladies on the seniors circuit.

He pretty much existed on Mars Bars and coffee for much of his life. All of which made the fact that he lived so well, so long – and played so long as well – all the more impressive. He had a lot of people who always made sure he was all right, devoted friends for decades. 

The man clearly had a cast-iron stomach. It was only in the last few years that his body finally let him down.

You couldn’t have asked for a more splendid, generous fellow to senior newbies (including yours truly, at the time) and veterans, kings and minions alike. He left a mark with every single person who was ever lucky enough to cross paths with him.

Sincere condolences to Main’s partner, Adrienne Avis of Australia, four children and four grandchildren.

Avis, a top seniors player in her own right and one who played at the Grand Slam level as a younger woman, was the doubles and mixed champion in the 65s category at the ITF world super-senior championships last month.

RIP, Lorne. And may you kick some butt up there, where you’ll surely run into a lot of people you’ve met along the way who’ll want you as a ringer.  

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