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Marty Katz still playing at 91

October 31, 2007 06:16 PM

Without knowing any such records, it is pure conjecture on my part to say that Marty Katz is the oldest person to win a tournament in this area. Whether he broke any age records or not, it certainly was a notable achievement when Katz, 91, and partner Marty Stockton won the senior mixed doubles club championship last month at the Pretty Brook Tennis Club in Princeton.


It was the fourth title in the past six years for Stockton and Katz. Stockton says that she learns something every time she plays with the nonagenarian.


“I don’t ever have to be concerned. If the ball is anywhere in his territory, he’ll not only get it but it will be a brilliant shot. He places the ball well, has good drop shots, and anticipates where the serve will go. If they play him, they’re going to lose. He amazes me.”


Katz and athletics go back a long ways. Baseball and football were his scholastic sports of choice, and he went on to play baseball at Yale for the legenday Smokey Joe Wood, a Major League Baseball player during the early 20th century. After a stint at semi-pro ball, he began playing tennis and became quite good.


“Volleying was natural. If you can hit or bunt a baseball, you can volley. The forehand was a natural stroke. The serve was easy. The backhand I had to learn – you read somewhere that you’re supposed to change your grip for the backhand. We didn’t have teaching pros back then,” said Katz.


Katz moved around some developing his intellectual side before settling in Princeton and joining Pretty Brook over 30 years ago. He grew up in Hartford, Conn. and served time in the Army a few years after graduating from Yale. He did his graduate work at Stanford and came back east for his doctorate at Harvard in education. He taught at the University of Connecticut and at public schools, and he took semesters to teach and lecture in places like University of Wisconsin and in Taiwan. It was Educational Testing Service, however, that brought him to the Princeton area as a senior research scientist in 1957. He retired in 1992.


Katz laughs that he doesn’t do e-mail or computers except as a word processor, yet he “developed the most interactive computer application of its time in 1968” which was used by thousands of colleges at that time.”


“I played a lot of tennis and did well in tournaments,” he said about his Princeton tennis life. “On my first trip to Princeton, I went to the university courts and made friends there. I was in the finals of most tournaments I entered.”


Over the years, Katz played tennis with Princeton’s Bill Bohen and Pete Carril, and he won doubles tournaments with the late Bayard Jordan. He was a good friend and played frequently with Jim Cryan and then Ken Wilson and Jack Geisel. He played area tournaments, such as the popular Cadwalader Park championships. With an astute mind and memory, he rattles off dates, names and anecdotes with ease.


Injuries have come and gone but that never stopped Katz from playing except for back surgery in 1985. In 1967 when he experienced bad tennis elbow, he just played left-handed and could only lob. He’s had a bad shoulder for many years, which started when pitching in college the best curveball that Coach Wood had seen. It’s the arthritis of his knees that limits his mobility now, and he’s in pain every time he plays. Stopping tennis is not an option for Katz, who says he covers his spot on the court one slow step at a time.


Katz’s wife Dorothy, 89, was also a tennis champion. She won many titles, including the first Mercer County indoor tournament, some Pretty Brook club championships, and mixed doubles with her husband. After three hip replacements, she hasn’t played tennis in many years. They have been married for 62 years and have three sons and seven grandchildren.


Katz laughs as he says, “I keep thinking each year will be my last period, or my last for tennis.”