Tennis: 87-year-old Danville player continues to rise in rankings, place high in tourneys
Dr. John Baird, left, poses with doubles partner Russell Fink after the two won the men¿s 85 division in a United States Tennis Association Category II¿tournament in Wheeling, W.Va., last month. Baird also won the singles back draw in his division, doing both on his 87th birthday. (July 27, 2012)
He says he’s playing the best tennis of his life, and at his age that’s saying something.
At 87, Dr. John Baird is on top of his game, rising in the United States Tennis Association regional and national rankings thanks to a series of strong showings in tournaments this year.
“This is one of the best years I’ve ever had,” Baird said. “I’m playing the best tennis I’ve ever played in my life.”
The retired Danville physician has been playing tennis at a high level for some time now, traveling to tournaments throughout the eastern United States and finishing at or near the top in many of them.
His most recent success came last weekend in North Carolina, where he and partner Ben Moore repeated as doubles champions and he won the consolation bracket in singles in the men’s 85 divisions at the prestigious City of Asheville Open Tennis Championships, the second-oldest tournament in the nation.
The points Baird earned in Asheville boosted him to No. 1 in doubles and No. 2 in singles in the men’s 85 standings in the USTA Southern Section, which encompasses nine states and is the largest of the USTA’s 17 sections nationwide.
He is ranked sixth in doubles, ninth in individual doubles and 21st in singles nationwide in his age group, and he is ranked No. 1 in singles in South Carolina — where he lives for about half the year — and No. 2 in Kentucky.
And he said he thinks he knows why things have been going so well for him of late.
“I’m playing smarter, that’s the main thing,” Baird said. “I didn’t begin having any tennis instruction until after I turned 60 years old, and it takes a really long time to pick up what a pro can help you with. I think I probably have a wider arsenal of shots now, too. But the main thing, I think, is persistence.”
Baird’s big year started in January, when he won a singles championship at the Southern Seniors Winter Indoor Open in Nashville, Tenn.
He played tournaments in Florida and South Carolina in the spring, then teamed with Russell Fink to win the doubles title in at the Jack Dorsey Memorial Senior Open Category II Championships in Wheeling, W.Va., one of about 20 Category II tournaments around the nation. He also won the singles back draw in Wheeling.
Last year, he won a bronze ball for a third-place finish in doubles with Newt Meade in the USTA National Men’s 70, 85 & 90 Clay Court Championships in Pinehurst, N.C.
Baird says he’s enjoying tennis as much as ever, not just because of his success but because of the friendships he has made.
“I know so many people now,” he said.
He played in nine states from New Jersey to Florida last year. He said he’s willing to go to tournaments wherever he can find them.
“There’s just not too many tournaments for older people here,” he said.
Baird will be in suburban Boston next month for the USTA National Men's 85 & 90 Grass Court Championships, and he plans to play in a couple of tournaments in Louisville later this year.
Baird says he has always been active — he played baseball and basketball in college and served as a team doctor for local high schools and for Centre College teams.
“I’ve always like athletics and always tried to encourage young people to participate,” he said.