||Torben Ulrich – Athlete And Sage
By Beverly Boyarsky
Reprinted courtesy of Eugene Scott
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Tennis Week interviewed Torben Ulrich, philosopher, athlete, musician, writer, moviemaker.
Known as the "Renaissance man of tennis", Torben has been a world-class player for three decades, and played a record 98 Davis Cup matches for Denmark between the years of 1948 and 1968.
At age 45 he emerged as a dominant figure on the Senior's scene. With his powerful game plus personal warmth, Torben is one of the more colorful and popular players on the tour.
TW: Who got you started in the game of tennis?
TV: I guess that my father was probably the reason I played. Who knows what the reason was, but maybe if that was the reason certainly that is why sometimes I didn't play! The whole family background was a lot of ball playing so it seemed to come early. Even when I was in the baby carriage, my family took me to different tournaments to watch Dad play soccer and cricket. I don't think I ever started playing seriously, and I don't know if I ever will.
TU: I don't know, but there are so many other things. I'm still hoping to look into dance, theatre, horticulture or even metallurgics. I can hardly think of anything I wouldn't like to try.
One of the difficulties for me with tennis was that I was always interested in so many other things, that either I tried to get it all in, or I would simply have to stop the tennis for awhile. There were years when I played much more music than tennis or hung out with poets. I'm interested in different kinds of spiritual disciplines and philosophies. There is always a question of whether to do all that, but you run the danger of it becoming too superficial, or as they say, "skimming the surface."
TW: I understand you have a musical background.
TU: I played the clarinet for a while with a New Orleans-type band in the early days. I then went into contemporary music like Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane. I also wrote reviews for a Danish music magazine and newspaper. I came over to the U.S. to study jazz, on the sax and flute, and became interested in chamber music.
TW: Do you play music as much as you'd like to?
TU: Certainly not in the last ten years. I'm travelling so much with the Grand Masters circuit and cannot, as they say, "keep up your lip." You must make certain choices, and that's okay too!
TW: You went on a retreat last weekend. Could you tell me something about a retreat and what a day is like there?
TV: I've been interested, since my school days in the 40's, of following different religions and traditions of the world. I've been studying them over the years with different teachers. Then at a certain stage in the very early 70's, I became more interested in the approach of the Tibetan style of teaching, somewhat to my surprise. I have become involved in different monasteries all over the world practicing this particular way. One place in the East is a monastery in Woodstock. Jeff Borowiak and I have been up there on a number of occasions doing a few clinics and being part of the community. Last year I was the touring pro from Woodstock. Whenever we are in the area we pay a visit and play exhibitions.
The day at the retreat depends on the tour. It consists of sitting, running and practicing strokes, or a reasonable blend of all of them. If I'm not affected by the tour, I get up at 4 am and sit, meditate and pray throughout the day.
TW: How do you stay in such terrific condition?
TU: I don't think I keep in good shape, but I do try to get some running in and I try not to eat too much. I don't have a certain regimen, if that's what you mean. Since I'm involved so much with Buddhism, music and tennis, it is not easy to make it regulated.
Basically, I watch what I eat. I don't eat anything automatically. I maintain a certain observation when I'm on the road, but it becomes increasingly difficult to be fussy.
TW: How often have you competed this year on the Grand Masters circuit?
TU: I've been playing a little less than last year. You see, when the tour began last fall, I was following the Buddhist teachers in the area. I also had some difficulty with the cartilage in my knee, so I needed to rest it and sacrifice playing to get it back into shape up in the mountains. I really enjoy the tour tremendously, though.
TW: What, in your opinion, was your greatest career win?
TV: I don't think I have any great wins. . . so that takes care of that.
TW: How do tennis fans of today compare to fans of years back?
TU: I don't think that there has been that much of a difference really. In terms of what people are asking, though, related to fitness, etc., it is different. Fifteen years ago people were less concerned with that aspect of the game, but now people are really into nutrition and are always asking my advice.
By and large, though, you see the same type faces at tournaments that were there many years ago. It's still bourgeois entertainment all over the world, but the numbers of people watching has increased.
TW: What aspect of the game has changed? .
TU: From the players' point of view, the introduction of the qualifying tournament puts a lot of stress on them in the early days of the tournament. You can't enjoy the surroundings anymore. A player used to be invited early on and had a few days to enjoy the country he would be playing in. If you wanted to take a day to sightsee, the ref would say okay without any pressure. It was so much more a sense of adventure. Now, the qualifiers are better trained and in 3-5 days of continuous play, they are ready for the incoming seeded players. Today you can't enjoy those days or catch the flavor would be upfront.
I'm not saying those were the good ole days nor am I saying I wish I was playing now because of the money awarded. We had a different time then. There were other wonderful things that you would acquire, gifts received from the tour rather than just monetary gain.
TW: What do you think of the behavior displayed on the court by today's players and linespeople?
TU: I don't think too much about it, but I'm certainly not offended by it. My feeling is that from a
personal point of view that I make so many continuous mistakes on the court all the time, year-in and year-out that for me not to accept other people's mistakes on the court would not be right. As long as everyone is doing their best, it's good enough for me. We should all try to remember how each one of us makes mistakes and feel compassion for others who are trying their best. My philosophy on bad calls is, rather than being insulted or thinking about it hurting my bank
account, I take it as a challenge to be patient and forgiving. If you practice these disciplines, it will heighten the entire game. Learn to deal with disappointments of our own inadequacies and others.
Concerning player behavior, I don't advocate misbehavior. That's for other people to judge how they want to behave. This is supposed to be a free country. good enough for me.
TW: What do you think of this guarantee controversy?
TU: I think that it is somewhat ironic, of course, that the ATP and the "unionization" of the players partly came from a time when this element was one of the items, but I'm not saying the only one. When the A TP was founded in the late 60's, the idea was that everything would be upfront. The so-called professional players, Gonzalez and Rosewall, weren't accepted as being the same kind of people. Why not? Because they accepted money. Part of the whole conflict was that all of the players wanted to be together in that sense, and the attitude where things were not upfront wasn't right. Of course there was also the aspect where amateur players were invited and, other players weren't, due to race, etc. It was a democratization of that whole thing -- everything had to be up front. In all senses (moral, economic, racial) there was a feeling of being very open and not having any discrimination.
It's a kind of sad reversal to those days that we are almost back to where we have superstars and not so superstars. The industrialization and commercialization of all this has done something to revert to those old days.
I'm not morally offended by it all, but maybe we have to take a look at that, sooner or later and see. There is the players' viewpoint and the sponsors' viewpoint. It could be that the players are quite pleased with it and want millions of dollars.
In the arts, the arts, you have those who will go commercial and you have those who are respected and choose a role of poverty. It is a choice you have to make in religion and philosophy. Sooner or later we have to have something similar in athletics where there are people who will go for the richest stuff and also those who will abstain and would rather just have enough money to live comfortably. It could be coming in the years to come.