Larry Turville’s Slice Backhand

In the autumn of life, I wanted to be a tournament tennis player. The shot I wanted most was a good slice backhand “as repeatable, as simple, as breath itself.” A slice backhand that was “easy on the body, the mind.” That’s what I wrote of Ken Rosewall’s backhand. That was Larry Turville’s slice backhand, too. Turville was the best 60-year-old tennis player in the world when I first started playing senior tournaments. His slice backhand was legendary. As one player wrote: “I had never encountered a shot like that before. It was so penetrating, it felt like the ball died on my racket.” Larry did not do anything special on the backhand. He just did it better than anyone else. Plant the left foot, get great shoulder turn with the racquet high, really come through the ball, extending the other arm out for balance. Lean on it like a wrestler pinning his opponent to the mat.

To lean hard into life is what Turville did through the sport of tennis. He played at Wimbledon and the French Open. He was the head coach at Rice for 18 years. Most famously, he started the first professional Satellite circuit along with his close friend, Armistead Neely, so that serious tennis players would have more tournaments to play. That backhand skidding hard crosscourt. Or will it be his backhand sidewinder down the line with its insidious spin. Or the sudden dropper on the red clay in Germany where Larry and his wife, Kelli, represented T.C. Wolfsburg for the final decade of his life. The best year of my own life was spent with Jacque, my wife, in Germany. (She, like Larry, has recently passed away.) I taught American Literature there at the University of Mainz while making new friends playing tennis. I imagine I’m there now watching Larry Turville hit that majestic slice backhand, hoisting a beer in a toast of respect. I watch his backhand again and again. There’s no place I’d rather be.

Artist Bio for Carolyn Bolton: Twenty years ago, I took art lessons for a short time and learned how to do graphite portraits.  After doing all 10 of my grandchildren and several gifts for family and friends, I began getting commissions.   I enjoy working in oil as well and have done cats, dogs, horses, baseball players, tennis players,  landscapes, etc.  It thrills me to capture in art a special memory of a person, place or thing. 

Some of the information for this piece was taken from the National Senior Men’s Tennis Association Website. Larry Turville played a big role in helping to make this organization what it is today.  For a video of Larry Turville explaining how he hits his slice backhand, click here. For a video of Larry Turville playing Vishnu Maharaj in Men’s 70 singles, click here. For a video of of Larry Turville playing Padg Bolton, Carolyn Bolton’s (the artist’s) husband, in Men’s 65 singles click here. These last two videos are from Mike Lammens great UTube Channel of tennis matches.

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