Something came over Gordon Davis in the second set Sunday. Came over his opponent, Jim Perley, too. And the crowd of 500 surrounding the Lindborg Racquet Club's center court.
"I said, 'What the hell is that?' " Davis said.
An odor, it was. Quite foul. But like an adrenaline gush, Davis soon broke Perley's service and won his first USTA singles title with a 6-4, 6-4 victory in the final of the National Hard-Court Championships for men 45 and over.
For Davis and the club, which is located in an industrial area in Huntington Beach, this was the best of times. Davis, seeded sixth, defeated a man seeded two places higher, won his first USTA gold ball, and finally shook the anxiety that had overwhelmed him in big tournaments in the past.
Club owner Lenny Lindborg, for his part, no longer has to deal with the junkyard, trash dump and mushroom farm that had surrounded his club for years. Now his club has become attractive enough to hold a tournament of this kind. The only distractions that remained were trains, planes, a sawmill and shooting range, and the good people at the sawmill had agreed to shut down for the weekend.
"Sometimes the wind takes the sawdust and blows it all over the courts," said Lindborg, muted gunshots ringing in the background. "You couldn't have picked a worse place to build a tennis facility."
Sunday's odor? Reportedly, it came from the landfill across the street.
"I tried not to let the distractions bother me," Davis said. "The planes. The odor. It smelled like gas."
The veteran that he is, though, Davis, 50, handled the elements. He also mastered Perley, but not as easily.
Both serve-and-volley players, they were tied at 4-4 in the first set before Davis finally broke Perley's service. He would serve out the set and break Perley only once in the second set. But that was enough, as both players were such strong servers that there were few rallies.
"It all depended on a service break," said Perley, who is from Coronado. "I had an awfully hard time with his serve, and I think he did with mine. It was just a matter of grouping enough points together (to win back-to-back games)."
In the doubles final, Bob Duesler and Jim Nelson of Newport Beach defeated Dick Leach and Ron Livingston of Laguna Beach, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6.
Perley, 53, wears sunglasses and looks like he walks without his knees bent. Altogether, he didn't look like a threat to the more agile Davis. A winner of three previous USTA national tournaments, however, Perley had a service that kept Davis off balance all day. The first serve was hard and sat close to the court. Davis had more trouble, though, with Perley's second serve, which was softer but more loping.
"I just couldn't get ahold of his second serve for a long time," said Davis, who is from Santa Monica. "It was just sitting there, but I couldn't do anything with it."
Neither could Perley with Davis'. Perley brought Davis to deuce several times, but never broke his service, something that Davis said happened only twice during the tournament.
The father of Scott Davis, a pro who has been ranked as high as 17th in the world, Gordon said he has played in only four of five national tournaments. When he was in his 30s, Davis said, he was too busy helping Scott's career, and even now, as a stockbroker, he usually can't afford to take a week off for each tournament. He has played Perley twice before, and won both times. But in the national tournaments Davis has never reached the quarterfinals.
"I've found a way of losing in these things before," Davis said. "I got in there and tried 15 or 20% harder than I should, and that doesn't work. You have to stay on an even keel."
In Sunday's match, Davis stayed within his game. Perley placed his volleys well enough that Davis was often running, but he was in control. Until the final point, that is, when Davis let out a Rambo-like "Yeaaaaahhh," and threw his fists in the air.
"He was very hungry to get this," said Perley, a mechanical engineer who, as did Davis, graduated from USC. "The goal of all seniors is to win a gold ball."
Scott Davis would be proud of his father's victory over Perley. Too bad the announcer called him Scott Davis when he gave him the gold ball.
"Yeah, I heard it," Gordon said. "I just didn't want to say anything. But that's OK. As long as they call me Scott, Gordon or Gordon Jr. Let's just keep it in the family."