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To Opponents, Clark Gets Better With Age : Tennis: Laguna Beach resident, 68, is a player to watch at the USTA Hardcourts this week in Newport Beach.

October 07, 1994|LON EUBANKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH — Doris Clark glides easily around the tennis court, showing the grace-with-stamina of a natural athlete.

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She looks in perfect physical condition for someone 68, even though she eats ice cream a couple times a day and still smokes a cigarette when she comes off the court.

"And I have a cocktail every evening," she says, smiling.

But she knows she is fortunate. She insists it is tennis that helps keep her fit. That, she said, and a metabolism that allows her to eat "just about anything" without gaining weight.

Clark is ranked No. 2 in the nation in the women's 65 singles, and is the top-seeded player in her division in the United States Tennis Assn. National Hardcourts being played this week at Newport Beach Tennis Club.

Clark, who has lived in Laguna Beach for seven years, has advanced to today's semifinals and is likely to be in Saturday's 9:30 a.m. championship match unless her backhand deserts her. At this stage, she has lost only four games in three matches against good competition.

Despite her success, she doesn't regard herself as "a serious player," since she competes in relatively few tournaments each year.

"I'm serious when I'm on the court, but I don't play that many tournaments," she said. "I'm just playing in four this year, and I'm not sure I'll play in any next season. I don't go from tournament to tournament the way Dodo Chaney does."

Clark was referring to the almost legendary Chaney, 78, her counterpart in the tournament's 75 division who says she still plays an average of two tournaments a month, including eight national championship events each year.

"I really enjoy just playing tennis with my friends most of the time," Clark said. "But it's nice to do this once in a while just to be able to see where I stand against the top players."

Clark won the national hardcourts in the 65s last year, even though it was one of only three tournaments she played.

"Playing a lot of tournaments is really hard work," she said. "I don't know how the people who play the pro tours today can do it, as demanding as that is."

No matter. The other nationally prominent players in the senior division have high praise for her game, regardless of how often she plays.

They say her speed and quickness is what makes her such a force.

"She's like a little jack rabbit out there," said Chaney, who lives in Santa Monica. "Her speed is her strength. Anyone who moves the way she does has a big advantage in senior tennis."

Another player, Grace Bassett of Washington, agrees. "She's very distinctive because she's very fast, very graceful and very intelligent as a player," Bassett said. "It's unique in senior tennis for someone to have all three of those qualities in their game. And she plays hard all the time with total integrity, and that helps her opponents raise the level of their game, too. I wish I had a chance to play her more often, but I've never been able to get more than a couple games in a match against her."

Her tournament doubles partner for more than 10 years, Piyachart Hussey of Laguna Hills, appreciates the way she's "tough-minded and competitive, but so pleasant at the same time."

Hussey added: "And everyone knows about how fair she is with her line calls."

Clark has enjoyed the opportunities the game has given her. She has played in several International Tennis Federation events, and traveled extensively playing the game. She has played in China and in several European countries, and is planning a trip to Africa next year.

She began playing at 12, and was No. 1 ranked in Southern California in the 15s, and in the top five in the 18s. But she didn't play much competitively after she married and started a family.

She said she was busy with her children when they were growing up, but then started playing in tournaments again in her mid-40s.

Her two sisters also played tennis when they were growing up in Venice and Santa Monica. One of her sisters, Marchetta Steiskal, still plays tennis although she is not on the same level with Doris now.

Her other sister, Elaine Kennedy, has multiple sclerosis.

"I try to spend at least one day each week with her," Clark said. "I know how much she would like to be playing tennis or golf now, but she's been very supportive of me. She's more of a hero than I am . . ."

There was a pause and then she said: "I know how very, very lucky I am to be out there playing tennis, and being able to move the way I do."

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