Tue | Jul 7, 2020

Oliver Clarke: Tennis enthusiast

Published:Thursday | May 28, 2020 | 12:13 AM
From left: Professor Alvin Wint, Professor Marshall Hall, organiser and non-playing captain Tony Gambrill and Oliver Clarke along with The Genie Cup.
From left: Professor Alvin Wint, Professor Marshall Hall, organiser and non-playing captain Tony Gambrill and Oliver Clarke along with The Genie Cup.

Several years ago, I introduced Oliver Clarke to How To Win Without Actually Cheating, a seminal work on gamesmanship written 75 years ago by a Cambridge University academic, Stephen Potter.

Potter demonstrated in a tennis game how you could win by doubting your opponents? accuracy of their line calls, claiming foot faults or even tampering with the scoring. Destroying your opponents? self-confidence meant you had a good chance of winning.

At the time, I partnered Oliver in a Sunday morning Liguanea Club tennis game against Dr Marshall Hall and Charlie Johnson. Our performance noticeable improved, thanks to Potter. Later, Dr Richard Gomes teamed up with Oliver and Norman Marshall partnered me. The Gomes-Clarke combination were superior gamesmen and Norman and I were to become known as players who could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. On one occasion, employing an outrageous ploy, Oliver, unbeknownst to me, ordered breakfast on my account for all of us and expressed dismay when I denied his additional request for cigars and champagne.

He and I carried the Potter banner forward by inaugurating an annual Stephen Potter Invitational Tennis Tournament comprising usually six men and two women. This would be followed by a brunch of huevos rancheros and honey-baked beans for players, wives and significant others. This event included presentations for those who demonstrated their skills of winning without actually cheating. At the inaugural staging, prizes included a photo of Maria Sharapova in the shower (fake), the tennis racket with which Fred Perry won Wimbledon in 1937 (fake), and a framed caricature of Oliver by Livingston McLaren (not fake). In his remarks in congratulating Mr Clarke on his achievements, Dr Hall revealed he had shown the similar skill of the recent winner of the Zambian Open who beat the reigning champion by farting as he served.

The Invitational last for 13 or 14 years and the first winner received a three-inch cup leftover from my Gordon Town Youth Club days. But thereafter, Oliver donated a silver-plated genie?s lamp reminiscent of Arabian Nights picked up at a Vermont garage sale. Winning partners had their names suitably engraved, although many tried rubbing the lamp for the mythical three wishes without success.

Out of this tournament there evolved a Kingston tennis team which took on the Georgia Club, playing on probably the only remaining grass courts in Jamaica which were located in rural Trelawny behind Duncans. For years, our Kingston team failed to overcome the locals who not only knew the unpredictable undulations of their courts but frequently omitted to field any women to take on our ladies. Oliver appointed me assistant scorer in the hope that I would rig the score sheet in our favour. On another occasion, we tried listing our best player as his own (non-existent) twin brother. Driven to desperation, I even proposed burning down the Georgia Clubhouse to deflect from their impending victory. Fortunately, Oliver rejected this ploy out of respect for Custos Paul Muschette, the club?s president. Ten years ago, Kingston finally triumphed, and as always a festive dinner was put on by Oliver?s resourceful wife, Monica, at Silver Sands. On these occasions, Oliver?s devious gamesmanship was replaced by his generous hostmanship.

Tony Gambrill