Most Ivy League tennis players start leaning how to play tennis at the age of six, coached by their country-club pis and pushed by their mothers. They (??)y constantly, they play with the best (??)uipment, and they play the best competition.
Joe Cavanagh picked up a second-hand girl's tennis racket in the ninth grade and taught himself how to play tennis on the asphalt public courts of Cranston, R.I. He never received any lessons or any formal high school coaching.
The rest of the story is predictably soggy and unbelievable. Cavanagh went to Andover for a year and beat all the well-coached, well-dressed country-club preppies. He went to Harvard and played number one much of the season for the freshman tennis team.
And this year as a junior, Cavanagh came back from a sophomore-year injury to play number four for the varsity. He is undefeated in Northern competition.
Cavanagh is also an all-American hockey player within reach of the all-time Harvard scoring record. He isn't conceited, and he plays cleanly. He is Chip Hilton and Brone Burnett, he is a fourth-grader's dream come true.
He is typically nonchalant about his self-taught ability. "I didn't have to worry about the right strokes," he said, "I didn't know any."
Cavanagh outran his opponents and "played to win." He didn't start working on his strokes until the Harvard coaches began working on him. "I pretty much know how to hit the ball now," he said.
He has a problem each season switching from hockey to tennis. By the time hockey season is over, some members of the tennis team have been practicing for a month, and he is forced to catch up in a short amount of time.
Cavanagh did his catching up in Florida this year and lost consistently, as did the rest of the team. But neither he nor the team has lost since they returned north.
Country Club Teacher
When Cavanagh was in high school winning the state championship, one of the more exclusive Providence country clubs, the Agawam Hunt Club, hired him to teach tennis to children over the summer.
Cavanagh committed the atrocious faux-pas of wearing madras shorts instead of whites and carying one racket instead of two, but the members recovered from their shock and he taught all summer. They never realized that their children were taking lessons from someone who had no idea how to properly stroke a tennis ball.