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Friday, July 3, 2020

A Father-Son Love Match

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Local Jewish competitors Alan and Bobby Croll currently are ranked No. 2 in the United States Tennis Association’s (USTA) Ultra Senior father-son doubles division.

The duo played their first national tournament 20 years ago when Alan was 60 and Bobby was 22 but things didn’t start auspiciously. During the first point of their first match, the two collided and Alan broke the index finger on his right hand. (He’s a righty.) They still went on to win the match in three sets and have been playing together ever since. Last year, they were undefeated in the Ultra Senior division.

Father and son took up the sport at a young age. Alan started when he was 8 in his native Detroit with his mom as his teacher, and played seriously through high school, twice winning the city-wide high school championship. Bobby started at age 6, when Alan handed him a racket. He went on to play four years of Division I  tennis at the University of Wisconsin and was team captain his senior year. But unlike many of their competitors, neither makes a living playing or coaching tennis. 

Bobby, 42, who lives in Encino and attends Valley Beth Shalom synagogue, is a history teacher at Beverly Hills High School. Alan, 80, had a 50-year career as a trial lawyer and currently teaches at USC and Harvard-Westlake High School. He and his wife, Sandy, are longtime members of Sinai Temple and live in Beverly Hills.

Alan is upfront about his extremely competitive nature, something Bobby corroborates, likening him to Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods. Still, Alan admits that during the 10 years they were in the Senior division (fathers ages 60-69), they were not particularly successful. When he turned 70 however, and the pair moved into the Super Senior division, he said it was like a light switch. “Suddenly we were a force to be reckoned with,” he said. 

“My dad is so fast and his hands are so good. His mobility is spectacular. That’s why we’ve been so successful.” — Bobby Croll

Among the teams they have played are Michael Chang, once the No. 2-ranked male tennis player in the world, and his father, Joe. Alan recalls the three-hour match vividly. “It was a war,” he said. “Very tough.” But he and Bobby prevailed in three sets.

Over the years, Alan and Bobby have become friendly with several other father-son teams. But on the courts, it’s another story. “It’s pretty vicious,” Bobby said. “There are no niceties. You are trying to win.” Usually, that means the son hitting it at the opposing father as hard as he can. “But my dad is so fast and his hands are so good,” Bobby said. “He moves better than every other father. His mobility is spectacular. That’s why we’ve been so successful.”

Excellent communication also has contributed to their winning record. “We’re really supportive of one another,” Bobby said. “Sometimes fathers and sons bicker. Never in 20 years has either of us been upset or frustrated [with the other]. It’s a huge strength.”

They also have families who support their tennis habit. Bobby’s wife, Hillary Tuck, even encouraged him to play in a local tournament the day of their son’s bris. (Bobby and Alan made it back in plenty of time for the celebration.)

The Crolls played most recently in November, at the clay court championship in Florida, where they won every one of their matches in two sets. Next up is the indoor championship in April in New Jersey, which they are hoping to make. A victory there would likely bump them to No. 1 in their division, but they’re not in it for the prize money. There isn’t any.

“When Andre Agassi or [Roger] Federer or [Rafael] Nadal win the U.S. Open, they get something like 4 million bucks, a new Mercedes and a small mahogany box with a gold ball,” Alan said. “We don’t get the 4 million. We don’t get the car. But we get the [same] small box with the gold ball. So it’s really, really cool.” 

In addition to the two gold balls they took home in 2019, they have amassed quite a collection of silver and bronze balls over the years. But ultimately, the real draw for both father and son is quality time together.

 “The winning,” Bobby said, “is a bonus.”

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