IT’S little wonder that it took Tom Baron until his 80th year to win a top tennis title – he has been far too busy serving the game he loves.
A top class umpire, Lancashire LTA official, club committee man and a main supporter of veterans tennis, Blackburn-born Tom has squeezed everything in to his career – and he didn’t pick up a racquet until he was 16-years-old!
So it could be argued that at 80-years-old, Tom is a late bloomer. But just like a fine wine, he seems to be getting better with age.
The octogenarian is the current British Over 80s veterans singles and doubles indoor champion and a beaten finalist in the both events in the grass courts championships.
He reached the semi finals of the hard court event and also the final of the World Championship Plate competition in Croatia.
“I was a late starter,” joked Tom after the most successful season of his 64-year playing career. “But I suppose you could say I am getting better with age.”
Now that Tom is fully concentrating on playing, he could be right.
He is at the younger age of the 80-to-85 year category and has high hopes of doing even better next year which includes finally getting the chance to play at Wimbledon.
“The Grass Court Championships are held there every year but this year they were shifted to Cheltenham because of the small matter of the Olympic Games.”
But Baron is no stranger to Wimbledon having served as a tennis umpire and line judge for 24 years at the most famous tennis tournament in the world.
“Those were incredible memories, I got to work in matches that included some of the world’s greatest players,” said Tom who saw the likes of John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl and Martina Navratilova at close quarters.
“I was in the chair when Boris Becker played at Wimbledon for the first time. He had to retire with a twisted ankle. The next year he came back and won it.”
Tom, who was a line judge team leader and worked until he was 70 at Wimbledon, also worked at the US Open in Flushing Meadows for eight years – the highlight was being line judge for the 1989 final between Becker and Lendl.
“I still have a video from that match,” added Tom, a former pupil at QEGS. “That is probably my highlight as an umpire or line judge.”
While not as illustrious as the tennis majors, Tom’s work closer to home gives him just as much satisfaction.
He joined Blackburn Northern Tennis Club in 1948 after his school-mate Tony Hapgood – the son of former Rovers manger Eddie Hapgood – presented him with his first racquet.
“Until then, I used to play cricket and football,” said Tom who played for Mullards, Brownhill and Feniscowles until 1960. “But I enjoyed tennis but didn’t take it seriously until I went on to join East Lancs.”
There Tom began to play club tennis but, more importantly, his organisational skills came to the fore.
It was there he met Gordon Rae who became something of a mentor and who would later encourage him to become an umpire.
“Gordon was a great help and saw something in me,” added Tom. “He could quickly see I was very good at organising things and invited me to become match secretary.
“I told him I was too busy but he said ‘Never ask someone to do something if they are not too busy.’ “That is something I always remember.”
While a decent club player, Tom’s talent in those days lay in the administrative side of the game.
He was the founder and secretary of the Blackburn Tennis Tournament that ran from 1965-70, introduced vets tennis to Lancashire Championships in 1977 as referee and been a member of the Lancs County LTA Council from 1952 (except for the six years spent in Devon) and was president in 1982.
But despite his admin abilities, he’s never too long without a racquet in his hands – especially since taking up veteran’s tennis.
“I was decent club player but I played more for enjoyment rather than having that competitive edge,” he said. “But as soon as I started playing veterans, I wanted to win!”
Tom, who rejoined Blackburn Northern in 2000, has captained Lancashire veterans at every age group from Vet 45s up the present date and went through this season without losing a rubber.
Aims for the future are to represent Great Britain in the World Championships in Austria next year and, of course play, at Wimbledon.
But should he go on and win on the hallowed turf, he won’t be the first in the Baron household to taste success at SW19 – his wife Christine won a veteran’s mixed doubles title back in 2006.
“She has already beaten me to it,” added Tom who has singles world ranking of eight and doubles of 13. “But like I said, I am a late starter.”