Knight's 107-Game Marathon -- Redmond Resident Remembers Record Victory In Tennis
BELLEVUE - What started as a preliminary match in the Southampton Tournament on Long Island, N.Y., in 1967 for Dick Knight wound up as a victory that vaulted him into the tennis record book.
The set scores: 32-30, 3-6, 19-17.
The historical significance: It remains the longest tournament match played in the United States.
Knight, then a sophomore-to-be at the University of Washington, outlasted Mike Sprengelmeyer of Southern Illinois in the 107-game match that took 5 1/2 hours to complete.
Knight, 46, a Redmond resident and co-owner of The Pro Sports Club in Bellevue, has various memories of the match.
"I remember that the ballboys and ballgirls left for lunch and came back," he said.
He recalls a pile of water cups and soft drink cans growing higher near the net as play continued. He also recalls a spectator whose head would appear through a hole in the green canvas backstop at times, then disappear.
"He would come back about every hour and see what was going on," Knight said.
One of the spectators was Knight's future wife, Karen Williams. They had started dating at now-defunct Shoreline High School, and a business transfer had taken her father to New York.
"I was all set to watch a little tennis and spend some time with my boyfriend," she said of that day.
Instead, she witnessed a marathon.
"Friends would come by and say, `Aren't they done yet?' "
She admits shouting "Do something!" as the match wore on.
"At the time, I wasn't in sports enough to appreciate what he was going through," she said. "Otherwise, I would have been a little more supportive."
The match was played on grass, which made for quick points because both players relied on serves and volleys. Still, Knight recalls, "There was quite a bit of running back and forth to the net."
Knight doesn't remember the winning point, which was a Sprengelmeyer volley that landed about an inch beyond the baseline.
He does remember being worn out and having to play another singles match in a couple of hours.
"I can remember Tom Gorman in the locker room helping me get my shoes off," he said, referring to his doubles partner, who recently stepped down as U.S. Davis Cup captain. "I was pretty darn tired."
Not only had Knight just played a 5 1/2-hour match, he was operating on only four hours of sleep. He had driven from a New Jersey doubles tournament and hadn't arrived in Southampton until well after midnight.
Knight lost his later match, which mercifully lasted only two sets, 6-3, 6-4.
Knight's opening triumph was one of three marathon matches featured in a Sports Illustrated story by George Plimpton that year.
In the article, Plimpton quoted Gorman as saying that he and other players went to Knight's second match of the day "just to take a look at him."
"He was a skeleton out there, and you had the feeling watching him run that he was going to go down in a small heap of bones," Gorman said.
One day after Knight's historic match, a doubles match in the tournament was won 7-5, 48-46 by University of Tennessee doubles partners Lenny Schloss and Tom Mozur. The next week, Schloss and Mozur lost at Newport, R.I., to Dick Dell and Dick Leach, 3-6, 49-47, 22-20.
The Sports Illustrated headline on the article about the three lengthy matches was "What the deuce is going on?"
"I guess it was one of those things that helped precipitate the tie-breaker," Knight said of his match.
The tie-breaker system went into effect the next year.
The Southampton marathon, which Knight played with a wooden racket, remains his most famous match but not his favorite.
He said his biggest thrill was winning a qualifying match at Wimbledon that put him into the world's most famous tournament in 1972, where he was beaten in the first round.
Knight remains one of the best-known names in Northwest tennis. He is one of the best players in Husky history and one of the few to compete in the NCAA tournament. He went on to win every Northwest tournament of note and played at various times on the international pro tour.
He became the pro at the Pro Sports Club in the 1970s when it was called the SuperSonics Racquet Club, then bought it with business partner Mark Dedomenico in 1984.
He still teaches some tennis at the club and sometimes winds up mentioning his 107-game match.
"When I'm teaching people how to play tie-breakers, it makes a pretty good story," he said.
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