The sports cliche “never give up on your dreams” realistically has a timer for most folks. Not the case for Pullman product Tom Loucks.
At 61 years old, Loucks became a national champion with his oldest son, Matt, 35, when they won the USTA National Senior Father/Son Hardcourt Tennis Championships last month in Claremont, Calif.
The resilient Loucks locked in and battled through the tourney’s top two seeds to nab the title despite facing possible elimination on six match points.
“It’s really more special than I can even describe. It’s cool to be in that match on the ropes with a partner, especially when it’s your son,” said Loucks, a 1975 Pullman grad and former two-time 2A state singles champion who now resides in Newport Beach, Calif.
Tom and Matt don’t lack tennis experience — Tom once finished second in a USTA 30-singles event in the early ’90s, and both played NCAA Division I college tennis.
But neither had played competitively in years when they decided to give the national father-son tournament a go. So when they signed up, they were placed against the top seeds in their first match. The only requirement for the tournament was the dads had to be at least 60 years old. There was no age requirement for the sons.
“If they click on our names, it looks like we’ve never played a match,” Tom said.
The top-seeded team they faced was fresh off an indoor national title just a few months prior. As for the Loucks, Matt was coming off an MCL surgery and Tom had lost 28 pounds just to get in shape.
The first best-of-3 match was a war. The Loucks lost the first set in a tiebreaker, squeaked out the second and headed to another tiebreaker in the third.
They survived two match points to get to the final tiebreaker, then faced a match point again with Tom serving down 5-6.
“You try to stay positive but it is in the back of your mind, if I double fault, the match is over,” Tom said.
The return by the top-seeded Ohio team barely went out of bounds and the Loucks took the lead on the next point. Then, the son on the other team double faulted and the match was over — the Loucks won 6-7(6); 6-3; 7-6(7).
“We escaped a bullet there,” Tom said.
Next was the semifinals in the small but loaded field of nine teams. There the Loucks coasted 6-2, 6-2 to advance to the title match for a shot at glory.
Little did the Loucks know, the championship match would prove tougher than their first nailbiter.
With the Loucks standing at 5-foot-8 and their towering opponents standing at 6-10 (the son) and 6-4 (the father), it was setting up to be a literal David-versus-Goliath match. Add in the 36 USTA gold balls for the giants from Chicago to none for the Loucks, and it was basically guaranteed.
The Loucks, undeterred, took the first set 6-4, which added a surge of confidence
“I look at my son and say ‘Let’s take it to them.’ We proceed to lose (the second set) 6-0,” Tom said with a laugh. “It’s one of those things in sports: They picked their game up and we struggled getting in any rhythm.”
In the final set, the Loucks found themselves down 5-2 facing a server they hadn’t broken the entire match. It was a low point of the tournament, Loucks said.
During a break, Tom — who is religious — pulled out a piece of paper with some notes he’d written for the match. It read “Gratitude — this match is a gift from God to enjoy with your son Matt.”
“I’m 61, there’s tougher things than playing for a national title,” Tom said. “I know my son, when he was at his low point, he thought, ‘My dad took time to write notes. I gotta keep fighting.”
And fight they did, all the way back to a 6-6 tie and into another tiebreaker — something the Loucks were all too familiar with at that point.
They went on to win the tiebreaker 7-5 to claim the gold ball as national champions.
Talk about a big comeback — not once, but twice, in the span of a couple days.
“This one was just so much on the ropes, it was one of those exciting finishes,” Tom said of the Loucks’ 6-4; 0-6; 7-6(5) win for all the marbles. “When you do it with your son, it’s extra special.”
Tom could play another lifetime of tennis and not face the same odds he did with his son in Claremont, but he’s not ready to hang up the tennis racket yet.
He has another son, Adam, who played collegiately at USC. There might be another gold ball on the horizon for the Loucks family.
“I’m going to try,” Tom said. “We’re going to play next year. If we win a national tournament, then I’ll do another one with him.”
Stephan Wiebe can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @stephansports.