Maury Schwartzman never met a backhand he couldn't fix.
His career teaching tennis in Baltimore spans more than 50 years. He never wanted to be a big-shot coach, one of those forever-tanned California guys who hobnobbed with the Hollywood stars, and then made the scene at Newport and Forest Hills.
The public courts at Druid Hill Park were his domain. Twelve months a year. Sun, wind and rain wouldn't stop him. Not even snow. He'd take a shovel, clear two courts and give his lessons.
He always wanted to be around the kids just learning the game, guiding players who are grabbing on to a dream that might take them to college, or the international circuit. The good ones were always the tough ones, the teen-agers who swallowed fear and played with fire. Steve Krulevitz was like that. So was Elise Burgin.
"I'm like a truck driver," Schwartzman said. "I'm a guy who has been in the country clubs but who has the public parks mentality."
He is 78 years old . . . going on 20. Forget the silver hair and the thick glasses -- he is forever young. He still wears his trademark white tennis pants and cable-knit cotton sweaters and gives lessons five days a week at the Bare Hills Tennis Club. The kids he once coached now send him their children, and their grandchildren.
"Maury is a man you respect, but someone who you feel is your buddy," Burgin said. "He is the legend. If you live in Baltimore, and have a kid interested in playing tennis, inevitably, you end up with Maury."
Last night, Schwartzman was honored by his students at a $100-a-plate dinner at Harbor Court Hotel. Proceeds from the event, organized by the Greater Baltimore Tennis Patrons Association, will be used to fund a scholarship in Schwartzman's name at his alma mater, Maryland.
Burgin acted as toastmaster. Others gathered to tell Maury Stories. As always, Schwartzman had the last word.
"I guess they're throwing the dinner because I've lived long enough," he said. "I get to hear my obituary."
Schwartzman said he has lived a wonderful tennis life. Born and bred in Northwest Baltimore, he was 12 years old when he picked up a racket and won a neighborhood contest by hitting a ball against a wall 165 consecutive times.
"I was a wimp up to the age of 12," he said. "My mother said that before then, I would hang around the house, whining."
The whiner became a winner, taking Maryland State Juniors titles, and serving as captain of the Maryland team, serving out his college career unbeaten. Coaching tennis was the only job he ever wanted.
"I always liked to teach better than I liked to play," he said.
Schwartzman joined the L'Hriondelle Club in Washington, charging $8 an hour for a private lesson. Now, he commands $40 an hour, a bargain rate considering inflation. He has always remained current, a bridge between the worlds of wood rackets and widebodies. Bill Tilden may be his definition of a perfect player, but he can teach kids how to hit two-handed backhands and belt forehands cross court.
The little kids call him Mr. Peanut Head, and he laughs. The teen-agers listen when he tells them to cut out the horseplay and start hitting forehands.
"I've liked almost all the changes in the game," he said. "The game is faster. Players are stronger. Balls are hit harder. I like the nuances and the elegance of the game of tennis as it was played many, many years ago. But I like how it is played today. I can do without the crudeness, without some of the Ugly Americans. A 5-year-old watches an Andre Agassi or a John McEnroe on television, he can't help but be influenced."
Schwartzman keeps coming back to the kids. He rattles off the names of his proteges who went on the international circuit: Burgin, Krulevitz, Andrea Leand, Harold Solomon and a half-dozen others. There are other players he is equally proud of, the ones who became doctors, lawyers and scientists. Pleasant memories for a coach.
He'd like to help develop just one more kid who can make the leap to the world tour. Schwartzman admits he doesn't cover the court that well anymore and that his serves have lost velocity. But he knows talent when he sees it, and knows how to teach a game that has become his life.
"I'll never retire," he said. "The day I can't see a ball, can't hit and can't move, I'll get a ball machine and just stand by and coach. They'll have to carry me out."