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9.1.14

Ball Crazy

An Island couple defies the prevailing wisdom that you should never, ever, ever play tennis with your spouse.

If there are little gold balls on the line, chances are good that Mas and Sue Kimball of Oak Bluffs are not far away. They compete on grass, clay, and asphalt, indoors and out, twelve months a year, across the country and around the world, all in a quest to add to their growing collection of the little gold tennis balls that dangle like irresistible carrots in front of amateur players in national tournaments sanctioned by the United States Tennis Association. Now in their eighth year of playing in gold ball events, they have won eighteen “trophies,” nine of them gold. Which makes Mas, at sixty-five, and Sue, at sixty-nine, the number one husband-and-wife team in their age division in the world.

“We learned about the first gold ball event we entered in Tennis magazine,” Mas says. “Sue said we had to win one before she died.” Win they did, bringing home their first gold ball from the 2007 National Husband and Wife Senior and Super Senior Grass Court Championships in Rancho Mirage, California. Since then, they have been on a roll, building an enviable collection, much of which is displayed on their staircase, visible each time they enter the house.

Playing with a spouse can have its unique challenges, they agree. “You’re a lot closer and you expect more,” Mas admits. “When your partner misses a shot you have to shut your mouth, keep your shoulders from slumping, and never, ever roll your eyes.”

“I don’t want to disappoint him,” Sue adds. “One match I played really tight and it started raining. They gave out free beers. I took two swigs, relaxed, went out and won.”

Competing against other similarly driven couples can also produce moments of tension (like the time Sue cursed out an opponent for a blatantly bad line call, Mas points out). For the most part, however, the rivalries are friendly. “We stay at our opponents’ houses in some places,” says Sue. “When we get up in the morning they make us breakfast before we go out to play against one another. We’ve made new friends all over the country.”

Both concur without hesitation that Mas, who was born in Japan, serves as captain, with mental toughness as his sharpest weapon. Sue, a former investment banker who is originally from northwest England, is feisty when winning, and often brings laughter to the court. But she takes the losses harder than her husband, who retired as the owner of a computer consulting firm and now teaches tennis seasonally at Farm Neck.  She can “brood for days,” he says.

If it sounds like tennis is their life, it is. In his “spare time,” Mas also organizes large tennis events on the Island that benefit various nonprofit organizations, while Sue has become an expert racquet stringer. But that’s exactly how they like it. “It doesn’t get much better,” says Sue. “We both love the game and we can play as a team and be successful.”

As for winning more of those highly coveted mementos, their role model may well be Dorothy “Dodo” Bundy Cheney of California. Now 98 years old, she’s earned nearly 400 gold balls in her lifetime of competition. The Kimballs will be looking for a larger staircase. 

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