Ex-SA tennis star still 'taking the sunny side'

Cape Town - Former SA tennis star Gordon Forbes caused what was one of the most painful experiences of my life!

I had just undergone a hernia operation and 38 years ago it was a much bigger deal than today.

Fortunately, all went well.

However, my doctor warned before I began a period of recuperation to "remember not to laugh or cough. You'll live to regret it."

And regret it I have to this day!

Because handed to me at my bedside to ease the period of convalescence was Forbes' first book, A Handful of Summers.

And there was no way not to laugh with unrestrained gusto and experiencing the resultant pain as the former South African champion and world-class tennis player related a stream of anecdotes surrounding his 61-year friendship with his zany doubles partner, Abe Segal, among many other highly humorous tales.

A Handful of Summers was acclaimed worldwide as a sporting literary classic and following on Too Soon to Panic, Forbes' third book, I'll Take the Sunny Side, released this week, is in a similar nostalgic and entertaining vein - if perhaps, lacking a little of his first book's originality, but with a touch of polish gleaned from what Segal proclaimed "the good life we have both had” providing compensation.

Abe Segal is no longer alive and the poignant last days Forbes spent with him before his death 20 months ago is a feature of the book, as are the references to the premature deaths of the legendary Arthur Ashe and Forbes' beloved sister, Jean, a star in her own right.

Like its predecessors, Forbes' latest saga, relating mainly to his later years, is a great deal more relevant for its exploits of all the aspects of "the good life” than its comedy - or even the expert analysis of today's hectic, throbbing world of tennis generally, its icons like Federer, Sampras, Nadal and Djokovic and his own successful playing career.

The book accurately tells us "I'll Take the Sunny Side" is a memoir of many things - tennis, friendship, story-telling, pain, happiness, politics - and growing older.

And running throughout the 343 pages is the backdrop of Forbes' ordained discussion lunch-time meetings in the past five years in the Rainbow Room at Johannesburg's Country Club with seven friends, whom he proclaims only by their first names of James, Mark, Tim, Charles, Richard, two Peters and their designations as writers, scholars, historians and ex-editors of some repute.

Some are easily identified. Others not so - as is the reason for keeping them anonymous.

Not so difficult to detect is the 83-year-old Forbes' whimsical literary touch, which has possibly gained him more fame than featuring among the world's best doubles combinations with Segal, winning 10 national titles in singles and doubles and progressing to the French Open doubles final and the doubles semi-final at Wimbledon.

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