Remembering SA tennis legend Gordon Forbes

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Shortly before Abe Segal passed away aged 85 in 2016 as a result of a cancer-related illness, Gordon Forbes and his long-time tennis doubles partner, both at the time well into the 80s, were walking around the Wanderers Cricket Stadium in Johannesburg as was their want at the time, considering their longevity and what the future still held in their distinguished careers.

The figure of 90-years-old was suggested as a fair challenge by the players whose friendship between what were distinct opposite personalities had extended over a period of 60 years - producing what was widely considered one of the three best doubles combinations in the world at the time - because as the ebullient Segal characteristically pointed out "how far can you walk when you are 95."

Sadly now, the 90-year mark has eluded the multi-talented Forbes as well, with the coronavirus pandemic scourge claiming yet another victim at the age of 86.

But it was not before Forbes had completed his third book, "I'll Take the Sunny Side," following on the initial bestseller, "A Handful of Summers," widely reputed to be the best tennis literary achievement yet penned by anyone, and "Too soon to Panic."

Indeed, despite winning the South African singles tennis title twice and reaching four other finals; making it to the French Open doubles final twice; the Wimbledon doubles semi-final with Segal; reaching the US Open singles quarter-finals and the Wimbledon fourth round in singles, as well as numerous Davis Cup victories for South Africa; the subtle, sensitive and engaging Forbes became more renowned for his ability to hit the keys of a typewriter than the strings of a tennis racquet.

But if not one of the top 10 players in the world in his time, Forbes was most certainly among the top 20.

And when South African tennis was finally united in 1990 as the odious apartheid era crumbled, Forbes played a prominent role in the changeover as well.

From a personal viewpoint, I experienced the vast difference in approach and character between Forbes and Segal when I was fortunate enough to be presented by them with the books they had written.

Forbes prefaced his books "with admiration, fond memories and the very best of wishes".

As for Abe and the book "Hey Big Boy" he had written, he suggested it was "for the only man I know who has put tennis players into a psycho ward."

Both complimentary in their own distinctive way!

But despite the endless tennis memories and anecdotes that were widely dispersed throughout Forbes' three books, nothing was more touching and awesome than his descriptive writings about his sister, Jean, a world-class player in her own right and the zany tales surrounding Segal - culminating in Jean's premature and tragic death in her 40s and the player he said he had never heard to complain - and as though through some kind of premonition said to him on the evening before his death "Cheers, Forbsy. We've had a great time, but the game's over. Thanks for everything."

"Everything" that Abe meant was summed up poetically by Forbes himself in his third and last book:

No winner’s cheque, no instance fame

We play because the game's a game

And win or lose it's all the same

I see the funny side

To start our games and keep them fair

I spin my racquet in the air,

And if you serve I don't much care

I'll take the sunny side

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