Marvin Shapiro, a 91-year-old tennis player who competes in the Palm Beach Open Tennis League, is used to hearing players joke about his age.
A frequent one is: “You’re old enough to be my father.” Actually, Shapiro has played against players young enough to be his grandson.
The Palm Beach Open Tennis League is open to anyone 45 year or older. More than 90 communities compete. Most of them are located west of the Turnpike scattered throughout Palm Beach County. Each community fields teams who play against one another.
Shapiro plays for Coral Lakes, a retirement community west of Boynton Beach. He has been a fixture on the tennis courts there ever since he moved from Brooklyn 23 years ago.
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“I might be 91 but I have the parts of a 70-year-old,” he said, noting that he has had just about everything replaced or repaired — knees, hips, shoulders. About the only time he has been off the tennis courts is when he was recovering from those procedures. He will turn 92 in May.
He began playing the sport when he moved to Coral Lakes. When he was a kid, there were very few tennis courts in Brooklyn and, he says, no one could afford to buy a tennis racquet anyway. So he started as a beginner at Coral Lakes, and quickly picked up the game.
“This is a guy who will soon be 92, and he plays competitively in one of our middle divisions,” said Sandy Frank,director of the Palm Beach Open Tennis League. “You could say it is a one-in-a-million situation.”
Shapiro plays in the league on Tuesdays and Thursdays. One of the complaints he gets is that he rushes his opponents to get onto the court after a break. “I don’t like sitting around” he said. “I don’t seem to get as tired as some of these younger guys.”
His team captain at Coral Lakes, Ira Kosloff, called Shapiro “a unique character,” noting, “He inspires all of us. He is sharp as a tack. If he is not playing tennis, he is playing pickleball. And he gets to the pool just about every day.”
Shapiro, a Korean War veteran, recently returned from Washington, D.C. He participated in an Honor Flight in which veterans are flown to the capital as part of a program to recognize their service to the country.
“It was amazing,” Shapiro said. “Had not been there in 50 years. We had more than a 1,000 people greeting us when we arrived.”
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Shapiro said tennis is still his favorite sport, but he is playing pickleball more and more these days. Three years ago, he played on a championship pickleball team for Coral Lakes.
Shapiro acknowledges that he has slowed up a bit when it comes to tennis —but if the ball is hit anywhere near him, it is coming back. He has developed a potent slice shot and his drop shot can be deadly.
The writer of this article can attest to that, having recently played for Valencia Cove, matched up against a Shapiro’s Coral Lakes team. Valencia Cove won the first set but barely at 7-5, and had to come from behind to do it. Then, the rains came. I pulled a calf muscle before the rescheduled match and had to forfeit. Shapiro, though, has been injury-free all year.
Shapiro is looking forward to playing in the winter session of the Palm Beach County Open Tennis League as well as the Palm Beach County Senior League, a league where his opponents will have to be at least 50 years old.