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Canby resident shares court with legends of tennis

Tom Hilts practiced with John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, James Blake and Jim Courier at the Moda Center earlier this year.


Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Tom Hilts getting ready to hit a forehand volley at the Moda Center.

After signing up for a VIP package to the PowerShare Series Senior Tour event at the Moda Center, which included the priceless option of whacking the ball around with four legends of tennis, Canby resident Tom Hilts made sure he was primed for the opportunity.

“I practiced almost everyday for three months. I was getting prepped and ready,” Hilts said.

Hilts was preparing to share a tennis court with the likes of Andre Agassi, James Blake, Jim Courier and John McEnroe.

Once the day came, Hilts, along with about a dozen others, played against Blake and Courier for an hour and Agassi and McEnroe for an hour.

Though Blake is only 34-years-old and had played professionally just a year ago, and Agassi is still only 44, Hilts said 55-year-old John McEnroe was the staunchest opponent of the four.

“McEnroe is left handed and crafty. He has lots of touch and control and he appears to put the ball on his string for a half second longer, making it hard to judge where he is going to hit it. Andre hits the ball well and hard, but I could tell where he was going to hit the ball and James took it easy on us,” Hilts said.

Hilts also gained appreciation for the stadium atmosphere pro tennis players have to deal with.

“I gained an appreciation for how difficult it is to play in a big stadium, compared to playing indoors at a tennis club,” Hilts said.

He added: “The surface was one inch plywood and created a high skipping bounce. If I can play in that, I can play in local tournaments.”

Hilts currently plays in the 4.0/4.5 skill level range and has won some local tournaments in the past. Also, he was an instructor at Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation for a couple years in the 1990s. Before that, he played tennis at Canby High School.

Currently, he enjoys teaching the sport to his five-year-old daughter.

Hilts said he won points against every player and felt good about his performance. In fact, on the final point of the day, McEnroe hit a shot into the net. And to abide tennis customs, McEnroe shook Hilts hand at the net.

Playing with some of the best players ever was a milestone for Hilts. However, he’s plenty of experience meeting the greats.

Hilts first met McEnroe in Minneapolis in 1985 and has met him five times throughout his life. He’s also met Agassi and Blake before. His friend Brian Parrott, who was a Davis Cup promoter in the late 80s and early 90s, is Hilts connection to the greats inner circles.

But Hilts saw Agassi for the first time in the stands with his pops in 1987, when Agassi hadn’t yet reached the peak of his career. Hilts dad told his son Agassi would be the No. 1 ranked player in the world one day. Hilts didn’t think so.

Hilts said: “I told Agassi that story and he thought it was pretty funny.”



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