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Ann Miller: Like in law, Rick Fried rules the courts

By Ann Miller

Posted Nov. 19, 2021

After making his case in tennis for seven decades, one of his sport’s sweetest verdicts is finally in for Rick Fried, one of Hawaii’s most celebrated attorneys.

At the resilient and seemingly refreshed age of 80, he is the top-ranked tennis player in the country in his age group.

“It took me that long to beat people,” Fried grins.

Not quite. Fried has been beating people since he started playing the game at 10.

As captain of the University of Arizona tennis team nearly 60 years ago, he barely lost to Arthur Ashe. Then Fried got drafted and was stationed at Hickam Air Force Base after going to navigator school for nine months. That was the longest time he has been away from a tennis court in the last 70 years.

He hasn’t left Hawaii since, carving a memorable niche as a lawyer specializing in personal injury litigation and one of Hawaii’s finest tennis players at every age.

When Larry King worked for Fried’s law firm here, Rick would play — and often beat — Larry’s former wife, Billie Jean King. Fried also hit with Rod Laver and Pancho Gonzalez on the Punahou courts.

In 2008, he was the fourth player to be inducted into the Hawaii Tennis Hall of Fame, after years of top-four national and tip-top state rankings. He has represented the U.S. at events across the world and, maybe sweetest of all for a guy living in paradise, captured four Kailua Night Doubles Championships.

But after turning 80 in April, Fried seemed to sense this was his shot at the treasured top spot in the country.

“I kid people that I am the only one my age in the state that can still walk,” Fried says. “That’s why I wanted to see where I am nationally with the best guys in my age group.”

He was better.

Fried won the 80s National Indoor singles and doubles titles in Idaho in June and took third in singles and doubles at National Grass Courts in Rhode Island the next month.

In September, he seized another singles title at National Hardcourts in California. Then he took third again at Clay Court Nationals in Virginia, claiming another doubles championship with part-time Hawaii resident Arlie Eddins.

“It was a lot of time on the road, but interesting for me to see how I fared against those my age,” Fried said. “I’m pretty happy with the results and also pleased I didn’t get injured.”

Beyond being immensely competitive — “I am a trial lawyer, so that’s helpful” — part of his strategy to win on court is to train relentlessly, even at 80.

Fried goes to a trainer three times a week after warming up “on something that’s really painful called an assault bike.” He can successfully negotiate a 24-inch box jump and half-jokes that he’s “probably the only guy in my age group (at nationals) who didn’t have some kind of appliance on.”

That is not true among the “kids” here who helped Fried prepare for nationals by playing with him four times a week. Fried practices against a bunch of former college players three, four and five decades younger. Guys like Dave and Kurt Andrews, Randy Kop, Mike Yani, Mark Kobayashi and Andrea Zannoni, along with current coaches Hendrik Bode (Hawaii Pacific) and Joel Kusnierz (University of Hawaii), help Fried with his game and, maybe more importantly, the balance in his life.

“I think the tennis has been good because when you’re in a trial there’s a great deal of stress,” he says. “It may be one of many cases, but we don’t ever represent anybody twice and so for them they’ve had something horrible happen and no matter how much we work we always feel we could have done something more.

“So tennis is a pretty good relief. I do feel the stress is taken away and I’m playing with people younger, better, really fun and it’s competitive for me. It’s not fun losing all the time to these people, but they’re willing to do it and I think I’m good enough to still at least make them shower.”

When no more majors left this year, Fried has nearly 1,000 points more than his closest pursuer in the 80s and has clinched No. 1 in the U.S. Tennis Association rankings for 2021. There are 136 ranked players in the age group. He should represent the U.S. at the World Championships next year.

He still has a big serve, great placement, jumps on anything hit short and is relatively mobile. “He can run down a lot of shots,” says Kop. “I think that’s his big advantage in the 80s. Barring no injuries he is physically fit.”

And mentally … well, Fried won an $834 million verdict for the state earlier this year in a case conducted on Zoom (he wore a “coat, tie and tennis shorts”). Last week, he had three mediations.

“People say why are you still doing this,” Fried says of his legal work. “People still call me and we think we can still be helpful. I have a lot of people younger than me who are really smart and help us get all this done — a lot of good backup.”

They are led by a guy who simply never gives up, and loves what he is doing, in and on the court. His best advice for tennis, beyond his 70-year push to get his racket back earlier, is to remember it’s a game.

“Keep your cool,” Fried says. “When you put it in perspective, missing a forehand is pretty insignificant when you think of some of these tragic cases I’m involved with.”

In his “spare” time, Fried has worked with the Honolulu Symphony, Hawaii Theatre, Shriner’s Hospital for Children and the ACLU. As Chairman of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, he helped bring two Federation Cups and a Davis Cup here from 2016-2020.

USTA Hawaii Pacific Executive Director Ron Romano calls it “our Golden Age of Tennis” and gives nearly all the credit to Fried, who was “only” in his 70s back then.

Apparently, he was just getting started.

Copyright (c)2021 Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Edition 11/18/2021