By Ann Miller
While the 22nd annual USTA Tennis Weekend swirls all around the Patsy T. Mink CORP Tennis Complex and Ala Moana Hotel Oct. 4 and 5, the heart of the celebration will come Saturday night when Rick Fried and Bob Keaunui are inducted into the Hawai’i Tennis Hall of Fame.
There could not be two guys more different in Hawai’i tennis, with one glaring exception: Both have a passion for tennis that is unconditional and apparently infinite, whether they are playing it or teaching it to kids thirsty for all the good elements the game shares.
Fried has felt it since he whiffed on his first overhead at age 10, fell into the net and broke it. It has grown immensely through a tennis career that saw him ranked No. 2 in his age group growing up in Arizona, and barely losing to Arthur Ashe in college. “It was clear I’d better go to law school then because I was not going to make a living at this,” Fried joked.
After getting drafted, he was stationed at Hickam and a chance meeting with Judge Alan Kay, an avid tennis player, in 1968 kept him here. Fried, 67, has distinguished himself in tennis and court, as a lawyer specializing in personal injury litigation, ever since.
He has won four Kailua Racquet Club Night Doubles titles, been ranked among the Top 10 in Open singles and No. 1 in his age group every year he was eligible. He has hit with Billie Jean King – beating her more than he lost, Rod Laver and Pancho Gonzalez. A few years ago, loaded with a bunch of gold, silver and bronze balls because of his success at national age-group championships, he was invited into the International Lawn Tennis Club of the United States and has since represented the country at Columbus Cup matches in places like South Africa, India and Australia.
His game is as competitive and combative as his professional career. But through all of Fried’s often comical conversations with himself on the court one thing remains crystal clear: He loves the game, and only loves it more each match.
When he is not involved in a trial he plays up to four times a week, usually with players much younger, but rarely better. He jokes that his success in his own age group “is largely a function of still being able to walk,” but his game appears to be aging like fine wine. He supplements it with weights and cardio workouts, skis and hikes and only seems to get better, and find more ways to win, with time.
“Tennis is a good release,” Fried said, “and it’s a little like litigation. You’ve got to be a little competitive so you don’t get walked over and you have to do it ethically. I’m way past the point of fussing over unimportant things.”
Keaunui, 72, will be inducted in the non-player category, but he is responsible for all kinds of Hawai’i tennis players. When he retired from the Army in 1975 he began offering free tennis lessons to kids at Kailua District Park. He has since branched out to public parks in Kane’ohe, Waimanalo, Kahalu’u and Hau’ula and now works with hundreds of kids and adults every year, almost everyday.
“I like money,” Keaunui said, “but the thing about it is I’m retired military. Sometimes I play music and get money. I felt like a lot of kids couldn’t afford it, especially in Waimanalo and Kahalu’u. Right now we’ve got a program working the whole year in Hau’ula, so it’s great.”
Fees are now nominal but Keaunui’s basic kindness makes him an easy mark for any kid who can’t cover the cost, doesn’t have a racket, tournament and league fees or a ride home. He grew up watching Shigesh Wakida work wonders for tennis kids in Lahaina and has fine-tuned Wakida’s magical way of keeping many, many kids moving and involved in a small space.
His teams usually go by “Bob’s Mob” and the kids often grow up to dominate leagues, play for schools – more than 20 of Keaunui’s kids were in the 2006 state high school championship – and colleges. He started with Rosie (Vera Cruz) Bareis, one of the finest players ever to come out of Hawai’i, and now works with kids of his former kids.
“He is a coach, as well as a coach’s coach,” wrote Waialae director of tennis Randy Kop, whose three kids work with Keaunui. “He earns respect because he demonstrates respect, regardless of age, level of play, so-called status or reputation.”
He is … a Hall of Famer, just like Rick Fried, yet very different.