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Former No. 1 tennis player speaks to Victoria youth

Stephen Herzog

By Stephen Herzog
March 24, 2011 at 10:02 p.m.
Updated March 23, 2011 at 10:24 p.m.

Former No. 1 tennis player Cliff Richey speaks to middle school and high school tennis players at Stroman Middle School in Victoria. Richey spoke about tennis, mental health, and always giving the best effort.

Over the past year, Cliff Richey has spoken in about 20 cities. But when he spoke to middle school and high school tennis players in Victoria on Thursday, he did something he'd never done before - he showed pictures from his book.

Richey, a former professional tennis player and the No. 1 U.S. tennis player in 1970, needed a little help in relating to teenagers. But it wasn't that difficult.

"Kids are smarter than you give them credit for," Richey said. "A lot of them have heard about Arthur Ashe or Chris Evert."

And if they don't know those names, they usually know Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Davis Cup.

Thanks to a successful tennis career, he was able to show the students photos of him with the 1970 Davis Cup team and with the team at the White House.

His long list of accomplishments includes a world point title, two Davis Cups, a U.S. title, 45 tour wins and a Senior Tour Championship.

Richey said the Senior Tour Championship might be his favorite.

"That was a big comeback for me," he said. "It was at the Los Angeles Forum against Rod Laver, and I hadn't won in five and a half years."

One of the Davis Cup victories earned him a trip to the White House to meet President Richard Nixon.

In that visit, he was lined up to meet the president, and when Nixon got about two people away from him in line, he realized he'd have to say something.

"I was a 22-year-old high school drop out," Richey said. "And he had something he'd say to each person in line."

He said something to Richey about him having a sister who was also a great tennis player. But all Richey could say was, "I've heard a lot about you."

"That's about all I could get out," Richey said.

Looking back, he said he'd give anything to relive that experience.

It was just one memorable moment in a career full of them.

But his impressive career isn't mostly what he talks about these days. Instead, he speaks mostly about mental health and clinical depression.

Richey dealt with the disease during his playing career, but didn't realize that's what it was.

He self-medicated with alcohol and Valium, he said.

But 13 years ago, Richey learned what he was up against, and he got help. Since then, his life has improved significantly.

And thanks to what he's accomplished on the the tennis court, he's able to use that to speak to groups about depression, something he wrote a book about last year called "Acing Depression: A Tennis Champion's Toughest Match."

"It's very important to me," he said. "If you talk to Jimmy Connors or Chris Evert or other players from my era, they'll tell you tennis is a very selfish sport. Everything has to revolve around you. You're constantly preparing for the next match."

Because of that, and the depression, Richey says he wasn't the best father he could be.

"That's no excuse though," he said. "Kids need a father."

He said he often uses a quote from another tennis great, John McEnroe.

"If you can take a negative, and turn it into a positive, that's one of the best things you can do," he said.

So Richey tries to do that by traveling and speaking to people about depression. And he often sees it hitting home with people when they speak to him afterwards.

Even Thursday morning speaking at a prayer breakfast, a man spoke to him about how much it meant to him to hear what Richey had to say about his experience.

"There are tears in about every place I speak," he said.



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