Arnold Pompan’s four children each played tennis growing up, each of them played tennis in college, and each of them became All-American tennis players. But none of them learned the game from their father.
“I was only their chauffeur,” Pompan said about his early involvement in the game, or lack thereof.
"When any of them would hit with me, they would have some humor at my expense because I poked the ball. I didn’t even hit the ball, just pushed it around.”
A former vice president of sales, the Encino, CA, resident didn’t pick up tennis until he was 60.
Now, three decades later, he’s the No. 1-ranked 90-year-old in the country.
“When I retired, I said, ‘Do I want to become a vegetable?’ No,” says Pompan, who has jumped head first into the sport his children excelled at.
“Tennis has become my passion.”
As any tennis player knows, the sport can be humbling. Successful in a variety of pursuits, Pompan took his share of lumps as he was getting started. Upon joining the USTA and entering tournaments, he was often drawn to play one of the top seeds, and usually served as first-round fodder.
It was enough to nearly drive Pompan from the game, until a little luck of the draw came his way.
“I was just about to quit because I couldn’t get past those top seeds,” says Pompan. “Near the end, I was at the L.A. Tennis Club and I saw the first seed had withdrawn from the tournament. I went out on the court with another player, not a seed, and I was brilliant. I was absolutely on fire. I won 6–0, 6–1.”
Posting such a dominant score against an opponent will do wonders for a player’s confidence, which Pompan felt—for a fleeting moment, at least.
“The guy came to the net—a good-natured, happy fellow—and congratulated me. And he said, ‘You know, I’ve been playing tournament tennis for four years and I never won a game until I played you,” Pompan recalled.
“Well, the sails went out then. But at least that put me in a position where I didn’t get the first seed. And that’s how I continued playing.”
Susan Pendo, one of the teaching pros at Pompan’s local tennis club, admires his dedication.
“I have never met a person so ready to play,” she said. “Singles, doubles, it does not matter; he is ready to play at 90 years young. I am thankful when he comes to my clinics, as he is an inspiration for all players.”
Pendo is quite complimentary of Pompan’s game, as self-deprecating as he might be in regard to his own skill level. “He can do anything with the ball,” she says.
The different experiences—from rising to the top spot to traveling the globe—are all part of the journey of
tennis, says Pompan.
“It’s an endless tournament for me.”
For generations, and for generations to come, tennis has positively impacted the young and old, on and off the court, in countless ways. In this year’s Heroes special, we’ve selected 30 such stories, including a 10-year-old amputee’s life-changing moment with Roger Federer, the rebuilding of a college program after Hurricane Katrina, a former prodigy’s important message as an adult, and a 78-year-old coach’s enduring influence on the pros. Taken together, these 30 stories illustrate how people grow up, grow as individuals and grow old with tennis—the sport of a lifetime. Click here for more Heroes stories.