Read an Excerpt
My Rise and Fall, and My Road Back
By Roscoe Tanner, Mike Yorkey
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2005 Roscoe Tanner and Mike Yorkey
All rights reserved.
In Hot Water
June 18, 2003, Ettlingen, Germany, 8:33 a.m.
I lay back in the bathtub, closed my eyes, and allowed the piping-hot water to rejuvenate my sore muscles. At 51 years of age, a hot bath was a welcome tonic to the hours I was putting in on the tennis court. I was teaching 20 to 30 hours a week, batting balls back and forth with an assortment of housewives, lawyers, and hotshot juniors while giving them tips in my kindergarten-level German.
On weekends, I fired up my old serve in age-group tournaments in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and Germany. I also participated in the Bundesliga interclub matches for 50-and-up seniors, playing as the "hired gun" for TC Wolfsberg (TC standing for "Tennis Club") in Pforzheim, about 15 minutes from Ettlingen. We played our interclub matches using a format similar to matches between college teams — six singles and three doubles matches, each worth one point. An Italian team in Trento had signed me to play for their club as well.
The reason I was playing so much tennis — and hustling lessons — was that I needed the money. For the last decade or so, financial problems had trailed me like the rats and mice that followed the Pied Piper in nearby Hamelin. I was experiencing great difficulty supporting my wife, Margaret, and our two daughters from her previous marriage, as well as an assortment of alimony and child support payments, the fallout of two marriages that ended in divorce. Oh, and there was a boat deal that went sour back in Florida that I still hadn't resolved to the owner's satisfaction. But I always saw the glass as half full: the next deal, the next endorsement contract, the next summer camp, or the next teaching job would be the one to put my financial problems behind me once and for all.
I topped off the tub with some more hot water and recalled how Margaret and I had moved to Europe two years earlier when I accepted an offer to coach Simon Dawson, a promising British player. We flew to Nottingham, England, where I tutored Simon, a good kid who worked incredibly hard on the practice court with me. In matches, however, nerves bested him to the point where he could hardly hit a ball. I felt for the youngster and wished I could have played for him, but after a summer of spotty results in 2001, his parents made the decision to let me go.
Not to worry — I had several contacts in France. I worked the phones and got a teaching job at the Racing Club de France, one of the most prestigious sports clubs in and around Paris. Margaret found a charming apartment that was part of a bed-and-breakfast near Compiegne, where France surrendered to Hitler back in 1940. When I arrived in France, I experienced a huge hassle in getting a work permit. It seemed that the French authorities severely regulated who could teach tennis and who couldn't — probably a form of protectionism for their homegrown teaching pros. I rustled up a few lessons under the table, but I was making nowhere close to the money I needed to cover our expenses. I hid that information from Margaret because I did not want her to worry.
We needed transportation, so I shopped around and found a cheap Renault Clio for two thousand euros, or around $2,250. This ordinary two-door wasn't much to look at, but at least we could get around. Only one problem: I didn't have two thousand euros to hand over to the Renault owner. I explained my problem to him, promising that I would pay as soon as my lessons picked up. Maybe he remembered me from my years playing at Roland Garros (which would have been a miracle since I lasted to the second week of the French Open only one time), but for whatever reason, he relented and handed me the keys to his well-used car. A month or so later, when he asked where his money was, I stalled him with a fresh set of excuses. He got mad and called the gendarmes, who paid a visit to our apartment. Margaret, who speaks excellent French, listened to the police describe how I had failed to pay for our Renault, which was news to her.
Now it was Margaret's turn to get angry with me, since I had been hiding the truth from her. I backpedaled, as I always did in these predicaments, and came up with another brainstorm: I could borrow the money from the parents of one of the few boys I was teaching. I had no idea how I would pay this unsuspecting family the money I owed them, but at least I would get the Renault owner and the police off my back.
It soon became apparent that France was a closed shop and would never grant me the necessary work papers. But then Rodolf Hanchin, who owned a tennis academy near Basel, Switzerland, contacted me about coaching there. That sounded like a great idea on my end. We packed our belongings in our Renault and drove to Basel, where I began teaching juniors living at the academy. Margaret, who didn't have anything to do, would join me on the lesson court, helping me coach the students. I liked having an extra set of eyes, but the Swiss academy owner didn't appreciate my coaching with Margaret there. In the Swiss mentality, having my wife on the court was like having two people holding the steering wheel of a car: it was unnatural and didn't work. I felt differently, and when I came to Margaret's defense, Rodolf and I clashed. The academy owner retaliated by sabotaging my work permit to stay in Switzerland.
Time to work my contacts again. I called Jürgen Fassbender, a former No. 1–ranked German player from the seventies, and outlined my yearlong odyssey in Europe. "Jürgen, I need a job," I pleaded. "Can you help?"
Jürgen, whose command of English was excellent, turned thoughtful. "Roscoe, I'd love to help you," he said. "Come to Germany, and we will get you back on your feet."
"What about a work permit?" That had been a problem in France and Switzerland.
"Permits are not so difficult in Germany, and I can help you there. I still have connections, you know."
I was one grateful — and itinerant — tennis coach when Margaret and I pulled into Karlsruhe in southern Germany, where Jürgen owned a club with some hotel rooms. He gave us a room and then introduced me to several guys from nearby Pforzheim, a cute town in the Schwarzwald region — the Black Forest. These players formed the second-best 50-and-older interclub team in Germany — but they had designs on winning the Bundesliga senior division the next season. Would I like to play with them? Of course! Although they couldn't pay me much (Bundesliga first-league teams like TC Blau Weiss Neuss paid professional players ranked from 120 to 400 in the world a lot to play for them), I thought that playing for Pforzheim would help me establish my name in Germany, which could translate into more income-producing lessons.
After Jürgen got me registered with the German Tennis Federation, I began teaching a bit and entering big International Tennis Federation age-group tournaments. I won titles in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain in 2002, which made me the second-ranked fifties player in the world and No. 1 in Germany. My serve still had some zip to it, and senior players didn't like it when I took the net. They wanted me to stay back and chip the ball with them, but I had been charging the net since my junior days back in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee.
An Italian management company talked to me about giving clinics, and I received inquiries from club owners about exhibitions. Maybe winning senior tournaments would spring free an endorsement deal or two. Whatever was happening in Germany in the early summer of 2003, I felt like life was finally looking up after the setbacks in England, France, and Switzerland. I was teaching at two or three clubs in the Karlsruhe area, giving lessons for 30 euros, or around $35 an hour. That was all the market could bear because tennis participation had waned in Germany following the retirements of Boris Becker and Steffi Graf, but at least we were surviving.
Margaret felt settled enough to bring her two teenage twins, Lauren and Lindsey, over to Germany. They had been living with Margaret's parents in Humble, Texas, until our situation stabilized. We rented a cozy house in Ettlingen, not far from the clubs for which I was teaching, and enrolled the girls at Europaschule, an excellent international school.
I was about to pull the plug on my bath when I heard the doorbell ring. Margaret was still in bed, and the girls had already departed for school. Should I go to the trouble of drying myself and putting on some clothes to answer the front door? I had no idea who would be calling on us so early in the morning.
The doorbell sounded again — and kept ringing. The ringer's persistency unsettled me, and then a sense of dread filled my throat. Polizei! Three months earlier, two German detectives had dropped by Jürgen's club, and it wasn't a social call asking me how I was enjoying life in Germany. Instead, one of the detectives told me that they had an international warrant for my arrest stemming from my inability to pay a Florida man $35,000 for a boat I had purchased in 2000. They made me stay at Jürgen's club while the matter was being resolved. While I cooperated, I proclaimed my innocence during the entire three hours of questioning.
The first thing I did at Jürgen's club was call Rainer Schubert, an attorney and teammate on my Bundesliga team. When I explained my side of the situation, he called the prosecutor and said that I was "working" on a payment plan, noting that it was my complete desire to pay back all the owed monies. I just needed some time to get back on my feet, Rainer said on my behalf.
The promise-to-pay ploy worked once again, and I was released. But when I heard the front door ringing on this Wednesday morning, I had a sinking feeling that the same detectives were waiting for me. I toweled off and stepped hurriedly into a pair of Wrangler blue jeans and a red, white, and blue K-Swiss collared tennis shirt. As the doorbell kept sounding, I became very worried. It had to be them.
I ran to the third-floor window and peeked out. Standing at my front-door landing were the two detectives — the same ones who questioned me at Jürgen's club! Think, think. What are your options? We didn't have a back door, so that ruled out an escape, but where could I run anyway? I had about as much chance of escaping as I did of winning Wimbledon the following month.
An uneasy feeling settled in the pit of my stomach. I knew they were coming to take me away, and I feared I would never come back to this house again. With each step down the staircase, I had this foreboding sense that my past had finally caught up with me.
I slowly opened the wooden door, knowing who would be standing there. The pair of detectives, dressed in street clothes, stiffened to attention. "We have to take you at this time," said the one to my right, in English.
"I understand," I said, as I beckoned them to come inside. "Listen, can I finish getting dressed?"
"Of course," said one of the detectives.
I bounded up the stairs to the master bedroom, where Margaret was now fully awake and wondering who was at the front door.
"It's the police," I said. "They've come to get me."
I nodded. We both knew this day was not a matter of if but when.
"Shall I call Rainer? Maybe he —"
"Good idea. Tell him they're taking me to the police station. Maybe he can talk to the prosecutor again."
Time was passing quickly. "Listen, I have to go," I said, drawing Margaret close. "I love you," I said, and then I kissed her. What a mess I had laid on her; she didn't deserve this. I had to find a way out of this jam, and it certainly wasn't my first. I had been in jams all my life, whether it was facing a break point on my serve or facing a creditor who wanted to be repaid money I owed him. More often than not, I wriggled off the hook.
I grabbed my wallet, cell phone, and passport and stuffed them into my pants pockets. I put on some socks and a pair of tennis shoes covered with red clay. "Bye, Honey," I said with as much cheerfulness as I could muster. "I'll let you know what happens."
The detectives were politely waiting for me at the landing. "Do you have your passport?" one inquired. I knew why he was asking; once I handed it over to the authorities, I could not flee the country.
"Right here," I replied, lifting the navy blue United States of America passport out of my back pocket.
"Then let's go."
Getting Nowhere Fast
The detectives had me sit in the rear of a silver BMW — all the cops have nice cars in Germany — for the leisurely drive to the police headquarters in Karlsruhe. "Do you mind if I make a few phone calls?" I asked, showing them my cell phone.
First, I called a couple of students to cancel my lessons that morning. Ah, I don't think I can make it today ... Then I dialed Rainer Schubert, who said that Margaret had reached him with the news that I was being arrested by the authorities. "Listen, Roscoe, it doesn't look good," he said. "I just spoke with the prosecutor and got nowhere. He said that he was tired of your stories and tired of waiting for you to pay the money you owe on that boat."
"Rainer, I know that, but they're going to throw me in jail. They can't do that!"
"I'll do what I can from this end, but it's the prosecutor who makes the decision. He determines whether you will go to jail, not the judge. Hang in there."
The detectives escorted me to the receiving desk. I emptied my pockets: wallet, cell phone, cell phone charger, and passport. The items were put into an oversized envelope, which I signed for. They let me keep my gold wedding ring. I have to say that the German detectives were cordial to me.
I was led to an office to wait for what would happen next. After a half hour, a detective offered me a small sandwich — two thin slices of white bread with a slice of cheese. Since I hadn't eaten breakfast, I slowly ate my cheese sandwich. I wasn't offered anything to drink, however, nor did I ask for anything.
An earnest young German man came to see me. "Mr. Tanner, I have been assigned as your interpreter," he said in English.
"Pleased to meet you," I said. "What's going to happen?" "We have an appointment to see the judge at 10:50 at the courthouse."
Leave it to the punctual Germans to schedule a hearing at precisely 10:50 a.m. "Where's the courthouse?" I asked.
"Not far from here. About a five-minute drive."
At 10:30, the policemen arrived for the drive to the courthouse. I wasn't led to a courtroom but rather the judge's chamber, which was a small office on the first floor. A large table dominated the room, and I was directed to sit at the table across from the judge with my interpreter at my right side. A clerk sat next to the judge, staring into a laptop, and a solemn-faced guard stood at the door.
The judge looked to be middle-aged and was dressed in a business suit — he wasn't wearing the traditional black robes. He shuffled a few papers and then began reading something in German — the charges against me, I figured. After a few sentences, the judge stopped and waited for the interpreter to translate. I was right: the judge was reading the charges, which were well known by me. He said that I was being arrested on the basis of an international warrant from the State of Florida for writing a bad check worth $35,000. The judge informed me that I would be extradited to the United States to face charges. "How do you plead, Mr. Tanner?"
"Not guilty, Your Honor," I said, not sure what the local protocol was in addressing judges. "I'm putting together a payment plan, and I plan to make full restitution for the boat I purchased in Florida. I just need some time, Your Honor. The only way I can pay back what I owe is to work, not go to jail."
My answer seemed to mollify the German judge, whose posture visibly relaxed. "I don't see why our American friends are so adamant about extraditing Mr. Tanner to Florida," he said. "I think we can get the matter straightened out to everyone's satisfaction."
For the first time in nearly three hours, I relaxed. Maybe I would stay out of jail after all. I had never been incarcerated before, but I had seen plenty of prison movies, like Shawshank Redemption, and I didn't want to find out firsthand what the experience would be like.
"What happens next?" I asked my interpreter.
"The judge says he will talk to the prosecutor, and then they will let you know what they decide. But he seems sympathetic to you. Until they decide, though, they are going to take you to a holding cell."
At 11:30 a.m., a pair of policemen directed me down a set of stairs to a basement where their keys opened a rusty solid steel door to reveal a ... dungeon. Just like in the movies. No sooner had I stepped inside the windowless cell than the steel door clanged shut. The pungent smell of sweat and urine hit me like a furnace blast. In the dim light, I could see dingy walls covered with graffiti, and much of what was written appeared to be of the "F — — Amerika" variety. Some were drawings related to Kosovo, and one person had drawn an American being hung by his neck with another American hunched over with a knife sticking out of his back. Stuff written in German appeared to be derogatory to Americans as well.
Excerpted from Double Fault by Roscoe Tanner, Mike Yorkey. Copyright © 2005 Roscoe Tanner and Mike Yorkey. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.