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LOVE AT FIRST SET

CHET NIEMEYER HOLDS COURT ABOUT THE GAME OF HIS LIFE.SET FOR LIFE IF YOU CAN'T GET A GRIP, GO SEE WASHINGTON PARK'S TENNIS GYPSY.

Chet worked with him for two summers, sometimes from his chair, sometimes out on the lawns that surround the courts. "Now that it's kicked in, I'm hitting well," he says. "I'm a convert; there's no doubt. Last year I was 111 and 8 against 5.0 players using this grip." Two years ago he took a trip around the world following an itinerary plotted out for him by Chet. "Chet," he concludes, "has done a lot for my life."

Chet's other successes are more subtle. This year's Wimbledon tournament, for instance, was a confirmation of sorts for him. The Spaniards comported themselves well for the first time in decades, winning the women's singles and sending a man to the finals. (A coincidence that Chet used to teach in a particular part of Spain? Perhaps not, hints Chet. "Some of the Wimbledon players came from those areas," he says.)

More telling, the Continental grip seems to be making a comeback among the top-ranked, including Wimbledon's most recent winner. "You'll notice that Pete Sampras uses the Continental grip," says Chet. "Well, I was teaching the Continental grip twenty years before Sampras."

Chet tells me, "I've taught at clubs all over the world: Spain, Puerto Vallarta. I teach for free--I don't take any money or any gifts. That's because I do it for me. I do it for my amusement, not for yours. And I don't teach beginners. I don't babysit. I did that long enough."

"But," he adds, not so sternly, "your game will go up. You'll learn so much more about tennis than you ever knew existed. Some things that Tilden used. I've studied him a lot."

We arrange to meet tomorrow, afternoonish, so that Chet can begin teaching me the Continental grip, the entire system. (Chet doesn't do appointments. "Got stood up too many times," he explains.) As he walks away from the park--it is about five o'clock, and the second shift is over--Chet warns that I had better be serious about it; he's had too many students who've paid their money but who have not been ready.

"It breaks my soul to see someone who doesn't want to learn," says Chet.

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