At 87, Jerald “J.B.” Hayes is still passionate about playing tennis at a high level.
“What I love about it is it benefits my health and I love the competition,” said Hayes, who has played at the Carmel Racquet Club for several years. “I’ve been in sports all my life and I love the competition. Then there is the social aspect. You meet great people. My wife makes friends with the other players’ wives, and I make friends with the players.”
Hayes was the captain of the men’s 85-and-older U.S. team that won the International Tennis Federation Super-Seniors World Team Championships’s Lorne Main Cup Oct. 13 in Mallorca, Spain. The U.S. team beat Sweden in the finals on clay courts. The United States Tennis Association finances the trip for the team members in the various age groups.
“After playing all these tournaments, I prefer grass, and I only play on it once a year,” Hayes said. “On the grass, the ball doesn’t bounce up as high, and I like my groundstrokes down low because I don’t use a western grip. I use a continental grip.”
Hayes and his wife, Anne, moved from Carmel to Westfield, where they lived for approximately 20 years before moving to The Stratford in Carmel earlier this year.
Hayes has 17 gold balls for winning 17 national singles and doubles tournaments. He and partner Wilbur Jones of Shawnee, Kan., won all four national doubles titles this year — the outdoor hardcourts in Laguna Woods, Calif., in May; hardcourts indoors in Providence, R.I., in July; grass courts in Chestnut Hills, Mass. in August; and clay courts in West Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., in September.
Hayes said Jones called him in late 2022, wanting to know if Hayes wanted to partner because Jones would be competing in his first year in the 85 and older division.
“He’s a very good player,” Hayes said.
Then came the hard part — telling his two doubles players he wouldn’t be playing with them in 2023.
“He’s younger and I felt we could win all the national tournaments, and we did,” Hayes said.
Hayes also made it to two national singles championship matches this year on grass and clay courts.
“I got beat in a third-set tiebreaker in both of them, so it was not a happy ending,” he said.
There are national tournaments for players 90 and older, but not in the ITF World Team Tennis. Hayes plans to play as long as he is competitive.
“I’m fortunate with my health,” Hayes said. “I’ve had nothing replaced.”
Hayes had a torn rotator cuff when he was 79. He chose rehab instead of surgery.
“I went through rehab and then won my first gold ball the next year in the 80s,” he said. “I had to change my serve. I can’t wind up. It’s just overhead straight through. Hopefully, I can continue next year.”
Hayes started playing in Danville on clay courts when he was 9 years old. In those days, Danville High School didn’t have a tennis team, so he only played in the summer.
“I went to Purdue and was a walk-on,” he said. “I think I went to two practices, and I was in civil engineering and decided I didn’t have time to play tennis and study, so then I didn’t play for 15 years.”
In his late 30s, he started playing in Indianapolis area tournaments. He played in his first national tournament when he was 50. He started playing in national tournaments more regularly when he retired from his civil engineering job at MacDougall Pierce Construction when he was 65.