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March 6, 2016 03:55 PM

RivalsToby Smith finds that good friends can also be friendly foes

Emlen “Em” Hall, 73, and Leo Romero, 72, have known each other for more than 30 years. Each is an emeritus professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law. For six years Romero was dean of the law school. Both men are published authors in their fields – for Romero, it’s international law. For Hall, it’s water law and public land law. Initially, teaching and legal scholarship brought them together. Through the years two threads that bind them have been a love for tennis and for laughter.  

Are you guys New Mexico natives?

Romero:  I was born in Albuquerque. I grew up in Pecos and then Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Hall:  I was born in Riverdale, New York. I grew up mostly in New Canaan, Connecticut. I lived in Pecos for a while, too, but our times there didn’t overlap.

So when did tennis take hold?

Romero:  As a kid, I played a lot of sports, mostly baseball, but also football and basketball. My father gave me an old wood racket and I played a lot with Bill Hurt, a friend. I went on to Robertson High School. I was on the tennis team my last two years there. Leroy Fulgenzi, now the family patriarch, was a teammate.  

Hall:  I played baseball a lot as a boy in Connecticut, but also tennis.  I played mostly at New Canaan Country Club, which had slow green clay courts, en tout cas. I played seriously in the 10-and-unders and 12-and-unders at USLTA tournaments around New England.  I had a bad birthday, late August, so I had to play up all the time. This was hard because I was little. I was always playing much bigger people.  

You’ve grown since then, looks like.

Hall:  I’m six one. [Laughs.]

Romero: I’m five ten.  I think I’ve shrunk some. [Laughs.]

Romero: I got back into tennis when I started to teach at the law school, in 1972.  I played with Bill Dixon a lot. Also with Richard Reidy and Dan Petrick.  When Em joined the faculty (in 1983) we started playing a lot of doubles together. We were ranked No. 1 in the men’s 40s in Northern New Mexico.

Hall: I went to prep school in the ninth grade.  I was the best player there; I wasn’t that good.  I was a backcourt player with big sweeping ground strokes. I could keep the ball in play all day long. No one liked to play me. I played my freshmen year at Princeton, then stopped.

Do you still play doubles?

Romero:  Mostly we play singles now. Thursday mornings, outdoors at the Lobo Club. I think I’m a stronger doubles player than singles.

Hall:  I prefer to play indoors. I think the ball indoors is heavy and stays in play a lot more. It’s kind of like playing on clay.

Romero:  I also play on Tuesday nights in the Lobo Club bubble with a bunch of guys. Richard Schaefer, Gig Brummell, Frank Calabro, Ken Summers, some others.  We’re all 4.0.

Hall:  When Leo and I started playing singles with each other, we played sets.

Romero: Now we play games to 11.  You’ve got to win by two.

Hall: We don’t serve; we just start playing. It’s kind of like squash—games to 11. I played a lot of squash growing up.

Romero:  There were no squash courts in Las Vegas.  [Both laugh.]

So who’s ahead when you play singles?

Hall:  We were pretty even at first.  Then I won a little more.  As we move on in years I lose more.

Romero: No, we’re still pretty even.  

Hall:  You’ve got to a hit a lot of balls when you’re young. That really helps.

Leo: I didn’t hit a lot of balls.  I would describe Em’s strokes as “cultured.” Our games are so different.  I’m not pretty.  I don’t have form. My strokes are hardly picturesque.  I like to get to the net.

Hall:  I don’t play net.  I love the aesthetics of the game.

Romero:  Em hits the ball and then he admires it. [Both laugh.]  I think he can feel the ball on the strings more than me.  He can control topspin and underspin.  He has finesse.  

Hall: I do like to slice the ball on the backhand side.

Romero: When I grew up in Las Vegas, it was all serve and volley. Nobody sliced, Nobody stayed back. All hard courts up there.  Some of those courts were . . .   

Hall:  . . . Cement?

Romero:  Yes, cement!  I don’t hit a slice. I drive the ball. Em can drive a slice.  You don’t see that very much.
Hall:  The law school used to have a tennis tournament. I won it once.  I think that’s the only trophy I’ve kept.  This was before Timmy Garcia showed up.  [Both laugh.]

Hall:  One time Leo played Dick Mechem (a nationally ranked senior competitor) at the New Mexico Open. He beat Mechem.

Romero:  I think it was the 45 singles or the 50s.  Mechem was quite a bit older than me and he always played down.

Hall:  Leo drove Mechem crazy.  

Romero: It was probably because of my strokes. I’m not fancy. [Both laugh.]

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