Leo Lapane

Leo Lapane plays doubles with a group of friends on Wednesday at Carr McNatt Park in Casa Grande.

CASA GRANDE

At 78, Leo Lapane has no plans to quit playing tennis.

And why should he? The speed is back in his knees after undergoing knee replacement surgery in 2013 and 2015.

“We have a joke that anyone on the national circuit that is over 70, almost always has some kind of replacement, whether it’s hip or knees,” Lapane said. “Most of the guys have been playing all their lives and you are going to wear those things out. They are working on their original equipment, and here I got these two brand new beautiful knees.”

Lapane had his left knee replaced in 2013 and his right knee was replaced in 2015. Before the operation, Lapane said he was bone-on-bone in both of his knees and was able to run on flat surfaces but couldn’t lift his knee to walk up stairs.

“I got my speed. I was always fast around the court, but I wasn’t playing in pain anymore,” Lapane said. “I got my speed back so I can move. As the guys get older, you get older with them, but you can get a competitive advantage.”

The result has been good for Lapane, who participated in a national tournament the last week of January in Orlando, Florida, and participated in another tournament in Sun Lakes.

He hasn’t participated in any tournaments since then because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s easy to maintain social distance,” Lapane said of playing tennis during the COVID-19 outbreak. “They have some specific rules, but nobody follows them. You’re supposed to bring four cans of balls, they all have different numbers and you only pick up the ball with your number on (it).”

Lapane added he is hopeful that tournaments will resume by the end of this month, but in the meantime he continues to play locally at the new tennis courts at Carr McNatt Park. He has seen more people playing on the courts since the renovations of the park were completed last year.

Lapane grew up playing high school and college football and baseball in his native Rhode Island, where he remembers skipping class his senior year to head for the bleachers of Fenway Park to catch Boston Red Sox games. He started getting serious about tennis when he was 32 years old.

“I was a little bit active. I tried tennis and then I put it down,” Lapane said. “It’s a difficult sport to learn unless you are going to commit to it.”

Lapane continued playing in Rhode Island until he moved to Arizona in 1985, where he began working at Hexcel Corporation as a senior process engineer and a chemist at the plant. He continued there until retiring in 2006.

Along the way, Lapane said he played in a doubles match with tennis great Jimmy Connors, although his biggest tennis idol is John McEnroe.

“My hero was always John McEnroe, although I didn’t have his temper. I just thought he was a maestro with the racquet,” Lapane said.

Lapane said he’s been to prestigious tournaments in Indian Wells, California, and has been to the US Open in New York City on numerous occasions.

“I wanted to watch Tracy Austin, and I got stuck in traffic,” Lapane said regarding one US Open visit where he was forced to wait in the parking lot while trying to enter the stadium. “She was so efficient on the court: I was stuck on that level for 45 minutes, and she won her match in 40 minutes, and all I could see was the scoreboard.”

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