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SATURDAY

“I consider teaching grace in tennis as one of my missions in life,” writes Allie Ritzenberg. In his newly published memoir, Capital Tennis, the tennis-instructor-turned-author recounts how this missionary zeal ultimately led him to help civilize a notoriously savage tribe of people—specifically, D.C. power players. In 1962, as a young tennis pro, Ritzenberg founded the St. Albans Tennis Club. Under Ritzenberg’s guidance, bigwigs from Robert McNamara to Katharine Graham to Art Buchwald to George H.W. Bush flocked to the row of clay courts that rim Garfield Street NW near the National Cathedral. Membership in the club eventually became a classic D.C. status symbol. (Thus the old saying: “It’s easier to get into the gates of heaven than it is to get into the St. Albans Tennis Club.”) For decades, Ritzenberg—who grew up in a Jewish, working-class family in Adams Morgan—held the keys to this elite enclave. He also set the rules. In clothing, he was a traditionalist, insisting on all whites. In social mores, he was a progressive, insisting on not all whites. “Many of the people coming into Washington as part of the Kennedy administration were tennis players….[T]hey were also sensitive to the issue of racial segregation and they did not want to belong to clubs and organizations that excluded African Americans, as was the case in those days with many of the country clubs in Washington,” he writes. “The St. Albans courts offered them a perfect outlet.” Some 40 years later, Ritzenberg offers us a near-perfect recap when he speaks at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 12, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Felix Gillette)