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Lexington's Doctor of Tennis

To say one Lexington doctor’s life is consumed with tennis is no exaggeration.

Dr. Mike Eden, a family physician, is 59 years old and looks trim and youthful as he volleys one afternoon on an indoor court at the Lexington Tennis Club. 

“One of the things I love about tennis is the traditions of tennis, that it's a game for gentlemen. You know and women. And I love that part of it. And I think that's just about as more important than actually winning because it shows your true character.”

His love of tennis began in 9th grade in Elizabethtown when he was cut from the high school baseball team.

“I had friends on the tennis team, and they invited me to come out to play. And that's how I got started. And then I got what I call tennis fever. I loved it, couldn't get enough of it, would play eight hours a day that summer after my sophomore year.”

Eden went on to play for the Georgetown College Tennis Team where his wife Marsha also played. Later both their daughters would play tennis for Georgetown College.

“That's one of the wonderful things about tennis is, it is truly a family sport. And so, the whole family can play together. And we had a lot of matches together. As a family over the years when the girls were young, I would introduce them to tennis, and get to go out and spend time with them and play.”

Eden not only played tennis, but through four decades, he took on leadership roles in the sport. He’s the former USTA (U.S. Tennis Association) Kentucky President, a KY Tennis Hall of Fame Inductee in 2018, and started the KY High School Tennis Coaches Association. 

Eden’s love of the game took on another level of passion when he began buying and collecting old tennis items.

“I always was interested in history growing up and I had a stamp collection and coin collection. I love history, I love organizing things and learning the story behind those particular artifacts. So, I came across a metal tennis can back in the early 80s at a garage sale. And it was an old Slazenger can made in South Africa. And that was around that time they had switched over to plastic cans. I thought that's kind of neat. And that's how it started.”

For the next 40 years, Eden looked for historic tennis items at auctions, on eBay, and from other collectors.

Can it get expensive? Eden says, “Yes, some of them are expensive. Yes. But most of them are reasonable tennis memorabilia in comparison to baseball, or golf is really undervalued. And so that's good for me as a collector, I can find a lot of things for reasonable prices as opposed to if this same memorabilia was baseball from the 20’s it'd be worth a lot more.”

David White, the Director of the Lexington Tennis Club that Eden joined in 1990, says the doctor’s tennis memorabilia collection is one of the best in the world.

“I can't imagine a bigger collection in the world. Honestly, I don't know how his wife feels about the basement being completely taken out. But it's quite impressive.” 

I asked, “You seriously think it's one of the best in the world? Oh, yeah. Yeah. I mean, you're in the top five for sure. He's very modest, but I can't imagine. It's like a museum.” 

Eden’s collection starts in his living room where a wall of shelves displays hundreds of tennis memorabilia. Decades-old boxes and cans of tennis balls, cardboard advertisements for the game, and old books about tennis. One of the tennis racquets on display in the living room is more than 140 years old. 

“This is called a flat top racquet, flat on the top. And it was made in 1880. And this particular racquet is an Ajay Reach from Philadelphia. But the inlay on it. I mean, look at the craftsmanship on that. It's beautiful. I think it's a work of art.”

He even has a leather boot tied to lawn tennis and horses. “It's specifically a horse boot for tennis. And this came from England turn of the century in 1900. They would have to carry a pole, a heavy roller to roll the grass courts. They would wear these boots so they wouldn't tear the courts up. And since we live in horse country, I had to have one of these.”

But Eden’s living room is just the tip of the iceberg with his tennis collection. I followed him down the steps to his basement, and it was hard not to be amazed.

“Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh, how much? Like how many items do you have down here?” Eden estimates about 4,000 tennis items. He has them arranged chronologically around the 2,000-square-foot basement. 

His collection began when tennis was created in the 1870s in England. 

“Tennis, as I mentioned to you earlier was patented by British Major Walter Wingfield in 1874. And this is a repo of the original patent, which the original patent is in Newport, Rhode Island, International Tennis Hall of Fame. And so, we're coming up on the 105th anniversary. It was the 23rd day of February 1874.”

Back then they had large wood boxes that contained tennis racquets, balls, and the net.

“This particular box set came from 1875. It's only a year after tennis was patented. And then the earliest rackets are like this one up here. This is called a tilt-top racket. And they made these in the 1870s. This is an English racket, so it has a slight tilt to it.”

A visual history of the sport of tennis continues around Eden’s basement. As we move through his collection Eden points out that women in long dresses played tennis in the early years of the sport.

“I'm glad that women played from the very beginning, you know, and that's one of the things I love about tennis. The only thing that you need in order to play tennis is a racquet, ball, and somebody else to play with and a desire to play, because anybody can play. And you can play from all ages, you can play your whole life. That's the wonderful thing about tennis.”

He has a lot of vintage advertisements for tennis with products like Lucky Strike Cigarettes, Ladies Home Journal, Coca Cola, Cleary’s Ice Cream, and Dairy Orange Drink. Part of one wall holds racquets and presses.

“The purpose of the press was to keep the racquet from warping. And they made lots of different variations of this press. And I was telling you earlier, there's a collector in New York, and he only collects presses. That's the only thing he collects.”

Nearby Eden shows me a pinball machine from 1977 that he says was the only kind made with a tennis theme. He has so many things that two other rooms are also filled with tennis memorabilia. He’s very proud of his tennis can room which has three walls nine feet high with shelves.

“I have over 700 different tennis cans that come from all over the world, very colorful. As well as I have about 150 different tennis ball boxes that also have great advertising and graphics on them as well. Some of them have players. It's the thing that when people come to visit, this is the room that people really liked the best.”

Eden admits there’s a thrill to searching and finding a rare item. “It's the thrill of the hunt. You're always looking for things and it's exciting when you find something you've been looking for and you may be looking for it for decades and all of a sudden it comes available, which is what happened with this Tennis Magazine, which just went out of publication. I had all of them except for August of 1965. It started in May of ‘65. Finally, this past summer, I found the one I was looking for. So that was exciting to complete the collection.”

Eden is also looking to the future. What will become of his massive tennis memorabilia collection?

“Oh, absolutely. I've given a great deal of thought to that. I want to be able to donate the collection and so people can see it. I've talked to the Kentucky Tennis Hall of Fame. It currently is at the local tennis club. There's some thought they may have a site where they may want to decorate it with tennis memorabilia. I would love to do that. UK, I've talked to Dennis Emery about the possibility when they build a new UK tennis facility. They want to have a little Hall of Fame and I'd be happy to donate some things there. And then of course I may donate to the Hall of Fame up in Newport, Rhode Island.”

As for his playing days, Eden has no plans to stop. He just loves the game too much, and he says don’t discount the social part of the sport.

“I think it’s as much important as the actual fitness in play. In fact, one of the things about tennis that you may have heard of or be aware of is that there was a study from the Mayo Clinic proceedings. It was published several years ago, and it was a Danish study of people over time when compared to sedentary people to people who played various sports and tennis was shown to add about 10 years. And they found that, that social sports, the social aspect of it helps people live longer. It wasn't just the exercise. When you're a tennis player, wherever you go, other tennis players are very accepting, and so excited to play with you. And you get to meet people literally all over the world. So, the social aspect to me is huge.” 

If you see Dr. Eden on the court, say hello and ask him about that tennis memorabilia collection in his basement.

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Sam is a veteran broadcast journalist who is best known for his 34-year career as a News Anchor at WKYT-TV in Lexington. Sam retired from the CBS affiliate in 2021.
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