Not even a bout of pneumonia and heart fibrillation could prevent 83-year-old Kaipaki tennis player Evan De la Rue winning the 80-plus singles and doubles titles at the New Zealand Age Group Championships in Remuera.
The normally fit as a fiddle De la Rue became unwell in May last year.
"I've never been so unwell," he said. "I couldn't even mow the lawn without being totally out of breath and was unable to play tennis for seven months."
It was a far cry from four months earlier when his memorable season culminated with a silver medal in the mixed doubles partnered by Jean Stevens (Otago) at the World Championships in Orlando. He also featured prominently in the singles, winning four games on the trot to take out the consolation plate after losing his first round match in the main draw to the No 1 seed, 6-3, 6-3. De la Rue and Stevens retained their No 2 world ranking for around 12 months.
After taking medication and spending time at his holiday bach at Mount Maunganui, De la Rue said his health gradually started to improve to the point he could walk around the Mount.
"It took me 100 minutes, more than twice as long as I normally take to travel around the Mount base, but the sea air and walks all helped speed up my recovery."
Although still feeling short of breath from time to time, he eventually began hitting balls again.
"My neighbour (at Lynd Rd, Kaipaki) who plays a bit of tennis was a big help in my recovery. We practised, practised, practised hitting balls on our home court and did some fitness drills to get me into shape for the nationals," said De la Rue.
The No 1 seed in the 80-plus age group drew the bye in round one, prompting him to ask the organisers to put him in a game of doubles on the first day to see how his fitness would hold up. He came through it "okay" and the rest is now history.
The remarkable De la Rue completed a three-peat by winning all his six singles matches in straight sets to clinch his third national singles title in as many years.
He had further success, going through unbeaten to win the doubles, partnered by Gary Pike the No 2 seed in the singles, and placed third in the mixed doubles partnered by Margaret Hart of Napier.
De la Rue had another setback last year when his great mate and long-time tennis rival Mose Harvey passed away. Harvey became the first and only New Zealander to win a world tennis singles title when he triumphed in the 70-plus age group in Christchurch in 2009. He and De la Rue were runners-up in the world 70-plus doubles at that same event.
"It was a pleasure to have known Mose," he said.
"We had many a battle on the court competing in the same age group.
"There is no doubting that playing alongside Mose as a doubles pairing helped my tennis no end."
The current No 1 ranked 80-plus player in the country has now won both the men's singles and doubles titles for three straight years, and cleaned up the singles, doubles and mixed doubles the two previous years.
There is no hint of him hanging up his racket in the near future — he is seriously considering competing at this year's world champs in Croatia.