Rob Peterson is a determined man. The 51-year-old ex-police officer and current world record holder is trying to become the oldest person ever to make it onto the Association of Tennis Professionals tour in the modern era — a feat that, though highly unlikely for someone Peterson's age, may not be impossible for someone with his tennis acumen.
Peterson holds seven tennis-related world records and played on the ATP tour more than 30 years ago. He is known throughout the tennis world as the "marathon" tennis player due to the Guinness world record titles he holds, which include Longest Tennis Volley and Longest Tennis Rally.
"I've been playing since I was 9 years old," said an eager Peterson on a chilly morning in December as he headed toward the benches of the sun-soaked McNear tennis courts in Petaluma to drop his gear. "As the years passed, I always wondered how good someone like me could get."
Peterson plans to spend the next two and a half years answering that question, by training constantly in anticipation of a showdown against one of the top 100-ranked players on the ATP tour for a major cash purse of up to $225,000. His training will include facing off in matches against players almost young enough to be his grandchildren. For Peterson, it's all part of an effort to draw attention to the sport of tennis and possibly to play again on the ATP tour at age 54.
"If I can hang in there with a top-ranked player, it would help me gauge how well I could do on the professional tour for a year or two," said Peterson. "Plus, kids in America today just don't love tennis the way they do other sports. I find that sad for a sport that's given my life so much meaning."
Peterson, who grew up in San Rafael, can still remember the glory days of American tennis, talking about former greats like John McEnroe with a far-off stare that signifies his awe and respect for such a player. He grins when he speaks of Pete Sampras, twirling his racket in his fingers anxiously, energized by the mere mention of the tennis legend.
At 9 years old, Peterson began taking lessons locally. When his family moved to Australia the following year, Peterson found that the sport he casually enjoyed in America gave him a sense of familiarity in a new country.
"I got really into playing in Australia," he said. "For the three years my family lived abroad, I lived tennis."
When his family returned to California, Peterson quickly became a top-ranked teen player in the state. He attended Redwood High School in Larkspur and joined the professional tour soon after graduation. After playing for a few years, Peterson then began teaching tennis.
But after several years of teaching, Peterson said he became enamored with law enforcement and gave up tennis. "I became a police officer in Florida and later joined the Sheriff's Department," he said. "But tennis kept calling me back."
So after five years of working in law enforcement, Peterson returned to teaching tennis in Florida. He moved to Petaluma last year, where he and his wife, Rebecca, currently reside.
"She's been very supportive since I told her what I wanted to do," said Peterson. Rebecca, who also played competitive tennis, said she believes in her husband's goals and added that, if anyone could do it, it would be Peterson.