Competitive tennis newcomer Morley takes passion to semi-professional senior circuit

At 59, Michael Morley is unlike other men of his age. Morley isn’t preparing for retirement, and he doesn’t work out to pass the time or for the sake of staying in shape. Rather, Morley prepares for his schedule of competitive tennis events that are coming up in the next year and stays active because he can’t stop moving.

A member of the United States Tennis Association’s senior circuit, Morley has turned tennis, what was once a hobby, into a semi-professional interest much later in his life.

Standing 5 feet 4 inches tall, and weighing in at no more than 120 pounds, Morley doesn’t resemble the build of an average professional tennis player.

“It doesn’t help with a lot of things,” Morley said of his height.

For someone with his build, it would have made much more sense for him to think about pursuing a career in practicing law, dabbling in the real estate market or even acting.

Yet Morley, perhaps fusing his Youngstown, Ohio, can-do-attitude roots with New York City grit, went from lawyer to movie producer to real estate entrepreneur to tennis enthusiast, often mixing and matching his lines of work.

Morley is an avid afternoon doubles participant at the Chautauqua Tennis Center, which has become an informal training ground for his involvement in the USTA’s Senior Circuit.

The tennis center’s courts paired with a consistently solid rotation of good players and a competitive atmosphere are ideal for the growth of any tennis player.

“One of the things he’s done that he didn’t do too much before is play doubles,” said Lee Robinson, program director at the tennis center and a longtime friend of Morley. “Doubles can help your volleying game a lot, and he used to play almost all singles. He’s playing some decent players with some different styles. That helps him, I think, quite a bit.”

First-timers and returnees of the tennis center who want to play matches tell Robinson their skill level, which he in turn uses to create games for players on the grounds.

“When players show up that come from off-grounds, we match them up, I always steer people to him,” Robinson said.

Morley has been nationally ranked — a facet of USTA Senior Circuit he hopes to return to in the coming years — and competes in national tournaments facilitated by the governing tennis body. The USTA has nearly 50 age divisions for competitive tennis that range from youth to senior status, played in all corners of the country.

His interest in tennis was sparked when a college friend, Ray Boniface, invited him to Bemus Point and played tennis games on a nearby court. Morley befriended several Youngstown State tennis team players as a student, allowing him the opportunity to improve alongside the best around him.

“I played with all the guys on the team when I was just starting out,” Morley said. “It was intimidating at first, but I’m very steady. Balls were going a lot harder than mine, but they were coming back to them.”

Finally, Morley found a sport that didn’t require a seven-foot wingspan or physique of a weightlifter.

“It’s not like I could play linebacker,” Morley said.

After school, Morley continued playing and improving at tennis, but took a few professional detours along the way to where he is today.

A practicing lawyer and real estate entrepreneur, Morley resides in New York City, where he lives with his wife Anita Lin, a former professional ballerina who now serves on the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts for the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Morley is still a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and only left show business a few years ago when cineBLAST! Productions, the where he served as president, was sold off to its employees. The company now operates as The Group Entertainment.

While at cineBLAST!, Morley was an associate or executive producer for several films, including “Spring Forward,” starring Liev Schreiber, and “Loggerheads,” which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

From Palm Springs, California, to Philadelphia, Morley has played in dozens of USTA tournaments since 2006, the highlight of his career coming in 2013 when he was selected for the Eastern region team that competes in the Atlantic Coast Cup. He was the deciding match in the competition that brings together the best players from the Eastern, Middle States, Mid-Atlantic and New England regions.

In 2013, Morley competed in the Ohio Senior Olympics and won gold as the state’s top tennis player over 50, a feat that required a unique approach to the game.

Morley has to rely on his speed and stamina to compete at a higher level because, when it comes to power and repertoire of shots, he falls short compared to competitors, he said.

“I have to be better conditioned than anybody I play, and I’m always confident that I’m faster than the person I’m playing,” Morley said. “I don’t mean that in a cocky way. The fact is that the bigger and stronger people are going to beat me.”

Although he’s nearing 60, Morley doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon.

“My goal is to [be ranked] No. 1 by the time I’m 85,” Morley said. “I’m hoping everyone else is worn down, with new knees and new hips, and I’ll be the only one walking.”