LARGO — Like other professional athletes, Kevin Manning developed his share of superstitions. He restrung his own tennis racket each week with a portable machine, preferably the same day as the week before.
He practiced by hitting a set number of strokes every day: 150 forehands, 150 drop shots, 150 lobs. He braced himself for the worst two days after stringing the racket because that was "bad racket day" — the day the racket's oddities might cost him points in a match.
"He was superstitious," said Mary Jane Evertz, Mr. Manning's longtime girlfriend and doubles partner. "You control the situation to win."
As tennis director at Shipwatch Yacht and Tennis Club, Mr. Manning set exacting standards for his students. He watched their footwork and service motion as carefully as their shotmaking ability.
Mr. Manning, a dedicated tennis instructor and recognized player in his age group, died Monday of cancer. He was 53.
Around the state, Mr. Manning was known for two things: teaching and winning, especially among men in the 50-and-older age group. He was nationally ranked in the United States Tennis Association's men's singles; won an international singles tournament in 2007; and was one of a handful chosen to represent the United States in the 2008 Fred Perry Cup in Turkey, according to Shipwatch.
His career took a turn in 2008 when he was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors removed part of his tongue and lymph nodes. He played in Turkey three weeks after surgery. His team came in third out of 21 participating countries, taking home a bronze medal.
Other setbacks followed. Doctors found a spot on his lung. Mr. Manning walked the halls of Mease Countryside Hospital in his tennis clothes, and had Evertz bring his racket-stringing machine there so he would not miss racket-stringing day. He continued to teach.
In September 2009, he was throwing a football on the beach when he noticed discomfort in his right arm. Two months later, he had just completed a serve during a tennis lesson when he felt extreme pain.
"He said it felt like his arm just flew off," said Evertz, 61.
X-rays revealed a clean break in the arm. Doctors reattached the bone with screws, but the solution proved temporary. In July 2010, they amputated the arm Mr. Manning had used all his life to hold a tennis racket.
He stayed tough. "He said, 'This is what I was dealt, and I just have to get through it and keep going,' " Evertz recalled.
He welcomed students who faced their own challenges.
Sallie Brierley, who has epilepsy, has struggled with her balance. When she fell down during a lesson, "he jumped over the net," said Brierley, 60.
He put his one hand underneath her and said, "Hold on to me."
"I will remember him for that," Brierley said.
Kevin John Manning was born in Arlington, Va., the son of an Army man. He was a football nut who also loved basketball. But he was wedded almost literally to tennis, and never married.
Before coming to Shipwatch, he taught at several clubs, including East Lake Woodlands and McMullen Tennis Center.
In January, former tennis pro Pam Shriver invited Mr. Manning to attend a tournament in Baltimore as its guest of honor. He posed for pictures with Chris Evert, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova.
A lifelong Catholic, Mr. Manning had been talking in recent months about death, and seeing his parents. "If he had to (die), that's what he was looking forward to," Evertz said.
He came to Shipwatch as his health worsened, and was there the day before he died.
"Kevin died Monday night, and he was at the tennis club on Sunday morning," said Shipwatch assistant pro Wendell Walker. "He was there. That's a lot to be said. People were absolutely in admiration of that."
About 150 people gathered for a recent memorial service for Mr. Manning, held at the tennis club.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or email@example.com.