Salem man racks up trophies and travel playing senior tennis

Paul Wulf, a successful senior tennis player in Salem, prepares for the USTA National Men's 70 Grass Court Championships in mid-August in Philadelphia. He and his partner are ranked No. 1 in the world in doubles in the 70+ division.

Paul Wulf has lived most of his life in the Bush's Pasture Park neighborhood. He was born at Salem Hospital, grew up on nearby High Street SE, and for the past 37 years has lived in a home on the same street.

"I haven't ventured very far," Wulf said.

That was before he started playing senior tennis, which has provided him and his wife, Cheri, opportunities to travel the world.

He has already competed this year at the national hard court championships in California, national indoor championships in Texas, and international club events in Ireland and England. Still to come are the national grass court championships in Pennsylvania, the national clay court championships in Florida, and the world team championships in Spain.

"That's out of the ordinary," Wulf said of his jet-setting 2023 schedule. "You don't have to spend this much money. There are tournaments to play around here.

"But it has exposed us to places we never would have been."

Paul Wulf and his wife, Cheri, in the stands on opening day at the 2023 Wimbledon Championships in London.

He and his wife make time for sightseeing between matches or after tournaments.

After recently playing in England, they attended opening day at Wimbledon, watching Novak Djokovic, Casper Ruud and Taylor Fritz win opening-round matches.

When they travel in October to Mallorca, Spain, for the world championships, they plan to do something special to celebrate their 47th wedding anniversary.

Roots of the game from DNA, South Salem and OSU

Wulf wasn't born with a tennis racket in hand, but participating in the sport was expected of him and his three older brothers. His parents urged them to pursue lifelong sports such as tennis, swimming and skiing.

His mother, Pauline Findley Wulf, had a tennis background. She played No. 1 singles and doubles in the late 1920s for the Willamette University women's tennis team and never lost a match during the 1927-28 season.

Wulf learned nuances of the game playing against his mom on the courts at Bush's Pasture Park. He couldn't beat her until he was a teenager and she was in her 50s.

Paul Wulf learned to play tennis from his mom, Pauline, at Bush's Pasture Park and Salem Tennis and Swim Club. Pauline Findley Wulf was a standout in the late 1920s on the Willamette University women's tennis team.

He went on to play at South Salem High School and Oregon State University, where he was good but not great. He didn't play No. 1 singles at South until his senior year and never played higher than No. 4 at OSU.

Then he hung up his racket while he and his wife raised their two children.

Bookshelves overflow with gold ball trophies

Wulf's success has come at the senior level, where he has been playing since 2004.

He won his first national title within three years, teaming up with doubles partner Len Wofford of Portland in the 55+ division. He won his first national singles title in 2011 in the 60+ division.

Wulf has since stockpiled 25 gold balls, the coveted first-place trophies awarded for national age-division titles in the United States Tennis Association.

The gold-plated bronze balls, about the size of a marble, are presented in a custom-made box with the USTA logo etched on a glass door and an engraved plate inside describing the achievement.

Wulf's gold balls and other awards fill multiple bookshelves in his home office.

Paul Wulf's tennis trophies and awards are displayed on bookshelves in his home office.

His career highlights include being ranked No. 1 in singles and doubles in 2016 in the 65+ division, winning the doubles Golden Slam in 2021 (all four national doubles titles on clay, grass, hard court and indoor in the same year), and getting inducted into the USTA Pacific Northwest Hall of Fame in 2022.

"You can do this without being a high-level tennis player," Wulf said. "They have tournaments all over the world anybody can participate in at any level. I know people who play internationally, and I don't know if they've ever won a match."

No. 1 in the world with partner from Portland

Much of his success has come in doubles, including 20 gold balls.

He and his partner, Wofford, are ranked No. 1 in the world in the 70+ division and halfway toward another Gold Slam. They have already won national indoor and hard court titles in 2023.

"In doubles, you're only as good as your partner," Wulf said. "We mesh extremely well."

Paul Wulf's tennis trophies and awards, including USTA gold balls, are displayed on bookshelves in his home office.

Wulf also credits his success to staying healthy when other senior players are dealing with injuries and undergoing knee replacements and other surgeries.

"When you get older, mobility is really a large part of the game," he said.

Playing on the senior tour can be expensive. Wulf doesn't have sponsors and buys his own rackets (Babolat) and shoes (K-Swiss).

He is on his own for travel, too, except when participating with the U.S. National Team. Members of the team receive a stipend and team clothing.

Wulf will be the team captain for the 2023 International Tennis Federation World Team Championships. The event, to be held in October in Spain, is the senior tennis equivalent of the Davis Cup, with top American tennis players representing their countries in their age groups.

He was selected as captain twice before. In 2018, his 65+ team won gold in Croatia. His 2021 team did not play because of COVID-19.

Finding opponents to stay sharp between tournaments

Wulf, a retired building contractor, practices three to five times a week at Salem Tennis and Swim Club, where he has played since it opened in 1963. His parents were among the original members.

"One of the first meetings was actually held at my parents' house when it was being organized," Wulf said.

He lines up local opponents of various ages and levels, recently playing prep standouts Zach Moore, a two-time state champion from Cascade High School, and Adam Son, a conference champion from South Salem, for the first time.

Paul Wulf, a successful senior tennis player in Salem, prepares for the USTA National Men's 70 Grass Court Championships.

Regulars on the practice court with Wulf over the past 40 years have included Jeff Doring, Gregg Furukawa, Travis Towery, Craig Horn, James Heyen, Ron Herriot and Bob Thompson.

"I wouldn't be successful if it wasn't for the people I play with in town," Wulf said. "The more variety of players the better."

Capi Lynn is the Statesman Journal's news columnist. Send comments, questions and tips to her at or 503-399-6710. Follow her work on Twitter @CapiLynn and Facebook @CapiLynnSJ.

This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Salem man racks up trophies and travel in senior tennis