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Tennis player, 95, is healthy to a ‘fault’

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Howard Simmons/New York Daily News

Leon Starr credits his longevity to tennis and his cardiologist, Mount Sinai Hospital’s heart chief Dr. Valentin Fuster.

He is old enough to be Roger Federer’s great-great-grandfather. And at 95, he is still playing tennis twice a week with his 80-something pals, putting topspin on the ball and placing it deftly “where my opponents ain’t.”

Meet Leon Starr, the U.S. Open’s unofficial poster boy for the heart-health benefits of tennis.

“It gives me a great boost,” said Starr, who credits the game he’s played for 85 years and his cardiologist, Mount Sinai Hospital’s heart chief Dr. Valentin Fuster, for his longevity.

Roger Federer may be great — but Leon Starr is old enough to be his great-great-grandfather.

EDUARDO MUNOZ/REUTERS

Roger Federer may be great — but Leon Starr is old enough to be his great-great-grandfather.

“My wife used to say, ‘You’ll be the healthiest man in the graveyard.’ I feel very lucky.”

Starr and Fuster teamed up last week outside Arthur Ashe Stadium to talk about the lifelong benefits of the game and staying active. Mount Sinai is the USTA’s official medical provider this year.

“Tennis is a very complete sport – you are working all four extremities, it’s aerobic, and it requires concentration, which we believe may improve brain function,” said Fuster, at 70 no slouch himself for physical activity. He bikes about 500 miles every summer, including pedaling the same grueling route Tour de France competitors ride.

'Tennis is a very complete sport — you are working all four extremities, it’s aerobic, and it requires concentration,' Dr. Valentin Fuster (l.) says.

Howard Simmons/New York Daily News

‘Tennis is a very complete sport — you are working all four extremities, it’s aerobic, and it requires concentration,’ Dr. Valentin Fuster (l.) says.

“You do not have to get exhausted to have an impact on your health,” Fuster said. “All the research shows it’s better that you do something, anything, than do nothing.”

Starr lives by Fuster’s mantra of daily exercise, a low-fat diet and staying engaged in life. Off the court, he’s a member of four book clubs.

In addition to not smoking and staying slim (he weighs 146 – 2 pounds less than when he enlisted in the Navy the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941), Starr is also blessed with good genes. His parents each lived well into their 80s.

Lee Starr, right, is a 95 year old tennis player who plays with his 80something friends.

David Handschuh/New York Daily News

Lee Starr, right, is a 95 year old tennis player who plays with his 80something friends.

And their son shows no signs of slowing down.

On a recent morning at the Beach Point Club in Mamaroneck, Starr took to the court with his partner, Herb Heller, who at 83 is the self-described “baby” of the group.

They played two sets of doubles against Brooklyn native Jay Meltzer, 85, (“I’m on the team ’cause I can still keep score) and Stuyvesant High grad Alan Epstein, 86.

Lee Starr recently played at the Beach Point Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

David Handschuh/New York Daily News

Lee Starr recently played at the Beach Point Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

“Herb is the strongest hitter – we tend to schlep along,” said Epstein, like the others a retired businessman.

Heller makes most of the running shots for his team. But what age has stolen from Starr in speed, he makes up for with smarts.

He positions himself well on the court, and is fierce at the net. He has a clean forehand and rarely double-faults.

The key to a long, happy life? 'Tennis and the love of two good women,' he says.

David Handschuh/New York Daily News

The key to a long, happy life? ‘Tennis and the love of two good women,’ he says.

“I’m a strategic player,” said Starr, sweating after two sets in the hot sun, his second wife, Jacquie, cheering from the sidelines. “I just pull the shots out of my memory bank.”

Starr, who now lives in Rye, is a Boston native. He was in the same Harvard class of 1940 as John F. Kennedy, whom he remembers as “a bon vivant.” He was in the New York department store business from the time he graduated until he turned 90.

A hip replacement in 1988 and back surgery “the year Truman beat Dewey” (1948) are all that fill his medical chart.

Starr and his first wife, Adele, were happily married for 64 years, until her death seven years ago. He remarried five years ago.

Asked what longevity advice he would offer to his internationally renowned cardiologist, who is 25 years his junior, Starr didn’t miss a beat.

“Tennis and the love of two good women,” he said.

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Lifestyle – NY Daily News

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