Tuesday, June 7, 2016
If you are not a tennis player, or at least a fan of the game, it's best to work your iPhone rather than reading on. But if you too love tennis, you might enjoy tripping back over the years with me.
Everyone who ever picked up a racquet can recall highlights, or low lights, of his/her time on the courts. An everlasting image for me is the face of a University of Delaware doubles player when my wimpy first serve barely cleared the net. He asked “is that your serve?” to which I replied “15 - love.”
I was blessed in seeing many of the greats in action. Hoad, Emerson, Laver, Kramer, Schroder, Trabert, Talbert, Gonzales, Segura, Margaret Court, Yvonne Goolagong, you name them. Then the younger group – McEnroe, Connors, Agassi, Martina N, Martina H, Venus, and Serena came along. I was lucky enough to watch many of them play too.
To be sure, there are many players I missed seeing in action – either because they were before my time or because of unlucky cards dealt to me by the tennis gods. Ernest Renshaw and his twin brother, William, Wimbledon champions in the 1890s, are two examples of the former. As for the latter, I missed Bill Tilden when he played an exhibition match at the Cynwyd Club (Pennsylvania) in the late 1940s. Although that was long after his glory years in the Roaring Twenties, Tilden, 7 times World #1 and holder of 10 Grand Slam Singles titles, was then and remains to this day a tennis-world legend.
Try this. Go to Wikipedia and search The 100 Greatest Tennis Players of all Time. You will be surprised by names temporarily forgotten which will now be happily remembered. Do you recall Roscoe Tanner electrifying the galleries with his rocket of a serve? (In the 1979 U.S. Open, one of his 140 mph left-handed serves misfired and brought down the net.) How about Dick Savitt? Fred Perry? Yannick Noah? Other names jump out of the past – the great Don Budge, modest Ken Rosewall, not-so-modest Bobby Riggs, not-so-nice Ilie Nastase.
Jack Kramer truly deserves special notice for it was he who revolutionized the game of tennis. He took it out of the shadows of sham “amateurism” and into a paying professional sport where it is now enjoyed by millions of fans all around the world. Gardnar Mulloy has earned a spot on anyone's list. When a tennis magazine referred to him as“39 year old Gardnar Mulloy”, he took it and ran. Gardnar seemed to stay 39 until the day he was elected to the Tennis Hall of Fame at 100.
A personal favorite? John Bromwich of Australia. In my mind's eye I can still see him going up against the wall at Forest Hills to return the unreturnable with spectacular lobs. In tribute to Bromwich, I practiced and practiced lob returns. I fancied myself the “lob king” at our little tennis club. No Bromwich I, but I did prove on more than one occasion that the lob belongs in everyone’s tennis quiver.