Forget Federer & Nadal and Borg versus McEnroe. According to Marshall Jon Fisher who wrote Terrible Splendor, convincingly demonstrates that the greatest tennis match of all time was Gottried Von Cramm versus Don Budge in the 1937 Davis Cup semifinals. At our visit to the Newport Casino this past weekend, we took a tour of the newly renovated Newport Tennis Hall of Fame. Our tour guide Liz, an avid tennis player and former nun, knew her tennis history well. She spoke about Fisher’s book and told us that Von Cramm got a call from the Fuhrer (Hitler) before the match. He wished him luck, and said, “Win for the Fatherland.” Budge won that one, a year later Von Cramm disappeared. Knowing what we know, his disappearance makes you wonder, doesn’t it? This was a fascinating tale, and so is tennis history.
Tennis began with the use of your palm in France in the 12th century in the monastic cloisters. By the 16th century rackets appeared and was being called real tennis. Francis I of France (1515-45) was an enthusiastic player and promoter of real tennis, as it was called then. It was played indoors where the ball could be hit off the wall, like squash and racquet ball is played today. History has it that King Henry VIII was playing tennis when his wife Ann Bolin was taken away and beheaded. When he tired of them, he disposed of his wives in this uncouthly manner. Guess polygamy was not a preferred sport.
Between 1859 and 1865, in Birmingham, England, Major Harry Gem, a solicitor, and his friend Augurio Perera, a Spanish merchant, combined elements of the game of rackets and the Spanish ball game Pelota and played it on a croquet lawn in Edgbaston. In 1872, both men moved to Leamington Spa and in 1874, with two doctors from the Warneford Hospital, founded the world’s first tennis club, the Leamington Tennis Club. It made its way outdoors in 1874 and was played on grass.
In December 1873, Major Walter Clopton Wingfield, designed and patented a similar game. His idea was to outline the territory, and have a net dividing the two different sides. He wrote an eight-page rule book. The court had an hour-glass shape with a 4’-8” net, higher than today’s 36” center height and 42″ at the net posts. The way it is today is pretty close to Major Wingfield’s ideas. Scoring is not though. He wanted a 1, 2, 3, 4 simple scoring, but we have 15, 30, 40, game. It’s more involved than that, but you’ll find out quick enough when you learn to play and get on that court.
Who was the Father of Tennis? A question on my written test in 1977 for the USPTA.* This image on the right is Major Wingfield, the Father of Tennis.
In order to become a professional teaching member of the USPTA, you must pass a written and on-court exam. I took the test, passed, and still have my certification to teach tennis. I did teach for many years, played too. Intense, but fun, met great people, great players, even did a watercolor painting for the USPTA’s 75th anniversary. Went to conferences, Forest Hills, sat in the best seats. But you know, you do not have to pass tests to play. If you don’t play, you are missing a great game, a sport that gives you fabulous competition, keeps those synapses growing, and good exercise while you swiftly run to hit the ball. There are ways to hold the racquet, stroke the ball, body positions are critical, hearing and seeing the ball, and how the racquet is strung all matter. The game of tennis is just like playing chess, but the physical part adds another challenge.
If you enlarge the image above, you’ll see numbers that identify the players.
Left to right – top to bottom:
Top: 1. Jimmy Connors, 2. Chris Evert, 3. Jack Kramer, 4. Billie Jean King, 5. Roscoe Tanner (serving), 6. Pam Shriver
Bottom: 7&8. Two anonymous players in backcourt, 9. John McEnroe, 10. Peter Fleming, 11. Arthur Ashe, 12. Fred Perry, 13. Rod Laver, 14. Althea Gibson, 15. Stan Smith
I don’t want to forget to mention a great woman and athlete, Althea Gibson, who coached me for three years, at the Northvale Tennis Club in New Jersey. Althea Gibson (August 25, 1927 – September 28, 2003) was an American tennis player and professional golfer, and the first black athlete to cross the color line of international tennis. In 1956, she became the first person of color to win a Grand Slam title (the French Open). The following year she won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals (precursor of the U.S. Open), then won both again in 1958, and was voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in both years. In all, she won 11 Grand Slam tournaments, including six doubles titles, and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. “She is one of the greatest players who ever lived,” said Robert Ryland, a tennis contemporary and former coach of Venus and Serena Williams. “Martina couldn’t touch her. I think she’d beat the Williams sisters.” In the early 1960s she also became the first black player to compete on the women’s professional golf tour.
Watching an intense match from the stands is dramatic, who do you want to win, and why. It’s a tough sport. Takes a good number of years to teach your muscles how to hit that ball and keep it in the court and away from your opponent. There are different types of tennis surfaces, grass, clay, carpet (no longer used), hard court and wood. I have played on all the surfaces. They all play differently, the ball bounce is different depending on the player and conditions.
*United States Professional Tennis Association
Do you play tennis? What’s your favorite sport to play or watch?
Thanks for help from Wikipedia.