The Journeyman On Torben Ulrich

This week, I’d like to talk about one of the most eccentric professional tennis players ever. Torben Ulrich, from Copenhagen, Denmark, was a long-haired, bearded Charles Manson lookalike who competed from the 1940s to the 1970s. He won many singles titles and played in numerous Davis Cup matches for Denmark. He was one of the founding members of the ATP Tour in 1972.

He was a mainstay on the tour in the 1960s, but never won a Grand Slam title. He was prolific in many endeavors, including filmmaking, radio, paintings, and a music career. He would schedule practice courts at Wimbledon at dusk and instead of having a knock up with a player, he would sit cross-legged at the corner of the service box in the middle of the court and meditate to soak up positive energy with the hope that it would carry over into his match the next day.

In the 1950s, he would write reviews for the Daily Paper Politiken in Copenhagen about jazz music. He penned a book titled “Jazz, bold and buddhisme,” an anthology of his writings from the 1940s to 2000, published by Informations Forlag.

His most famous creative product was probably the film he co-directed with Frenchman Gil de Kermadec called “The Ball and the Wall,” about the importance of hitting against the wall in tennis. The film includes numerous interviews with former champions and footage of him hitting a ball against many walls around the globe.

Ulrich also dabbled in painting. He would make imprints with ink and acrylic on rice paper and use tennis racquets and balls and also skipping rope with paint on it as his instruments. He also was a radio correspondent in the US while on the road playing tennis. He would host the show and relay new jazz music from around the world to Danish radio. His son Lars, is currently the drummer for the rock band Metallica.

Lastly, Ulrich was a deep thinker. Upon the coin toss in a match against Tony Roche once at Wimbledon, Roche spun his racket and asked Ulrich to pick the up or down sign on his racket. Ulrich replied before the toss, “I like watching your service motion, it’s so elegant, why don’t you serve first Tony?”