By David Goodman
It was 1998 and I was working for USTA/Eastern as their executive director. Former Eastern junior Justin Gimelstob, a Jewish fella like me, had just won his second straight Grand Slam mixed doubles title with Venus Williams. I said to myself, “Self, how many other Jews have won Grand Slam titles?”
I had to know.
The first players to make my list were fairly easy. Dick Savitt won the 1951 Wimbledon singles title. Ilana Kloss, who I knew as CEO of World TeamTennis, won the 1976 doubles title with Linky Boshoff (the only Linky to ever win a Grand Slam title). Angela Buxton won the 1956 French and Wimbledon doubles titles with the great Althea Gibson. That’s right, an African American and a Jew, playing together because no one else wanted them as partners. “Leben ahf dein kop!” my grandmother would say (“well done!”).
After a little digging, I learned that 1980 Australian Open champion Brian Teacher enjoys lox on his bagels, 1983 French Open mixed doubles champ Eliot Teltscher (with Barbara Jordan) is no stranger to a yarmulke, and two-time doubles champ Jim Grabb (’89 French Open with Richey Reneberg and ’92 U.S. Open with Patrick McEnroe) doesn’t sweat, he shvitzes.
Dr. Paul Roetert, then the head of sport science at the USTA, heard about my budding kosher list and told me that his fellow Dutchman Tom Okker, winner of the 1973 French Open doubles title with John Newcombe and the 1976 U.S. Open doubles title with Marty Riessen, was Jewish. In fact, I later learned that Tom often had troubles against Romanian Ilie Nastase, who would whisper anti-Semitic remarks when passing by on changeovers. That shmeggegie sure had chutzpah.
Back in ’98 I looked up past winners of Grand Slam events and came by Brian Gottfried, who I had met once or twice in his role as ATP President. He’s gotta be Jewish, I thought. His name is Gottfried, for crying out loud. So I called him. I left what had to be one of the strangest messages he’s ever received. I actually asked him what he likes to do when the Jewish high holidays come around. To Brian’s credit, he called back and told me he enjoys spending the holidays with his family and typically goes to the synagogue. Bingo! Another one down.
I honestly don’t remember when Vic Seixas came to my attention, but no matter, I had missed the greatest Jewish tennis player of all time, not to mention one of the greatest mixed doubles players ever. The Philadelphia native won eight mixed doubles titles (seven with Doris Hart), five doubles titles (four with Tony Trabert), as well as singles championships at Wimbledon in 1953 and Forest Hills in 1954. Vic still shleps from his home in California to attend various tennis events around the country. If you see him, give my best to the lovely and talented alter kocker!
So, for the time being my list was done. Until recently. Something told me to dust off the list (or clean the spots off my monitor) and see if any of My People had triumphed in recent years. And lo and behold, the land of milk and honey, the Jewish state itself, the only country in the Middle East without oil, came through. Meet Israelis Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram.
Erlich and Ram won the 2008 Australian Open doubles title, and Ram also has the ’06 Wimbledon mixed (with Vera Zvonareva) and ’07 French Open mixed (with Nathalie Dechy) doubles titles on his shelf. But don’t worry, Shlomo Glickstein, in my mind you’re still the pride of Israeli sports. (In fact, in 1985 Shlomo was one French Open doubles win from making the list himself.)
So that was all, I thought. There were names on the Grand Slam winners lists that sounded good to me. American Bob Falkenburg, Czech Jiri Javorsky and American Marion Zinderstein (Zinderstein? She’s gotta be Jewish!), but I just can’t prove their Hebrewness.
Miriam Hall sounded Jewish, I thought, so I googled her, just as I did the others. There was nothing on the Internet to lead me to believe she was a member of The Tribe, but I did find her 1914 book, Tennis For Girls. Perhaps I’ll get it for my daughters, who will learn that “the use of the round garter is worse than foolish – it is often dangerous, leading to the formation of varicose veins.” Better yet, Miss Hall advised that “… the skirt should be wide enough to permit a broad lunge…”
On second thought, perhaps my kids aren’t old enough for such a detailed how-to book.
Alas, my search brought me to Hungarian Zsuzsa (Suzy) Kormoczy, winner of the 1958 French singles championships. I had found the athlete the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame calls the first and only Jewish woman to win a Grand Slam singles event.
Enter controversy. According to Morris Weiner (pronounced Weener), who wrote an article called “Jews in Sports” in the August 23, 1937 edition of The Jewish Record, Helen Jacobs’ father was Jewish. You know Helen. She owns nine Grand Slam titles, five of which are singles championships (1932-1935 U.S. Championships and 1936 Wimbledon). And while any Rabbi worth his or her tallis would probably argue that the mom had to be Jewish for it to count, I’m with Morris Weiner. Call me a holiday Jew, but Helen is on my list. Besides, according to The Jewish Record’s Weiner (there, I said it), Helen was the first woman to popularize man-tailored shorts as on-court attire. And her 1997 obituary says she is one of only five women to achieve the rank of Commander in the Navy. Happy Hanukkah, Commander Helen.
So, by my count there are 14 Jewish Grand Slam champions who have won a combined 44 Grand Slam titles. And perhaps there are more. Alfred Codman (1900 U.S. Singles Championships)? Helen Chapman (1903 U.S. Singles Championships)? Marion Zinderstein has to be Jewish, don’t you think? The work of a Jewish Grand Slam tennis historian never ends.
David Goodman has worked in the tennis industry for 20 years. He was executive director of USTA/Eastern, Inc., co-founder and CEO of The Tennis Network, executive director of Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education, and Vice President of Communications at Advanta Corp. He has been a World TeamTennis announcer since 2002, and is on the USTA Middle States Board of Directors. If he enters the US Open qualifying tournament in New Jersey later this month, he figures he’ll have to win about 20 matches in order to become the 15th Jewish Grand Slam champion.
Jewish Grand Slam Tournament Winners
Buxton, Angela 1956 French Championships Women’s Doubles (Althea Gibson)
1956 Wimbledon Women’s Doubles (Althea Gibson)
Erlich, Jonathan 2008 Australian Open Men’s Doubles (Andy Ram)
Gimelstob, Justin 1998 Australian Open Mixed Doubles (Venus Williams)
1998 French Open Mixed Doubles (Venus Williams)
Gottfried, Brian 1975 French Open Men’s Doubles (Raul Ramirez)
1976 Wimbledon Men’s Doubles (Raul Ramirez)
1977 French Open Men’s Doubles (Raul Ramirez)
Grabb, Jim 1989 French Open Men’s Doubles (Richey Reneberg)
1992 U.S. Open Men’s Doubles (Patrick McEnroe)
Jacobs, Helen 1932 U.S. Women’s Singles Championships
1932 U.S. Women’s Doubles Championships (Sarah Palfrey Cooke)
1933 U.S. Women’s Singles Championships
1934 U.S. Women’s Singles Championships
1934 U.S. Women’s Doubles Championships (Sarah Palfrey Cooke)
1934 U.S. Mixed Championships (George M. Lott, Jr.)
1935 U.S. Women’s Singles Championships
1935 U.S. Women’s Doubles Championships (Sarah Palfrey Cooke)
1936 Wimbledon Women’s Singles
Kloss, Ilana 1976 U.S. Open Women’s Doubles (Linky Boshoff)
Kormoczy, Suzy 1958 French Singles Championships
Okker, Tom 1973 French Open Men’s Doubles (John Newcombe)
1976 U.S. Open Men’s Doubles (Marty Riessen)
Ram, Andy 2006 Wimbledon Mixed Doubles (Vera Zvonareva)
2007 French Open Mixed Doubles (Nathalie Dechy)
2008 Australian Open Men’s Doubles (Jonathan Erlich)
Savitt, Dick 1951 Wimbledon Men’s Singles
Seixas, Vic 1952 U.S. Championships Men’s Doubles (Mervyn Rose)
1953 Wimbledon Men’s Singles
1953 Wimbledon Mixed Doubles (Doris Hart)
1953 French Championships Mixed Doubles (Doris Hart)
1953 U.S. Championships Mixed Doubes (Doris Hart)
1954 Wimbledon Mixed Doubles (Doris Hart)
1954 U.S. Men’s Championships
1954 U.S. Championships Men’s Doubles (Tony Trabert)
1954 U.S. Championships Mixed Doubles (Doris Hart)
1954 French Championships Men’s Doubles (Tony Trabert)
1955 Wimbledon Mixed Doubles (Doris Hart)
1955 Australian Championships Men’s Doubles (Tony Trabert)
1955 French Championships Men’s Doubles (Tony Trabert)
1955 U.S. Championships Mixed Doubles (Doris Hart)
1956 Wimbledon Mixed Doubles (Shirley Fry)
Teacher, Brian 1980 Australian Open Singles
Teltscher, Eliot 1983 French Open Mixed Doubles (Barbara Jordan)