Titanic Survivor’s Journey To The U.S. Singles Final 100 Years Ago
There was a lot different about the US Open 100 years ago than it is today. For starters, it was not called the U.S. Open, but the “Nationals” in the era before tennis was professional. It was also held on grass courts in the quiet, quaint confines of the Newport Casino in Newport, Rhode Island, the modern-day home of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. But the 1913 U.S. Nationals in Newport was the scene of the unfolding of what some call the greatest story in the history of the sport.
A year earlier in 1912, Dick Williams was en route to the United States from Europe to enroll in Harvard when he survived the sinking of the Titanic in incredible fashion, enduring the night in the frigid North Atlantic water while hanging onto a collapsed lifeboat. Seventeen months later, fresh off leading the U.S. Davis Cup team to victory against Britain, Williams reached the final of the modern-day US Open. Williams played U.S. Davis Cup teammate Maurice McLoughlin in the U.S. singles final on August 26, 1913 – 100 years to the day of the start of the 2013 U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows.
Lindsay Gibbs narrates the singles-final run of Williams 100 years ago in her book TITANIC: THE TENNIS STORY ($12.95, New Chapter Press, available here: http://www.amazon.com/Titanic-Tennis-Story-Lindsay-Gibbs/dp/1937559041/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1377217682&sr=8-1&keywords=Titanic+The+Tennis+Story) in this book excerpt.
Nevertheless, later that month, just a few days off the boat, he went into the 1913 Nationals at Newport … believing that it was his year and that he could earn that trophy. He knew what he was doing this year. Nothing was a surprise to him. He was a stronger player, more used to his public profile and a better man than he had been a year ago. He could close his eyes and see himself holding that trophy. He could feel the waves of closure flowing through his body, making everything worth it.
He had a close match against Gustave Touchard in the second round that almost cost him an early exit from the tournament, but just like in the Davis Cup match against Dixon, he was able to dig deep and take the fifth set 7-5. It didn’t hurt that when Touchard was serving at 4-3, 40-30 in the final set he was called for a foot fault, after which, rattled, he double faulted and then really blew his stack. Still, for Dick a victory was a victory. He was sure he could carry the momentum to win the title.
Aside from a close four-setter in the fourth round against William Johnston, the Californian with the big Western topspin forehand, Dick had an easy time after Touchard, making it all the way to the final, where of course his new friend and teammate Maurice McLoughlin waited for him. Mac was trying to win the title for the second year in a row and continue his run as the best player in the country. For Dick, the championship had special symbolic value. He yearned to finish the journey he started sixteen months earlier when he boarded the Titanic with his father.
After having played against each other almost every day for the past three months, both players knew each others’ game as well as their own. Dick was able to handle the forceful serves of his Davis Cup teammate like no one else and often dictated play off his own racket. After losing a hard-fought first set 6-4, Dick continued his aggressive play and was able to steal the second set 7-5 – becoming the first player to secure a set from Mac at the tournament. The tennis was some of the most dazzling play that the Newport fans had ever seen. After some tense play early in the third set, the match was up for grabs. As the crowd grew louder and louder after every point and they started to move in between points, leaning on the edge of their seats to see every shot, Dick started to struggle. He tried to focus in, to block the world out with his tennis like he had been doing for the past year and a half, but it wasn’t working. The clapping began to sound like the ship breaking into two. Cheers sounded like cries. The memories he was trying so hard to block out came crashing down on him at one of the worst times possible. Mac took control of the match mid-way through the third set and eased to a four-set victory 6-4, 5-7, 6-3, 6-1. “The California Comet” had another trophy for his shelf and Dick had to wait another year for another chance.