The Indiana Jones of Tennis
By Randy Walker
The life and times of former Wimbledon champion Sidney Wood is straight out of a Hollywood movie. Not only did the 1931 Wimbledon champion hob nob with such famous actors as Gary Cooper and Errol Flynn, but he seemed to be a character in one of their action movies – an Indiana Jones of the tennis world, so to speak. Many of his tennis tales and fascinating off-court exploits are documented in the book THE WIMBLEDON FINAL THAT NEVER WAS…AND OTHER TALES FROM BYGONE ERA ($15.95, available here on Amazon.com:
The book not only features stories of Wood winning the 1931 Wimbledon final without striking a ball, and setting the record straight on what indeed happened, him playing a French Open final drunk, why he once dumped actress and future princess Grace Kelly, how he qualified for the modern-day U.S. Open doubles championship with the aforementioned actor Errol Flynn, how he shot guns with Gary Cooper and handled guns in taking down real-life criminals, and his analysis of the greatest male tennis players of all time from the only person who saw them all from Bill Tilden to Roger Federer.
As a publisher of the book, one of my favorite tales is the following, excerpted below, where Wood pulls a stunt seemingly out of the Indiana Jones “Raiders of the Lost Ark” movie in order to get to the tournament in Los Angeles.
My maiden voyage, at age 19, was when my train trip to the Pacific Southwest Tournament in Los Angeles was derailed in Kansas City. The conductor told me we would be in the station for a half hour, so I made a quick call to a Kansas player friend, Junior Coen, and bought some magazines. After meandering back to the gate, I
was startled to see the lights of our observation platform heading west, not only with my six racquets and bags, but with a newly-met, dazzling starlet en route to Hollywood.
I raced back to the phone and somehow talked a barnstorming-type, probably broke, pilot into chasing after the Super Chief. Of a lot of bumpy rides I later had in those days, this was the worst. We flew perhaps 200 feet above the Santa Fe tracks in the hot sun, and when we passed over the numerous corrugated-roof
buildings at rail-side, the little plane would pitch up and down like a kite, and yaw wildly in the thermals.
A couple of hours later, we caught sight of the train and it looked like we could beat it to Herrington, Kansas in time. Herrington had no airport, but my dauntless pilot headed for any clear area he could find. In due course, we spied the station and a mile or two away we swooped down onto a fallow field and taxied up to an astonished farmer. Our host immediately entered into the spirit of the chase and led us to his barn where he had a nicely preserved Model T which he cranked up, and we tore at a mad 50 mph to the station with only minutes to spare before the train got there. My bags and racquets were still aboard, as was my disbelieving fair maiden friend.