Calvin Coolidge

McEnroe’s St. Patty’s Day Happenings

Happy St. Patrick’s Day – a day where a salient moment happened to John McEnroe, whose grandparents on his father’s side were from Ireland. As excerpted from my book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennishistorybook.com), McEnroe made his Davis Cup doubles debut and when he received no luck of the Irish in Key Biscayne in his swan song appearance in the modern day Sony Ericsson Open.

March 17

1927 – U.S. President Calvin Coolidge conducts the draw for the 1927 Davis Cup competition on the front lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C. Coolidge picks the card with Czechoslovakia on it, which is drawn against Greece in the first round of the European Zone. Writes the New York Times of the event, “Surrounded by diplomats from the twenty-five nations entered into the tournament, he drew the card bearing the name of Czechoslovakia from the bowl of the trophy. Joseph C. Grew, Under Secretary of State, then picked Greece, which was paired with the nation of the President’s choice. The various diplomats then formed in line and each withdrew the name of one nation from the cup.” An ironic event occurs when the representative from Belgium selects his own nation from the cup. Twenty one nations are placed in the European Zone and four in the American Zone. The winner of each zone would meet each other and the winner taking on the United States, the holder of the Davis Cup, in the Challenge Round.

1979 – John McEnroe and Peter Fleming make their Davis Cup debut as a doubles team, defeating Ivan Molina and Orlando Agudelo 6-4, 6-0, 6-4 giving the United States a match-clinching 3-0 lead over Colombia in the Davis Cup first round at the Cleveland Skating Club in Cleveland, Ohio. McEnroe and Fleming become arguably the greatest doubles combination the United States has ever fielded in Davis Cup play, ending their patriotic partnership in 1984 with a 14-1 record. They win 14 straight Davis Cup doubles matches – a record among U.S. Davis Cup doubles teams – and represent the U.S. on Davis Cup final-winning teams in 1981 and 1982. Their final Davis Cup doubles match is their only defeat – a 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 loss to Stefan Edberg and Anders Jarryd in the title-clinching win for Sweden over the United States in the 1984 Davis Cup final in Goteborg, Sweden.

1992 – John McEnroe, whose grandparents on his father’s side were born in Ireland, receives no luck of the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day in what becomes his final match ever at the Lipton Championships in Key Biscayne, Fla., losing to Richard Krajicek 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the third round.

1996 – In a final played with on-court temperatures surpassing 110 degrees, Michael Chang defeats No. 68th-ranked Paul Haarhuis of the Netherlands 7-5, 6-1, 6-1 to win the Newsweek Champions Cup in Indian Wells, Calif. “Today I could actually feel the heat coming through the soles of my shoes,” says Chang following the match. “They announced 110 degrees, but I was told it was 130 degrees. They just didn’t want to scare anybody.”

2001- Booed as she enters the court for her final round match against Kim Clijsters at the Tennis Masters Series -Indian Wells, Serena Williams withstands the harsh fan and media allegations of match-fixing, by defeating Clijsters 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. Fans react severely to the Williams family after Venus Williams abruptly withdraws from her semifinal match with Serena Williams the day before. “In the beginning, I was a little shocked,” Serena says. “Then I was like, ‘Wow, this is getting old. Move on to something new…I prayed to God just to help me be strong, not even to win, but to be strong, not listen to the crowd.” The withdrawal and aftermath came on the heels of tabloid story in the National Enquirer stating that Williams father Richard fixed the 2000 Wimbledon semifinal between the two sisters.

2007 – Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia wins her second Pacific Life Open championship in Indian Wells, Calif. – and her second career title – defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia 6-3, 6-4 in the women’s singles final. “I think all the best things in life are worth waiting for, moments like this,” says Hantuchova, who wins her first title in Indian Wells five years earlier. “I guess all the hard work and everything I had to go through makes the victory that much sweeter.”

Tennis History Tuesday: Presidential Participation

Presidential participation in tennis highlights today’s “Tennis History Tuesday” – which also marks the two-week mark for Barack Obama as President of the United States. U.S. President Harry Truman and Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe participated in duties associated with the Davis Cup in today’s excerpt from my new book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennishistorybook.com). The following are events that happened today, February 3, on this day in tennis history.

February 3

1947 – President Harry Truman conducts the Davis Cup draw at the White House, joining U.S. President Calvin Coolidge as the only U.S Presidents to conduct the Davis Cup draw. Says Truman during the proceedings, “I hope the time will come when we can settle our international differences in courts, just as we settle our tennis differences on a court.”

1989 – Sixteen-year-old Michael Chang makes his Davis Cup debut defeating Victor Pecci 6-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 helping the United States to a 2-0 lead over Paraguay in the Davis Cup first round in Ft. Myers, Fla.  Chang also becomes the first American to play a Davis Cup tie-break in the first set of his match with Pecci. The tie-break is formally introduced to Davis Cup play (except in the fifth set) beginning in the 1989 season. Chang is also the second youngest player to play Davis Cup for the United States at this tie at the age of sixteen years, 11 months and 12 days. Wilbur Coen, at 16 years, 5 months in 1928, is the youngest American to play Davis Cup.

1985 – Nineteen-year-old and No. 19-ranked Stefan Edberg wins his second career singles title, trouncing Yannick Noah 6-1, 6-0 in 54 minutes in the final of the U.S. National Indoor Championships in Memphis. Edberg hits five aces and commits only three unforced errors against the No. 14 ranked Noah, who is slowed by an ankle injury. Says Edberg, “I don’t think I ever played so well.”

1990 – Rick Leach and Jim Pugh make their Davis Cup debuts for the United States and defeat Leonardo Lavalle and Jorge Lozano 6-4, 6-7, 7-5, 6-1 to clinch the 4-0 victory over Mexico in the Davis Cup first round in Carlsbad, Calif. Leach and Pugh become one of the most successful Davis Cup doubles pairings for the United States, posting a perfect 6-0 record in 1990 and 1991.

2000 – Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe presides over the draw ceremony for the USA vs. Zimbabwe Davis Cup first round tie in Harare, Zimbabwe. The African leader, who later earns the reputation as one of the world’s most ruthless dictators, calls the first-round match between his tiny nation and the United States, featuring first-year captain John McEnroe and all-time great Andre Agassi, as “the dwarfs against the giants.”

U.S. Presidents and Connections To Tennis

As the Presidential campaign winds down in the United States, it is interesting to speculate whether Senator Barack Obama or Senator John McCain will be a “friend of tennis” in the Oval Office. Tennis players with high incomes may be partial to John McCain for tax purposes, while Barack Obama seems to be more engaged in the sport. Obama played tennis while growing up in Hawaii and follows the sport, as witnessed by a friend of mine who works in political circles who, back 2007, spoke with Obama, who gushed over watching the US Open on television the previous night – in particular James Blake’s five-set win over Fabrice Santoro (Blake’s first career five-set victory). As a working member of the tennis industry, author of the new book On This Day In Tennis History ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennistomes.com) and as the great, great, great nephew of James K. Polk, the 11th President of the United States, I have a great interest in tennis and in U.S. Presidential history.

Who was the most tennis friendly President? Teddy Roosevelt might warrant consideration as he was the man responsible for creating the White House tennis court in 1902. Tennis was part of his exercise regimen and had a group of Washingtonians who comprised of what was called his “tennis cabinet” – a group of players with whom he would talk policy between serves and forehands. Roosevelt may have been inspired in his tennis pursuits by two of the greatest American players of the time – Bill Larned and Robert Wrenn – who were members of his famed “Rough Riders” that fought under his command in the Spanish-American War in Cuba in 1898. Roosevelt in his book, The Rough Riders, bragged of the enlistment of Wrenn and Larned along with “an eclectic group of eastern dudes and western deadshots.” Roosevelt prided in the fact that on two occasions as U.S. tennis champion, Wrenn had “saved this championship from going to an Englishman” referencing Wrenn’s final-round victories over Brits Manliffe Goodbody in 1894 and Wilberforce Eaves in 1897. Larned won a record seven U.S. singles titles – 1901, 1902, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911.

Warren Harding, the 29th President, played tennis early in his life and became re-engaged in the game when the United States recaptured the Davis Cup in 1920. He hosted the winning U.S. team and the Cup to the White House on May 6, 1921 – the first time the famous trophy visited the home of the President. U.S. team members Bill Tilden, Bill Johnston, Dick Williams and Watson Washburn competed in exhibition matches against each other on the White House court, with Harding enjoying the action with his family and staff. President Harding, in fact, appointed Davis Cup founder Dwight Davis as his Assistant Secretary of War in 1923. Davis was subsequently elevated to Secretary of War (the modern day Secretary of State) in the next administration of President Calvin Coolidge starting in 1923.

Coolidge, the 30th President, was the first U.S. President to host and preside over the making of the Davis Cup draw – no doubt at the urging of Davis himself – and hosted the festivities on March 17, 1927. The draw was held on the front lawn of the White House and Coolidge picked out of the Cup the card with Czechoslovakia on it – drawn against Greece in the first round of the European Zone. Wrote the New York Times of the event, “Surrounded by diplomats from the twenty-five nations entered into the tournament, he drew the card bearing the name of Czechoslovakia from the bowl of the trophy. Joseph C. Grew, Under Secretary of State, then picked Greece, which was paired with the nation of the President’s choice. The various diplomats then formed in line and each withdrew the name of one nation from the cup.”

Herbert Hoover, the 31st President, was also a fan of the game. When running against Democrat Al Smith in 1928, Hoover received a great tennis endorsement from all-time great Helen Wills, who made her public announcement of her support of Hoover for President the day before her win at the U.S. Championships at Forest Hills. In her press announcement in support of Hoover, Wills stated, “All youth can admire Herbert Hoover because of his sincerity, intelligence and great industry. His achievements in the past have been marked with success because of his ability for organization and his wonderful powers of perservance.” During his administration (1929 to 1933), four U.S. Davis Cup matches were played at the nearby Chevy Chase Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland – 1929 vs. Japan, 1930 vs. Mexico, 1931 vs. Argentina and 1932 vs. Canada – with Hoover dispatching his wife to represent him at the matches.

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Franklin Roosevelt’s connections to tennis came from his cousins Grace and Ellen, who were both U.S. champions – Ellen winning the singles title in 1890 and the pairing with Grace to win the doubles – becoming the first sisters to win a major title. It is interesting to note what President Roosevelt did NOT do in one famous episode in tennis history. On July 20, 1937, the United States Davis Cup team competed against Nazi Germany in the decisive day of the Davis Cup Inter-zone Final at Wimbledon in what many call the most dramatic and politically important Davis Cup match of all time. American Don Budge and Germany’s Gottfried von Cramm played the decisive fifth match where, famously, von Cramm received a pre-match phone call from German dictator Adolf Hitler, who told von Cramm that winning the match was of great political importance to the Fatherland. Budge, who won the match when he came back from two-sets-to-love to win 6-8, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 8-6, said later of Hitler’s phone call, “I thought why didn’t Franklin Roosevelt call me? Didn’t he give a damn?”

Harry Truman, the 33rd President, was the second Commander in Chief to host the Davis Cup draw as he presided over the ceremonies on February 3, 1947. Said Truman shortly before reaching into the Davis Cup trophy to pull of the names of nations in the second post-World War II staging of the competition, “I hope the time will come when we can settle our international differences in courts, just as we settle our tennis differences on a court.”

President Dwight Eisenhower was more of a fan of golf and delegated “tennis duty” to his vice president Richard Nixon, who gave out the winner’s trophy at the U.S. Championships at Forest Hills and Davis Cup Challenge Rounds. In 1957, he famously presented Althea Gibson, the first black to win the U.S. singles title, with her winner’s trophy at Forest Hills. Two years earlier, Nixon also presented the Australian Davis Cup team with the Davis Cup trophy after the Aussies completed a 5-0 shutout of the United States at Forest Hills. Nixon was told by Australian Davis Cup Harry Hopman that day that he might someday be “the youngest president in American history.” Nixon next touched the Davis Cup in 1969 when, as the 37th President, he welcomed the victorious 1968 U.S. Davis Cup team that defeats Hopman’s Australian team in the 1968 Davis Cup final in Adelaide, Australia. That ceremony, that also featured the challenging Romanian Davis Cup team, featured some awkward moments as Bud Collins documented in his book The Bud Collins History of Tennis. Wrote Collins; “President Richard M. Nixon, a bowler and golfer who secretly despised tennis, hosted both final-round teams at a White House reception. This was a nice gesture, but the Chief Executive caused a few awkward stares when, as a memento of the occasion, he presented each player with a golf ball. Perhaps these were left over, some speculated, from the golf-happy Eisenhower administration. “I’m a Republican, but I’ll never vote for him again,” grumbled Cliff Richey. “Why he do this?” said a puzzled Ion Tiriac. “No golf courses in Romania.”

Lyndon Johnson, Nixon’s precedessor, was not a tennis enthusiast but did host the winning 1963 U.S. Davis Cup team at the White House. On January 15, 1964, Johnson hosted the victorious U.S. team at the White House and spent 45 minutes with team members Dennis Ralston, Chuck McKinley and Marty Riessen as well as U.S. captain Bob Kelleher and U.S. Lawn Tennis Association President Ed Turville. As Johnson introduced the team to his press secretary Pierre Salinger he said, “There’s my tennis player. If I can teach Salinger to ride a horse, maybe he can teach me to play tennis.”

Gerald Ford, the 38th President, was known as an avid player and used the White House tennis court more than any President since Teddy Roosevelt. After watching 14-year-old Tracy Austin beat Virgina Ruzici in the fourth round of the 1977 U.S. Open on television, President Jimmy Carter placed a call to the pig-tailed wunderkind to offer his best wishes and congratulations.

Ronald Reagan, the 40th President, played tennis in his youth and was known as perhaps the biggest sports fan among U.S. chief executives. He hosted many athletes and sports teams – including tennis stars such as John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Arthur Ashe, Pam Shriver and others. On September 15, 1981, Reagan and his wife Nancy hosted a U.S. Tennis Association contingent to the White House that included U.S. Open champions McEnroe and Austin and the U.S. Davis Cup and Wightman Cup teams. Said Reagan of the 1981 U.S. Open finals, “Nancy and I watched the TV Saturday and Sunday and the matches were so breathtaking I nearly turned blue.” Stan Smith and Marty Riessen hit tennis balls for the assembled group on the White House tennis court – highlighted by Smith hitting a ball that broke through the flimsy, deteriorating net. “I don’t oversee the operation as closely as my predecessor” said Reagan of the White House tennis operations. Nineteen-year-old Shriver proudly told Reagan during the 90-minute visit, “This was my first election and I voted for you, sir.” Ashe then chimed in to Reagan, “Well I didn’t vote for you. But I’m all for you, and I hope your policies work, Mr. President.”

Reagan left the tennis-playing to his Vice President and successor George Bush, who not only had a strong penchant for playing the game but came from a strong tennis bloodline. Bush’s great uncles Joseph Wear and Arthur Wear were bronze medalists in tennis at the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis – Joseph pairing with Allen West and Arthur pairing with Clarence Gamble. Joseph Wear also went on to serve as U.S. Davis Cup captain in 1928 and 1935 – having the opportunity to work with both Bill Tilden and Don Budge. Bush, whose mother Dorothy was also a standout ranking junior player, also entertained many tennis players during his term and remains an active player, competing often at Chris Evert’s annual charity event and frequented the U.S. Clay Court Championships, the Tennis Masters Cup and Davis Cup as a fan when held at the Westside Tennis Club in his hometown of Houston, Texas

Bush attended the U.S. Open when he was Vice President under Reagan, but Bill Clinton was the first sitting President to attend the U.S. Open when he took in the men’s semifinals on September 9, 2000, watching Marat Safin beat Todd Martin and Pete Sampras beat Lleyton Hewitt. He also called Venus Williams after she won the U.S. Open women’s singles title that year and told her “You worked really hard” prompting the witty Williams to ask Clinton for a tax cut on her hard-earned U.S. Open prize money.

After leaving office, Clinton again created tennis headlines when he attended the French Open in 2001 and was, in fact, jokingly blamed for Andre Agassi’s quarterfinal loss to Sebastien Grosjean. Clinton sat to watch the match after Agassi won the first set 6-1, but Agassi proceeded to lose 12 of the next 14 games to go down two sets to one. The five-months-out-of-office Clinton then briefly left the court, as Agassi went up a service break in the fourth set 2-1, but when Clinton returned to watch the match, Agassi lost his service break and proceeded to win only one more game in the match, losing 1-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3. “I was bad for him,” Clinton said afterward, referring to Agassi. “I was bad luck. I left, and he won three games. I hated to come back.”

Like his father, George W. Bush, the 43rd President, was a tennis player, but later in life did not play the game as much as he resorted to jogging and cycling for exercise. As governor of Texas in 1999, Bush penned a note of congratulations and good luck to U.S. player Alex O’Brien when named to the U.S. Davis Cup team to face Britain in the Centennial year of the competition, writing “All athletes should consider it an honor to represent their country. Sadly, a number of America’s top tennis players do not share this view. I commend you and your teammates for stepping forward when asked by Captain Tom Gullikson and the USTA. Your patriotism, team spirit and work ethic are inspirations for athletes of all ages.”
His most infamous connection to tennis came just five days before the 2000 Presidential election when it was revealed publicly for the first time that he was arrested for drunken driving in Maine on Sept. 4 1976 with Aussie tennis legend John Newcombe in the car with the future president. “I was drinking beers, yeah, with John Newcombe,” Bush said in a briefing with the press. “I’m not proud of that. I made some mistakes. I occasionally drank too much, and I did that night. I learned my lesson. I told the guy (the arresting officer) I had been drinking, what do I need to do? He said, ‘here’s the fine.’ I paid the fine.” Newcombe didn’t comment on the incident for another two weeks until after the election. “When it came out I just did the first thing that came into my mind – I went underground mate. I didn’t put my head up,” Newcombe told the Australian Associated Press of when news of the arrest first surfaced. Newcombe described Bush as a “good bloke” who would make a “pretty good president” and said the drunk-driving incident was a minor one in terms of how far Bush was over the limit. “That’s something I’ve laughed about with George for the last 24 years,” Newcombe said. “That’s something that just happened that night. We were just a couple of young blokes going out and having a good time. We didn’t do anything wrong, basically. We probably shouldn’t have been driving at that stage but it wasn’t that anyone was badly inebriated.”