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.
It was 98 years ago, on August 28, 1914, that one of the most fascinating confrontations in the history of the U.S. Championships took place.
Two men – Dick Williams and Karl Behr – who both survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, the most famous sea disaster in history, incredibly met in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Championships at the Newport Casino in Rhode Island. The two tennis standouts met for the first time on board the rescue ship Carpathia, Williams nearly having his legs amputated after surviving the night in an overturned life-boat while Behr was lucky to escape on the second life boat launched, before the major panic set in. Two years later, the two face each other in the country’s national championship after having been teammates on the U.S. Davis Cup team earlier in the summer.
On this day, Williams emerged victorious by a 6-1, 6-2, 7-5 margin and went on to incredible win the championship defeating top-ranked Maurice McLoughlin of the United States 6-3, 8-6, 10-8 in the championship match in one of the biggest upsets in tennis history at the time.
The following is the narrative of the pre-match scene between Williams and Behr in Newport 98 years ago as told by author Lindsay Gibbs in her book TITANIC: THE TENNIS STORY, an historical adaptation of this story that can be described as the most incredible in the history of tennis. The book is available where ever books are sold, here via Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Titanic-Tennis-Story-Lindsay-Gibbs/dp/1937559041/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1346068847&sr=8-1&keywords=Titanic+Tennis+Story or directly via publisher New Chapter Press at www.NewChapterMedia.com. The book can also be downloaded on Amazon.com’s Kindle at here: http://www.amazon.com/Titanic-The-Tennis-Story-ebook/dp/B0087GZGTO/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1346068847&sr=8-1
The locker room at the Newport Casino was silent. Dick hated silence.
This had not always been the case. He used to love the quiet, he used to seek it out, crave it. His favorite moments growing up had been when he found time to himself in the Swiss countryside, just watching the world and enjoying the silence. A chance to think.
But now silence was his worst enemy. Now when things were silent his mind filled the void with echoes of cries. Without diversion, his mind had a harder time warding off the detailed memories of the ship. The archways, the marble staircase, the carvings in the wood.
In the last couple of years, he had become an expert at small talk. He had mastered his father’s act of talking to strangers. Once the shy athletic star, he now had in-depth conversations about the weather, fashion, politics. He would start a conversation about anything, with absolutely anyone. Because when things were this silent, this still, he felt the ground moving underneath him, as though rocking on a wave. He saw the smokestack falling. He felt the water.
A locker slamming aggressively shut came as a welcome distraction. The horror disappeared and his head instinctively turned in the direction of the sound. There he was, in the greatest of ironies. Karl Behr. The only person in the world he didn’t dare engage in small talk with. The only person in the world who didn’t provide a distraction from the thoughts.
The only person who made it worse. Unfortunately, he was the only other person in the locker room right now. They were about to face off in the quarterfinals of the lawn tennis championships of the United States.
He quickly jerked his head back around and resumed tying his shoes. Had Karl been looking at him? Did he seem angry? Did he look like he was about to speak? What if he tried to talk first? What if Helen came by to wish him luck? He wished tying his shoes was a more complicated activity so he could shut out these thoughts. He had promised himself he wasn’t going to do this. He had promised himself that this was just another match. He would not fall apart now, not when he had come so far.
Sweat poured down his face and he was unsure whether it was the Rhode Island late August heat, the stuffiness of the musty locker room this late in the tournament, or his overactive nerves that was causing such a reaction. He was sure that this was not the way to be feeling right before such a big match, no matter who the opponent was. He had to get himself together.
This was the quarterfinals of the U.S. Nationals, for God’s sake. This was his year. Two years ago he’d taken Maurice McLoughlin to five sets, and last year he’d lost to Mac again, but in the final. Now he was the defending finalist and this was the year he was finally going to do it. He was going to lift that trophy he had been hearing about since he was a youngster. He’d held so many tennis trophies; would this one feel different? He wouldn’t ever find out if he didn’t get himself together here. He checked the tension of his racket strings. It was of course just perfect. He always made sure it was perfect. Tight, but not “board tight.”
The only thing that mattered was winning this match. Win this match. Win two more. Win the trophy. That was it. Simple. He had the talent. He had the shots, the fitness, the desire…He had it all. He just had to stay focused and to not let anything or anyone get in the way. The door opened and a portly tournament official broke the silence with his expected announcement: “Mr. Behr, Mr. Williams, it is time to take the court.”
Neither man said a word. Dick still didn’t look up, unwilling to risk a moment of conversation until a net was between them. He sensed Karl picking up his racket bag and when he heard the footsteps pass him, he followed, looking down at his shoes the whole time. He felt again for his rackets and towels to make sure everything was in place. He took a deep breath and jumped up and down a bit as he walked to get his blood flowing. Jumped up and down on healthy legs. His healthy legs that he wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for…
The chatter, and then cheers, of the Newport crowd came just in time to stop the train of thought.
Just another opponent.
Just win this one match.
Just don’t think.
By Kelyn Soong
Denis Kudla may not be a household name in tennis, but he has made significant strides in his three years on the pro tour.
At only 19 years old, Kudla is third youngest player in the top 200 of ATP World Tour rankings.
He is currently ranked world No. 177 and has a career high of No. 168.
This year, Kudla played in his first Grand Slam main draw match in Australia (losing in four sets to Tommy Haas), was one game away from beating Andy Roddick in the second round at the SAP Open and got the opportunity to play one of his idols, Roger Federer, in the second round at Indian Wells.
“My professional career so far has been pretty successful,” Kudla said. “I got through the rankings pretty quick…As long as I keep improving, I’m pretty happy with everything.”
Kudla has wanted to a professional tennis player for as long as he could remember, and he has enjoyed the nomadic lifestyle that comes with the profession.
“Life on tour is pretty good, it’s a different lifestyle,” Kudla said. “You’re traveling every single week – I don’t think I’ve been in the same place for more than 10 days. It’s tough, but I enjoy it. You’re in a different hotel every week, you get to travel the world, new food – it’s the lifestyle I chose.”
After all the traveling, Kudla had time to return to the Washington, D.C. area for a few weeks after his failed bid to reach the Wimbledon main draw.
The Arlington, Va. native practiced and trained with his old coaches and hitting partners at the Tennis Center in College Park in preparation for his next tournament in Newport, RI, which starts July 9.
The tournament holds a special place for Kudla, who recorded his first ATP World Tour win there just a year ago.
As for his future goals, Kudla is setting his sights for a big year.
“In this time next year I want to be potentially top 50,” he said. “I don’t want to give myself too many ranking goals now – I realize that’s maybe not the best way to look at yourself and improving. I just want to be keep being successful, try to make a run at an ATP title and keep improving, and I think everything will come along.”