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Tennis World Mourns Jack Kramer Loss

The tennis world mourns the death of Jack Kramer, who passed away at age 88 Saturday night in California. Bud Collins, the Hall of Fame journalist and television personality, summarizes the incredible tennis career of one of the game’s all-time greats in his book THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS, excerpted below.

Jack Kramer

The impact of John Albert “Jake” Kramer on tennis has been fourfold: as great player, exceptional promoter, thoughtful inno­vator and astute television commentator.

Kramer, born Aug. 1, 1921, in Las Vegas, Nev., grew up in the Los Angeles area. He achieved international notice in 1939 as a teenager when he was selected to play doubles, alongside Joe Hunt, for the U.S. in the Davis Cup finale against Australia. At 18, Kramer was the youngest to play in the Cup title round, although John Alexander of Australia lowered the record to 17 by play­ing in 1968.

Kramer and Hunt were the golden boys out of Southern Cali­fornia, their careers intertwined. Joe beat Jake, at Forest Hills in 1939, where they were both losing semifinalists the following year. Both were to go to sea during World War II, Jake in the Coast Guard, Joe in the Navy, and to receive leaves to play again in the U.S. Championships of 1943, where they collided in the final. Hunt won, barely, sprawling on the court with cramps as Kram­er’s last shot flew long. Kramer, who’d had a bout with food poi­soning, laughed later, “If I could’ve kept that ball in play I might have been a champ on a default.” Hunt was killed 17 months afterwards in a military plane crash.

Because of the war, Jake had to wait three years to return to Forest Hills. He then rose to prominence as a splendid cham­pion, so dominant that he was voted fifth on a list of all-time greats selected by a panel of expert tennis journalists in 1969. The powerful right-hander was the leading practitioner of the “big game,” rushing to the net constantly behind his serve, and frequently attacking on return of serve. His serve took oppo­nents off the court, setting them up for the volley, as did his crushing forehand.

A blistered racket hand probably decided his gruelling fourth-round defeat by cunning lefty Jaroslav Drobny, and pre­vented Jake from winning the first post-war Wimbledon. But he came back awesomely in 1947, the first to win in shorts, making short work of everybody. Whipping doubles partner Tom Brown in 48 minutes, 6-1, 6-.3, 6-2, he lost merely 37 games in seven matches, the most lopsided run to the championship.

Brown had been his 1946 U.S. final-round victim, 9-7, 6-3, 6-0, another one-sided excursion for Jake, a crew-cut blond whose goal was to reclaim the Davis Cup that he and Hunt failed to clinch in 1939. In December, he and good buddy Ted Schroeder—the U.S. doubles champs of 1940—were members of a highly-talented team that captain Walter Pate took to Austra­lia for the challenge round. Every man—those two plus Brown, Frank Parker, Gardnar Mulloy, Bill Talbert—thought he should play. Pate picked Ted and Jake to do it all, controversial until the pals paralyzed the favored Aussies on opening day. Schroeder overcame John Bromwich, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 0-6, 6-3 and Kramer nailed Dinny Pails, 8-6, 6-2, 9-7. Together, they grabbed the Cup by flatten­ing the team that had beaten Hunt and Kramer in ‘39: Bromwich and Adrian Quist, 6-2, 7-5, 6-4.

The following summer, Jake and Ted repelled the Australian challenge for the Cup at Forest Hills. Then Kramer closed out his amateur career memorably by overhauling Parker in the U.S. final. He lost the first two sets, and was in danger of losing out on a lucrative professional contract as well as his champion­ship. Counterpunching, he won, 4-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-0, 6-3, and set off in pursuit of Bobby Riggs, the reigning pro champ. Kramer, who had lost only two matches in 1946, dropped but one (to Talbert) in 1947, winning eight of nine tournaments on 48-1, closing his amateur life with a 41-match rush, and 18 singles titles.

Kramer knocked Riggs off the summit by winning their odys­sey of one-nighters throughout the U.S., which was the test of professional supremacy of that day. Their opener was a phenom­enon: New York was buried by a blizzard that brought the city to a stop, yet 15,114 customers made it on foot to the old Madison Square Garden on Dec. 27, 1947, to watch Riggs win. But Bobby couldn’t keep it up. Kramer won the tour, 69-20, and stayed in action while Riggs took over as the promoter and signed Pan­cho Gonzalez to challenge Kramer. Nobody was up to Kramer then. He bruised the rookie Gonzalez 96-27 on the longest of the tours. Kramer made $85,000 against Riggs as his percentage, and $72,000 against Gonzalez.

In 1952, Kramer assumed the position of promoter himself, the boss of pro tennis, a role he would hold for over a decade, well past his playing days. Kramer’s last tour as a principal was against the first man he recruited, Frank Sedgman, the Aussie who was tops among amateurs. Kramer won, 54-41. An arthritic back led to his retirement as a player, but he kept the tour going, resurrecting one of his victims, Gonzalez, who became the strongman.

One of the shrewdest operators in tennis, Kramer was looked to for advice when the Open era began in 1968. He devised the Grand Prix for the men’s game, a series of tournaments lead­ing to a Masters Championship for the top eight finishers, and a bonus pool to be shared by more than a score of the leading players. The Grand Prix, incorporating the most attractive tourna­ments around the world, functioned from 1970 until 1990, when the ATP Tour took over the structure. In 1972, he was instrumental in forming the ATP (Association of Tennis Pros), the male play­ers’ union, and was its first executive director. His role as leader of the ATP’s principled boycott of Wimbledon in 1973 made him unpopular in Britain for a time. Nevertheless, it was a landmark act, assuring the players the right to control their own destiny after being in thrall to national associations until then. Later, he served on the Men’s International Professional Tennis Council, the worldwide governing board.

For more than 20 years, Kramer served as a perceptive ana­lyst on tennis telecasts in many countries, notably for the British Broadcasting Corporation at Wimbledon and for all the Ameri­can networks at Forest Hills, and at other events, second to none. He ranked in the U.S. Top 10 five times between 1940 and 1947, No. 1 in the U.S. and the world in 1946 and 1947. Kramer won the U.S. Pro title in 1948 over the defender, Riggs, 14-12, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, and the world pro title in 1949 over Riggs, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3.

Kramer, winner of 13 U.S. singles and doubles titles, was named to the Hall of Fame in 1968. His son, Bob Kramer, con­tinues the family’s tennis interests as director of the Los Angeles ATP tourney.

MAJOR TITLES (10)—Wimbledon singles 1947: U.S. singles, 1946, 1947; Wimbledon doubles, 1946, 1947: U.S. doubles, 1940, 1941, 1943, 1947; U.S. mixed, 1941.

OTHER U.S.TITLES (6)—Indoor singles, 1947; Pro singles. 1948; Pro doubles, 1948, 1955, with Pancho Segura; Indoor doubles, 1947, with Bob Falkenburg; Clay Court doubles, 1941, with Ted Schroeder. DAVIS CUP—1939, 1946-47, 6-0 singles, 1-2 doubles.

SIN­GLES RECORD IN THE MAJORS—Wimbledon (10-1), U.S. (24-5)

40 Years Ago Tuesday – Rod Laver Wins Historic Second Grand Slam

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Tuesday, September 8, 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of Rod Laver winning his historic second Grand Slam by defeating Tony Roche 7-9, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in the final of the 1969 U.S. Open. The final was played on a rain-soaked grass tennis court at the West Side Tennis Club at Forest Hills in Queens, New York.

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of this significant moment in tennis history, New Chapter Press has re-published Laver’s memoir THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER that details the 1969 tennis season as well as the life and times of the Australian tennis legend. Written with Hall of Fame journalist and historian Bud Collins, THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER is now available in a limited capacity via tennis retailer TennisWarehouse (www.TennisWarehouse.com or [email protected]), directly from New Chapter Press (www.NewChapterMedia.com or [email protected]) or at the U.S. Tennis Association Bookstore during the 2009 U.S. Open through September 13. The book will be available via traditional book retailers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia by early 2010. Special limited edition hard-cover editions of the book are available for $29.95, while paperback copies are for sale for $19.95.

Originally published in 1971, THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER was updated by Laver and Collins in 2009 with new content including his recovery from a near-fatal stroke in 1998. The memoir features descriptions of Laver’s most suspenseful matches and memorable portraits of his biggest rivals Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, Tony Roche and Pancho Gonzalez. Writes Laver in the updated version of the book of the prospects of the next member of the Grand Slam club, “I wonder when another Grand Slammer will appear and join me. I look forward to it, and will welcome whoever it is just as Don Budge welcomed me in 1962. I was glad to see Steffi Graf as the latest in 1988. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal seem to have the best chance, along with Serena Williams. I wish them success.”

Of the 1969 U.S. Open final against Roche, Laver writes the following;

“The court was greasy, but somehow slow, which favored me because Tony’s slice didn’t take. Movement was tough, and this was a break for me because Tony decided not to put on spikes. He figured his strained thigh muscles would be jarred by the quick stops you make in spikes, possibly bringing on a cramp.

“That first set was one of the strangest I’ve ever played. I should have won it and deserved to lose it. I got what I deserved and Tony took it 9-7, just took it right away from me after I’d been serving for the set at 5-3. He did it with beautiful backhands. I was sloshing and slipping around, and a couple of times I had asked referee Mike Gibson for permission to put on my spiked shoes. I’d wanted to begin the match in them, but he’d refused. After that game, Mike said all right. It meant all the difference to me.

“Tony immediately won his serve in four points, but I felt surer on my feet and I knew I’d get going. Especially when I stopped him two points short of the set to keep even at 6-6. But I wasn’t so sure when I lost that first set anyway. I’d had a lot of luck during the year, and I wondered if it had run out at last. Although I’d worn spikes here and there throughout my career, the occasions were so rare during my professional days that they took some getting used to. You consciously changed your movements at first. Picked up your feet. No sliding. It was a new sensation until you were re-accustomed to them.

“The slight uncertainty of moving in spikes was gone for good in the first game of the second set when I came through with a big serve at the crucial point of the match. With the first set his, and the pressure on me, Tony got me down 30-40 on my serve. One more point and he’d be up a set and a break, a pretty good edge in that mush.

“We both knew this was a huge point. He took his time getting ready to return, and I did the same lining up—not overly so, maybe not even noticeable to the crowd, but we had to be right for this one. I was righter. I threw myself into the serve, and sliced it wide to his forehand. It didn’t come back. He barely touched it, and I could tell it pained him to miss the opportunity. You don’t get too many break-point chances on grass—and he didn’t have another.

“It wouldn’t be apparent for a while, but the match turned upside down right there. I won the game and began hitting harder and harder as I got surer of my footing. Then I won the next and the next—five straight. From that break-point chance in the first game, Tony managed to win only five of the last 23 games. He came all apart as I wrapped him up, 7-9, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. Not even a rain delay of a half-hour at the beginning of the third set could rust my concentration or help him pull his together.

“Unlike 1962, I had control of myself all through the final match of the Grand Slam. I was never dazed as I had been against Emmo seven years before during a brief case of nerves down the stretch.

“Serving match game, I opened with an ace. I knew what I was about, and wasn’t going to let Tony breathe. It was 40-0 when I did try to end with a grand-slamming flourish on a forehand volley. I blew it. A minor disappointment not to be able to score with a put-away as I had on the championship point at Wimbledon.

“It fell to Tony to lose it with a forehand that he hit long. Both of us were glad it was over. Afraid to use spikes, he’d been victimized in sneakers, unable to counteract my better shots, including a number of very good lobs. It was one of my best days with the lob, always a useful shot, but even more damaging that day when running was tough.

“Not enough ordinary players realize the value of the lob, and I guess I didn’t until I became a seasoned pro. It’s much more than a desperation measure. As an amateur, even if the odds were against my making a shot, I’d usually let fly anyway. When I became a pro, I couldn’t risk throwing away points like that because the opposition was equal or better.

”This meant I had to be realistic. If my chances of making a shot from a difficult position were doubtful, I found you seldom get hurt with a lob.

“But there were no more lobs to be hit. Not one more stroke on a chase that began God knows how many strokes ago in Brisbane when I hit the first serve to a fellow I wouldn’t know if he walked into the room, Massimo di Domenico. The others I knew pretty well . . . Andres . . . Arthur . . Emmo . . . Tony . . . Newc . . . Dennis . . . Kenny . . . Okker . . . Smith.

“There were 1,005 games in 26 Grand Slam matches, and now it was all over.”

Laver captured 11 major singles titles during his career, including Wimbledon in 1961, 1962, 1968 and 1969. After joining Don Budge as the only man to win a Grand Slam by sweeping all four majors in 1962, Laver turned professional where he, along with fellow pros Hoad, Rosewall and Gonzalez, were banned from playing the “amateur-only” major tournaments. When the “Open Era” of tennis began in 1968, Laver netted another five major singles titles, including his Grand Slam sweep of all four in 1969. Laver won nearly 200 singles titles during his career and was inducted into the International Tennis of Fame in 1981.

“I am delighted that THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER is back in circulation and available for a new generation of tennis fans,” said Laver. “Winning the Grand Slam for a second time in 1969 seems just like yesterday and this book brings back a lot of memories of the great matches and exciting times. I hope people enjoy reading my story.”

Collins, himself a 1994 inductee in the International Tennis Hall of Fame, first met Laver in 1956 at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston during the U.S. National Doubles Championships. Thirteen years later, the two collaborated on the book that was only to be published if Laver won the Grand Slam. Collins is best known for his colorful television commentary – and his colorful wardrobe – as well as his columns in the Boston Globe. Collins currently works as a commentator with ESPN2 and Tennis Channel.

“Rod Laver is one of the greatest treasures we have in tennis and THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER is one of our sports most important literary works,” said Collins. “Rod was always so humble and gracious, but he could play tennis like a hurricane. He was as a great a champion as we have ever had in tennis and one of the all-time nicest guys.”

New Chapter Press is also the publisher of THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS by Bud Collins, THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION by Rene Stauffer and BOYCOTT: STOLEN DREAMS OF THE 1980 MOSCOW OLYMPIC GAMES by Tom Caraccioli and Jerry Caraccioli among others. More information on New Chapter Press can be found at www.NewChapterMedia.com.

Monica has dancing shoes, Steffi hawks Louis Vuitton pumps

A tale of two legends: Recent retiree Monica Seles will join Marlee Matlin, Adam Carolla, Priscilla Presley and Kristi Yamaguchi in the latest season of Dancing With the Stars. Wow, that’s a “Who’s Who” if I ever saw one.

The sixth season of DWTS will premiere March 17 on ABC. On joining the show, the 34-year-old Seles says “I’m a tennis player. I don’t know a tango from a mango.”

Seles’ recent return to the limelight is likely a big push to move her away from “tennis star” to “celebrity”. If you remember, she followed an appearance on the CBS Morning Show earlier this week with the announcement of her retirement. And now, the dancing. She’s well on her way, but has to play catch up to her biggest rival on the court…

steff-graf-louis-vuitton.jpg

Steffi Graf‘s PR machine continues to churn. Graf will have a guest stint on Oprah’s Big Give, a “pay it forward” reality show produced by Oprah Winfrey. (Remember when hubby Andre Agassi whacked her in the face? They were taping a segment for it.)

And page five of this week’s New York magazine has an ad from Louis Vuitton featuring the Narcisse Pump. The uppers on this two-tone three-inch heel are hand-stitched. Below the picture is this copy:

Walk with me. By Steffi Graf”

I look at my schedule and I just have to laugh. I’d need to be six people to get through it all. It seems I’m still running all over the place – only my footwear has changed.”

That’s deep. Do you think she wrote it herself?

Buy: Narcisse Pump, two-tone hand-stitched calf leather with three-inch heel, $1,120, louisvuitton.com.

(USA Today via Marie; photo from New York)