wimbledon doubles

THE A-Z GUIDE TO JEWISH GRAND SLAM CHAMPIONS

By David Goodman

It was 1998 and I was working for USTA/Eastern as their executive director. Former Eastern junior Justin Gimelstob, a Jewish fella like me, had just won his second straight Grand Slam mixed doubles title with Venus Williams. I said to myself, “Self, how many other Jews have won Grand Slam titles?”

I had to know.

The first players to make my list were fairly easy. Dick Savitt won the 1951 Wimbledon singles title. Ilana Kloss, who I knew as CEO of World TeamTennis, won the 1976 doubles title with Linky Boshoff (the only Linky to ever win a Grand Slam title). Angela Buxton won the 1956 French and Wimbledon doubles titles with the great Althea Gibson. That’s right, an African American and a Jew, playing together because no one else wanted them as partners. “Leben ahf dein kop!” my grandmother would say (“well done!”).

After a little digging, I learned that 1980 Australian Open champion Brian Teacher enjoys lox on his bagels, 1983 French Open mixed doubles champ Eliot Teltscher (with Barbara Jordan) is no stranger to a yarmulke, and two-time doubles champ Jim Grabb (’89 French Open with Richey Reneberg and ’92 U.S. Open with Patrick McEnroe) doesn’t sweat, he shvitzes.

Dr. Paul Roetert, then the head of sport science at the USTA, heard about my budding kosher list and told me that his fellow Dutchman Tom Okker, winner of the 1973 French Open doubles title with John Newcombe and the 1976 U.S. Open doubles title with Marty Riessen, was Jewish. In fact, I later learned that Tom often had troubles against Romanian Ilie Nastase, who would whisper anti-Semitic remarks when passing by on changeovers. That shmeggegie sure had chutzpah.

Back in ’98 I looked up past winners of Grand Slam events and came by Brian Gottfried, who I had met once or twice in his role as ATP President. He’s gotta be Jewish, I thought. His name is Gottfried, for crying out loud. So I called him. I left what had to be one of the strangest messages he’s ever received. I actually asked him what he likes to do when the Jewish high holidays come around. To Brian’s credit, he called back and told me he enjoys spending the holidays with his family and typically goes to the synagogue. Bingo! Another one down.

I honestly don’t remember when Vic Seixas came to my attention, but no matter, I had missed the greatest Jewish tennis player of all time, not to mention one of the greatest mixed doubles players ever. The Philadelphia native won eight mixed doubles titles (seven with Doris Hart), five doubles titles (four with Tony Trabert), as well as singles championships at Wimbledon in 1953 and Forest Hills in 1954. Vic still shleps from his home in California to attend various tennis events around the country. If you see him, give my best to the lovely and talented alter kocker!

So, for the time being my list was done. Until recently. Something told me to dust off the list (or clean the spots off my monitor) and see if any of My People had triumphed in recent years. And lo and behold, the land of milk and honey, the Jewish state itself, the only country in the Middle East without oil, came through. Meet Israelis Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram.

Erlich and Ram won the 2008 Australian Open doubles title, and Ram also has the ’06 Wimbledon mixed (with Vera Zvonareva) and ’07 French Open mixed (with Nathalie Dechy) doubles titles on his shelf. But don’t worry, Shlomo Glickstein, in my mind you’re still the pride of Israeli sports. (In fact, in 1985 Shlomo was one French Open doubles win from making the list himself.)

So that was all, I thought. There were names on the Grand Slam winners lists that sounded good to me. American Bob Falkenburg, Czech Jiri Javorsky and American Marion Zinderstein (Zinderstein? She’s gotta be Jewish!), but I just can’t prove their Hebrewness.

Miriam Hall sounded Jewish, I thought, so I googled her, just as I did the others. There was nothing on the Internet to lead me to believe she was a member of The Tribe, but I did find her 1914 book, Tennis For Girls. Perhaps I’ll get it for my daughters, who will learn that “the use of the round garter is worse than foolish – it is often dangerous, leading to the formation of varicose veins.” Better yet, Miss Hall advised that “… the skirt should be wide enough to permit a broad lunge…”

On second thought, perhaps my kids aren’t old enough for such a detailed how-to book.

Alas, my search brought me to Hungarian Zsuzsa (Suzy) Kormoczy, winner of the 1958 French singles championships. I had found the athlete the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame calls the first and only Jewish woman to win a Grand Slam singles event.

Enter controversy. According to Morris Weiner (pronounced Weener), who wrote an article called “Jews in Sports” in the August 23, 1937 edition of The Jewish Record, Helen Jacobs’ father was Jewish. You know Helen. She owns nine Grand Slam titles, five of which are singles championships (1932-1935 U.S. Championships and 1936 Wimbledon). And while any Rabbi worth his or her tallis would probably argue that the mom had to be Jewish for it to count, I’m with Morris Weiner. Call me a holiday Jew, but Helen is on my list. Besides, according to The Jewish Record’s Weiner (there, I said it), Helen was the first woman to popularize man-tailored shorts as on-court attire. And her 1997 obituary says she is one of only five women to achieve the rank of Commander in the Navy. Happy Hanukkah, Commander Helen.

So, by my count there are 14 Jewish Grand Slam champions who have won a combined 44 Grand Slam titles. And perhaps there are more. Alfred Codman (1900 U.S. Singles Championships)? Helen Chapman (1903 U.S. Singles Championships)? Marion Zinderstein has to be Jewish, don’t you think? The work of a Jewish Grand Slam tennis historian never ends.

Oy vey.

David Goodman has worked in the tennis industry for 20 years. He was executive director of USTA/Eastern, Inc., co-founder and CEO of The Tennis Network, executive director of Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education, and Vice President of Communications at Advanta Corp. He has been a World TeamTennis announcer since 2002, and is on the USTA Middle States Board of Directors. If he enters the US Open qualifying tournament in New Jersey later this month, he figures he’ll have to win about 20 matches in order to become the 15th Jewish Grand Slam champion.

Jewish Grand Slam Tournament Winners

Buxton, Angela                         1956 French Championships Women’s Doubles (Althea Gibson)

1956 Wimbledon Women’s Doubles (Althea Gibson)

Erlich, Jonathan                                    2008 Australian Open Men’s Doubles (Andy Ram)

Gimelstob, Justin                      1998 Australian Open Mixed Doubles (Venus Williams)

1998 French Open Mixed Doubles (Venus Williams)

Gottfried, Brian                         1975 French Open Men’s Doubles (Raul Ramirez)

1976 Wimbledon Men’s Doubles (Raul Ramirez)

1977 French Open Men’s Doubles (Raul Ramirez)

Grabb, Jim                                1989 French Open Men’s Doubles (Richey Reneberg)

1992 U.S. Open Men’s Doubles (Patrick McEnroe)

Jacobs, Helen                           1932 U.S. Women’s Singles Championships

1932 U.S. Women’s Doubles Championships (Sarah Palfrey Cooke)

1933 U.S. Women’s Singles Championships

1934 U.S. Women’s Singles Championships

1934 U.S. Women’s Doubles Championships (Sarah Palfrey Cooke)

1934 U.S. Mixed Championships (George M. Lott, Jr.)

1935 U.S. Women’s Singles Championships

1935 U.S. Women’s Doubles Championships (Sarah Palfrey Cooke)

1936 Wimbledon Women’s Singles

Kloss, Ilana                               1976 U.S. Open Women’s Doubles (Linky Boshoff)

Kormoczy, Suzy                        1958 French Singles Championships

Okker, Tom                               1973 French Open Men’s Doubles (John Newcombe)

1976 U.S. Open Men’s Doubles (Marty Riessen)

Ram, Andy                                2006 Wimbledon Mixed Doubles (Vera Zvonareva)

2007 French Open Mixed Doubles (Nathalie Dechy)

2008 Australian Open Men’s Doubles (Jonathan Erlich)

Savitt, Dick                               1951 Wimbledon Men’s Singles

Seixas, Vic                               1952 U.S. Championships Men’s Doubles (Mervyn Rose)

1953 Wimbledon Men’s Singles

1953 Wimbledon Mixed Doubles (Doris Hart)

1953 French Championships Mixed Doubles (Doris Hart)

1953 U.S. Championships Mixed Doubes (Doris Hart)

1954 Wimbledon Mixed Doubles (Doris Hart)

1954 U.S. Men’s Championships

1954 U.S. Championships Men’s Doubles (Tony Trabert)

1954 U.S. Championships Mixed Doubles (Doris Hart)

1954 French Championships Men’s Doubles (Tony Trabert)

1955 Wimbledon Mixed Doubles (Doris Hart)

1955 Australian Championships Men’s Doubles (Tony Trabert)

1955 French Championships Men’s Doubles (Tony Trabert)

1955 U.S. Championships Mixed Doubles (Doris Hart)

1956 Wimbledon Mixed Doubles (Shirley Fry)

Teacher, Brian                           1980 Australian Open Singles

Teltscher, Eliot                          1983 French Open Mixed Doubles (Barbara Jordan)

WILL GULBIS BE THE SHINING STAR FOR LATVIA?

While the cameras may have been focused on Dubai and Acapulco last week as the two largest tournaments taking place on the ATP Circuit, a (not-so) little Latvian was making history on the courts of Delray Beach in the United States.

The 6 foot, 3 inch, 21-year-old was in scintillating form and didn’t drop a set as he progressed to the final via wins over Ryan Harrison (USA), Teimuraz Gabashvili (RUS), Leonardo Mayer (ARG) and Jarkko Nieminen (FIN).

The final saw him line up against the Croat second seed Ivo Karlovic who was hoping to lift the title and crown on his 31st birthday in style. But as is always the case in these stories, Ernests hadn’t read the script.

To the astonishment of many in the watching crowd, he dropped only five games in a mesmerizing 6-2, 6-3 victory which saw him become the first male Latvian player to lift a singles title on the ATP Circuit. Queue the celebrations on the streets of Latvian Capital Riga.

Gulbis and Latvian tennis fans in general have rightly been crooning on internet message boards and forums.

“He played so well and I was pretty much in tears when he won. His smile and his little fist pump…I am so proud of him. He has gone through a lot and Karlovic is definitely right, this will be his break through year! I am so pumped for Indian Wells and so happy for Ernests,” beamed Stelle on menstennisforums.com.

“I have problems to find the words to tell how happy I am for him. What a brave effort. The guy was written off by almost everyone. So unfair often. But he showed what he is capable of. We can call him a champion now,” added moni.

But what does this mean for Latvian tennis exactly? Well, they finally have a male champion to add to the likes of Larisa Neiland, who won the 1989 French Open and 1991 Wimbledon doubles titles with Natasha Zvereva. They were also the runners up in ten other Grand Slam finals.

But the authorities will also be hoping that such victories help the infrastructure. Lifting from the Latvian Institute website (www.li.lv):

“Our accomplishments in professional sports are brighter than they might seem considering the available national sports infrastructure and the small number of people officially engaged in regular professional exercise.

“Secondly, it is a tradition that, in major international competitions, Latvian sportsmen and women compete with rivals who have many more advantages in terms of financing and human resources.

“Thirdly, approximately 100 different types of sports are developing more or less successfully in small Latvia with its population of just 2.4 million.”

Latvian basketball and ice hockey continues to produce successful worldwide exports and football continues to grow off the back of the Latvian’s qualification for the 2004 European Championships.

The same website lists Gulbis in its list of top Latvian sports stars and is very proud of what he has achieved on the tennis court considering the lack of funding they could provide for him which resulted in him flying the roost to seek coaching in Germany.

They recognize that the lack of help they can offer him and his fellow players could be holding them back:

“Gulbis is still showing signs of impatience and immaturity due to his young age, however if he can learn to harness his considerable talent and keep the pressure on his opponent, he will be a strong player. He has gotten this far on talent, but if he could commit to working with a seasoned coach he could emerge in the next year as a contender.”

Unfortunately, money controls everything and of course the Government has a lot to consider on top of sport when it comes to distributing funding. But if Ernests can continue to add to his trophy haul alongside the successes of his fellow sportsmen (including some terrific performances at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver) then the future prodigies of Latvia can receive a greater start in their careers than Ernests had.

Sport can set a people free and unite a nation in support of their brightest talents. This will not be lost on the authorities who can look at a long list of great powers who used sport as a way of cultivating and developing their people (namely Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, China and, to a lesser extent, the USA and United Kingdom).

I have seen Ernests Gulbis play only once, in his straight-set defeat to Andy Murray at last year’s US Open, but what I saw impressed me. It reminded me of a young Murray; power and will let down by physical frame and, as mentioned above, concentration levels.

With every achievement directing a few more glances towards one of Europe’s smallest nations the Latvian Government will be pining for more moments like these, preferably at the three remaining Grand Slams of the year.

As well as the opportunity of being Latvia’s brightest star the knowledge and understanding of how his success can help the prospects of his descendents should be more than enough to spur on a player who continues to show that you don’t necessarily need the greatest financial backing to earn success.