Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Archive for the ‘Great Men of Tennis’

Great Men of Tennis: “Jack” Kramer, Father of the Modern Game 7

Posted on October 04, 2010 by JA Allen

Jack Kramer was more than a tennis player-he was a visionary of the modern game.

John Albert Kramer, better known as Jack Kramer, did more than play a mean game of tennis.

He initiated a style of play more reminiscent of the serve and volley of John McEnroe than of Pete Sampras––though both games reflect the prowess of Kramer on court.

Off court, Kramer forced the evolution of the structure of modern tennis. He drove the bus that finally arrived in 1968 when amateur and professional tennis blended into one tour, finally allowing players to gain control over their own careers.

The Beginning

“Jack” Kramer was born on August 1, 1921 in Las Vegas, Nevada, and died September 12, 2009 at the age of 88.  His father worked for the Union Pacific railroad. Naturally, the family never accumulated the finer things of life as resources were always lacking.

Shortly after Jack was born, the family moved to the Los Angeles area. But young Kramer had natural athletic ability. He soon found his way into tennis after the family moved to the San Bernardino area, where Kramer was privileged to watch a match played by the great Ellsworth Vines. He became inspired by the brilliant play of Vines and dedicated himself to playing tennis.

Read the rest of this entry →

Great Men of Tennis: Gottfried von Cramm 6

Posted on April 05, 2010 by Claudia Celestial Girl
Barbara Hutton

In this series we’ve talked about how tennis in the early days (late 19th and early 20th century) was a game for elite members of society. Dwight Davis, a Harvard student and tennis innovator was wealthy enough at the age of 20 to purchase from his own funds an enormous sterling silver ‘pot’ to serve as trophy for the Davis Cup. Fred Perry was the son of a leading member of the British Parliament, and self-made 1930s-style British millionaire. An exception – Don Budge was an unassuming middle class kid who learned to play tennis in a public court in Oakland California. (If you’ve never been to Oakland, it is where the docks associated with San Francisco Bay are actually located. Few would confuse Oakland, California, with … San Francisco.).

No elite athlete in tennis’ long history probably had a loftier pedigree than that of Baron Gottfried Alexander Maximilian Walter Kurt Freiherr von Cramm. He usually dropped the ‘Baron’ and the ‘von’ when interacting with his peers – asking people to call him ‘Gottfried Cramm.’ He was the third son of Baron von Cramm, a title inherited by his eldest brother, Aschwin in 1936 associated with a Saxon region of Germany in what is now the county of Lower Saxony (created by the British after WWII).

In the 1980s, the late Jack Kramer listed Von Cramm as one of the 21 greatest tennis players of all time. And Von Cramm played perhaps the greatest tennis match in history in 1937 in front of the British King at Wimbledon, representing of all things, Nazi Germany in a Davis Cup final (WWII broke out in 1939). He was devastatingly handsome, he was blond, he was athletic, he was aristocratic (ever the gentleman on court). Though he was everything the Aryan race was supposed to be (and his wins are listed next to a Nazi flag on websites such as wikipedia [see Fred Perry]), von Cramm was anything but a Nazi. Read the rest of this entry →

Great Men of Tennis:The Mellifluous Don Budge 12

Posted on February 26, 2010 by Marianne Bevis


There are names so ingrained into the tennis consciousness that one feels they’re still to be found gracing the Royal Box on Wimbledon’s Centre Court. The commentary team helpfully points out the faces to match the names. Rod Laver, Margaret Court, Ilie Nastase, Billie Jean King: They have become like family, like old friends.

Such is the case with Don Budge. A Grand Slam will not pass, nor a reference to “the greats of tennis” be made without his name being mentioned. And just lately, promoted by Roger Federer’s record-breaking feats, his name has appeared with ever greater frequency, bracketed alongside potential contenders for the “greatest ever” crown.

There is good reason for Budge to be one of those constants in the game. He was born way back in the Great War, achieved the first ever Grand Slam just as World War 2 was fermenting (and Rod Laver just a month old), and spanned the amateur and the professional age.

He played against the icons of tennis—Fred Perry, Bill Tilden, Frank Sedgman—and against modern greats such as Pancho Gonzalez.

As recently as 1973, aged 58, he teamed up with Sedgman to win the Veteran’s Doubles title at Wimbledon, so would have shared the locker room with men’s seeds such as Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg.

He lived—just—into the 21st century. Yet to modern fans, he is little more than a name. It’s time to put that right.

Budge came from good stock, from a bold father who upped sticks from Scotland at the turn of the 20th century for a healthier life in the warm climate of California.

Donald was born in 1915 and inherited his father’s sporty genes. Budge senior had played reserve for Rangers football team before he left for the New World.

Don was also bright—he went to the University of California at 18—and he was over 6’1” tall. He was, in fact, the perfect package for tennis.

As for his character, well Time magazine, which first featured Budge on its cover in September 1935, summed him up as:

“A phlegmatic, gentle youth, so homely that even his mother smiled when a friend said that, if not the best tennis player in the world, her son was certainly the ugliest, young Budge is likeable but undistinguished off a tennis court.”

His road to tennis was a familiar one. Budge tried, and was good at, many other sports, and excelled at baseball. It was his elder brother, Lloyd, who was the tennis player, and who persuaded Don to apply his fearsome bat-swinging prowess to a tennis racket.

He learned his trade quickly on the public hard courts of the West Coast and at just under 15, he won the California U15s Championships. That was his incentive to give up baseball.

By 18, he had won the National Junior Championships by beating the top contender Gene Mako, from a two set deficit.

At 19, he was picked for the Davis Cup auxiliary team and with that beckoning success, walked away from university to devote himself to tennis. Read the rest of this entry →

Great Men of Tennis: Big Bill Tilden – Tragic Hero? 14

Posted on February 22, 2010 by JA Allen
Big Bill Tilden was Americas first great champion.

Big Bill Tilden was Americas first great champion.

Like many tragic sports figures, “the fault lay not in the stars but in himself” for tennis legend William “Bill” Tilden.

Loving the limelight, the footlights and the spotlight, Tilden shunned real life for the artificial, constructing a world he could not inhabit. No one could. Born into wealth and privilege, pampered by an over-protective mother, and held at arm’s length by a grief-stricken father, Tilden was forced into tennis at his father’s insistence.

Tilden showed promise at an early age, but he did not care for the game. Later on he avoided life by playing tennis, finding the soothing rhythm of its point, counter-point a barrier against outside emotional distress.

Big Bill reigned supreme during the 1920s in America, often sharing sporting headlines with notables like Babe Ruth, Bobby Jones, Red Grange, and boxer Jack Dempsey during a time referred to as the golden age of sports. Tilden won every major tournament he entered for six years, including six U.S. Nationals (now called the U.S. Open). Read the rest of this entry →

Great Men of Tennis: Dwight Davis; Gerald Ford of the Tennis World 10

Posted on February 10, 2010 by Claudia Celestial Girl

A new series for a new year.  In a companion series to ‘Queens of the Court,’ ‘Great Men of Tennis’ takes a look at the men who have left an indelible mark on tennis.  The series begins among the foundations of our modern game, with the man who invented aspects of the serve, and set the stage for Davis Cup competition: Dwight Davis.

In honor of Dwight Davis, this article is posted on the 110th anniversary of the first Davis Cup – held Feb 9, 1900.

The Davis Cup has been an important part of tennis history for 110 years.

The Davis Cup has been an important part of tennis history for 110 years.

Let’s see, Secretary of War? Or famous tennis star?  Hmmm … Which career path to choose?  How about both?!

Not many tennis stars go to college.  John McEnroe, who is famously known for attending Stanford, really only attended the university for a single semester.  John Isner, a current tennis star, is the only one in the top 50 to obtain a degree (at the University of Georgia) before starting his ATP career this year.

Like John Isner, Dwight Davis was a collegiate tennis singles champion.  He played for Harvard University in 1899. The closest he came to a singles title was runner up in the US Championships in 1898.  A lefty, Davis made a name for himself in doubles.  While at Harvard he also went out for baseball and played on the sophomore football team.

Quite a few US politicians were collegiate, or even professional athletes, before embarking on a life of public service, among them: President Gerald R. Ford, and Senator Jack Kemp.  Dwight Davis can be counted among these public figures.  Davis would serve the U.S. as secretary of war from 1925-1929 under President Calvin Coolidge.

In spite of his dearth of singles titles, Davis serves as a keystone for our ‘Great Man of Tennis,’ because Davis, like Frenchman Rene LaCoste 30 years later, was not only a winner but also a technical innovator, and became a key mover and creator in the sport.

Like many tennis stars of his day, Davis was from an upper class family, one of the founding families in St. Louis Missouri.  At the turn of the twentieth century, tennis was played in society clubs, and also in the street.  To distinguish its form of tennis from that in the street, club tennis was known as ‘Lawn Tennis.’  An iconoclastic visual of the times comes from the musical ‘Ragtime,’ which depicts turn-of the century upper-class types in the opening vignette as ‘fellows with tennis balls’ in 1902, in New Rochelle New York; straw hats, slacks, afternoon tea, and a spot of tennis. Read the rest of this entry →

Great Men of Tennis: Rod Laver, the Modest Rocket 10

Posted on February 03, 2010 by Marianne Bevis
Rod Laver was the greatest tennis player of his era and some believe the best of all-time.

Rod Laver was the greatest tennis player of his era and some believe the best of all-time.

A new series for a new year, and this time we take a look at the men who have left an indelible mark on tennis. This companion piece to ‘Queens of the Court’ begins with possibly the greatest of the ‘Great Men of Tennis.’

It is the name that—eventually—no one argues about. In the debate about which man is the greatest of all time, Rod Laver is invariably the yardstick.

Even those who never saw him play, who have only heard tell of his achievements, bracket him with Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, with Don Budge and Pancho Gonzalez, with Bill Tilden and Jack Kramer.

Were it not for the five-year hiatus before the arrival of the Open era, most believe that Laver would have put the big “GOAT” question beyond argument. For if he had remained an amateur and so been allowed to play in the 21 Grand Slams between 1963 and the Australian Open in January 1968, who knows what Slam target Federer might yet have to reach?

In the years either side of that five-year “black hole,” Laver notched up 11 singles titles. He was in his prime, reaching his full potential. Read the rest of this entry →

  • Vintage Athlete of the Month

    • Rusty Staub: A Man For All Ages
      April 8, 2024 | 1:26 pm
      Rusty Staub

      The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month is a former major league baseball player who came into the game as a teenager and stayed until he was in his 40s. In between, Rusty Staub put up a solid career that was primarily spent on expansion or rebuilding teams.

      Originally signed by the Colt .45s at age 17, he made his major league debut as a 19-year old rookie and became only the second player in the modern era to play in more than 150 games as a teenager.

      Though he hit only .224 splitting time between first base and rightfield, Staub did start building a foundation that would turn him into an All-Star by 1967 when he finished fifth in the league with a .333 batting average.

      Read more »

    • RSSArchive for Vintage Athlete of the Month »
  • Follow Us Online

  • Current Poll

    Who Will Win the 2024 World Series?

    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...
  • Post Categories

↑ Top