TENNIS—WITH EMOTIONS

Love, motherhood, severed apron strings and regal loneliness were part of the atmosphere at Wimbledon last week as Lew Hoad and Shirley Fry at last won through to the big titles
July 15, 1956

Wimbledon is still the center court of world tennis, as I guess we should concede. As such, it offers some very particular challenges. Wimbledon is not only a superb test of tennis but also a test of readiness—that is, of readiness for center court. By these tests, the 71st All England championships last week contributed some fascinating lessons and episodes.

After four years of trying, some of it desultory, Lew Hoad of Australia finally got himself into the right frame of mind to carry off the title. In her second try, Althea Gibson of the United States of America came close enough to be able to say, and impressively: "I'll be back." But first to Hoad.

After the men's singles final I found Lew Hoad in the Gentlemen's Dressing Room, as they have long called it out of graceful habit, at the All England Club. Half-dressed, puffing on an unaccustomed cigaret and swapping banter, the once dour, tense and reticent Hoad was the picture of relaxation. Well, why not? Somewhere, between this year's Wimbledon and last year's (when he lost in the quarter-finals) Lew Hoad has married a pretty girl, become the father of a daughter, done his crashing and successful utmost to win the Davis Cup back from the U.S., and now he has beaded together on a string the championships of Australia, France and England. He is just 21 years old, and all he needs to become the first man since Don Budge to win the "grand slam" of tennis is to capture the U.S. title at Forest Hills this September. And no doubt Lew has fairly confident ideas about that.

His finals match against Ken Rose-wall—also, as we should concede, from Australia—made it as clear as anything has to be that Hoad is the best amateur in the world, down under or, for that matter, up over. He made a brisk transit up to the final, beating off South Africans, Americans and fellow Australians, until he stood against his old Aussie nemesis, Rosewall. This was the challenge Lew Hoad, in his shaggy in-and-out way, has been facing all his tennis life.

Fragile-looking Ken Rosewall grew up a real prodigy. Ken beat Lew 6-0, 6-0 when they met—as 11-year-olds—in a small-fry engagement in New South Wales in 1946. When they were both 13, Ken beat Lew again, 6-0, 6-1. Mostly, it has been Rosewall over Hoad ever since. But at Wimbledon last week it was like Ted Williams getting proper traction in the batter's box or Sam Snead getting the feel of the course. Hoad's incandescent big service was hitting the corners, he came up fast to take the returns and punch the points away, and at the end it was Hoad (6-2, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4) who received the champion's cup from the wise-looking Duchess of Kent. And the duchess—and I agree—told Lew: "It's about time."

The odd and, on the record, remarkable thing about Lew Hoad in the 1956 Wimbledon was that he has learned to smile. Nonetheless, in the Gentlemen's Dressing Room, he did his best to suppress this new-found grace. What was the explanation of his success? "Aw," he said, "just experience, I guess." He blew a puff of smoke into the air.

"Do you feel more mature—more sure of yourself?" The question was almost rhetorical.

"Sure," said the Wimbledon champion. "I'm much more confident."

At 21, Lew Hoad has a right to blow smoke in the air. He has been aiming for Wimbledon, in the sense that he has been aware of Wimbledon and of his own talents, since he and Rosewall were 11-year-olds.

And the pressure of Wimbledon is something that must be experienced. It begins long before Wimbledon, of course, but in a special sense it begins all over again once you reach London. Do you simply take a taxi or a subway to the courts? Indeed no. The All England Club sends twinkly black limousines, flying the kingly purple and emerald green flag of the club out front, to whisk you in regal loneliness to the encounter. On the way, of course, you think of your tennis and of your opponent's tennis and of the critical tennis-wise crowd awaiting you—20,000 of them every day—some of whom have queued up the night before for seats. And if you are a woman, particularly an American or a "colonial," you think of a special task that will confront you when you walk onto the center court: the curtsy to the royal box to be accomplished with whatever innate grace God has given you, in absence of practice, while your mind is still really on tennis and your opponent's tennis. Perhaps men feel the pressure less. Certainly the legends of tennis can never forget that high day in 1935 when Don Budge stood on the center court during his match with Baron von Cramm and, seeing and sensing that Queen Mary had found her place in the royal box, airily waved his racket in her direction and, it is said, uttered the relaxed and jovial salute: "Hi, Queen!"

Be that as it may, Althea Gibson made her curtsy well. By that time she was the winner of 16 tournaments over the winter and spring, from Rangoon to Egypt to London. The State Department can never thank her enough. Moreover, the hard-hitting Negro girl from Manhattan was a much improved tennis player from the shy, lanky girl Wimbledon saw in 1951. She brought to the center court the most powerful service in women's tennis and a smashing overhead game. Britain's able Ann Shilcock, who lost to her, said: "Althea is the toughest player I've ever met." Shilcock added: "She is brilliant but not steady." The same has been said about Lew Hoad.

In her quarter-final match on center court with Shirley Fry, Althea took the first set and appeared to be going strong. Even in the third set it was either girl's match—and the way led open to the championship. But Shirley Fry has been aiming at Wimbledon for a long time too—at least since 1951, when she lost to Doris Hart in the finals. And in her match with Althea it was Shirley who proved the stronger. She kept hitting the returns back, mostly to Gibson's unreliable back-hand, and in the final games even Althea's service failed her.

"I will be back here next year," Althea said. Shirley went straight on to beat Louise Brough in the semifinal and Angela Buxton of Britain in the final (6-3, 6-1) to win the crown.

This year's Wimbledon brought other episodes that will be remembered. Vic Seixas lost a hard-fought match to Ken Rosewall and, in the course of it, expressed his displeasure at some line calls. By the next day or so, Vic had received about 200 letters from the British public, many pro Vic but more of them con. I thought myself that this match had more than its share of questionable calls; even so it will be remembered as one of the best of all the engagements at Wimbledon this year, and one in which Seixas came extremely close to beating his old rival.

Ham Richardson was a favorite with the crowd. His volleying was better than he has ever exhibited before and, as a Yank at Oxford (thanks to his Rhodes Scholarship), he cheered a host of old (dark) Blues. It has been a good while, it seems, since an Oxford Blue has made the semifinals at Wimbledon. I went back to see Ham in the dressing room after his defeat by Hoad and found him happy as a clam—a clam in love, that is. He was already on the phone to Pan American, hunting for an immediate flight to New Orleans and his bride-to-be, Ann Kennington, who has promised to marry him next week.

It should be remembered, too, that the Russians sent observers to Wimbledon for the third straight year. For the first time, they even brought along some players—four men and four women, who did a bit of practice stroking on nearby grass courts but did not enter the All England competition. All of them showed signs of having studied Fred Perry's tennis movies (they all use continental forehands and backhands), and the men and women {see below) seemed to be wearing the same kind of smart stuff Perry prescribes for his pupils at Boca Raton in the wintertime. The Russians are applying for admittance to the International Lawn Tennis Federation, and it looks as though they'll make it. Perhaps in time for the 1957 Wimbledon.

But between then and now there are a fair number of questions to be answered in the world of tennis.

Hoad and Rosewall now straddle the men's amateur tennis world like two colossi. Hoad indisputably is the world's best, Rosewall just a breath behind. They no longer are timid little boys tied to Harry Hopman's apron strings. They don't panic easily any more. They are now on their fifth trip around the world. They have gained independence and with it a poise and confidence which turns stroke-making excellence, which they have always had, into an instrument of destruction.

It isn't a comforting picture for us Yankees who took one of the largest squads in history to Wimbledon, hoping to produce a single spark of hope for our coming Davis Cup battles. The spark never materialized.

If Wimbledon proves anything to us, it is that at this moment we simply are not good enough. It's a hard and chilling fact, but we might as well face it. Our best players are veterans, either at or over their peaks. Our youngsters aren't seasoned enough for the tough international grind.

At Wimbledon, Vic Seixas, 32, a veteran of five Davis Cup squads, and Ham Richardson, a veteran of three, made the best American showing. Vic's match against Rosewall was an inspired one but the question arises: How many such matches does a man of 32 have left in his system.

Richardson proved no match for Hoad. Vic and Ham, this country's best Davis Cup doubles hopes at the moment, lost to Italy's Nicole Pietrangeli and Orlando Sirola, who in their turn were easily beaten in the final by Hoad and Rosewall.

Of the young crop, Allen Morris of Atlanta made the best mark. He beat Australia's promising Ashley Cooper to gain the quarter-finals but lost to the cagier Seixas. I am only sorry that Morris, a 24-year-old ex-football player, did not take up tennis earlier. He began the game five years ago. Ron Holmberg, the Brooklyn 18-year-old, gave bright promise for the future by beating Hopman's protégé, Ron Laver, for the Wimbledon junior crown.

But, otherwise, our youth movement proved a bit green for the big task at hand. Sam Giammalva, Barry Mac-Kay and others showed their need for more international seasoning.

Developments left U.S. Davis Cup officials in a quandary: Should we go again this year with the veterans, such as Seixas and Richardson, who on the record have far more losses than wins to Hoad and Rosewall; or, should we strike out with the "kids"—win, lose or draw? It's a real dilemma.

On the distaff side at Wimbledon the picture was much brighter but there were definite storm warnings which should cause concern in our women's tennis ranks. In a modern Paul Revere twist, the British are coming.

Shirley Fry's victory in the women's singles was a popular and well-deserved one. The 29-year-old St. Petersburg, Fla. girl has been knocking at the door of a big championship for years. Back-court steadiness and a fighting heart sent her winging past Buxton in the finals. I still feel that Althea Gibson is the best of the modern women's crop. She has all the equipment of a great champion and has found confidence through her recent winning streak around the world. By year's end she should be in the driver's seat.

But the American ladies, who have had things pretty much their own way in international tennis, no longer can relax. The British are developing a core of feminine tennis talent which is both sound and stubborn.

Angela Buxton, 21-year-old daughter of a midlands theater owner, is perhaps the best of these. Pat Ward, the sturdily built lass who gained the finals of our own championship last year, is formidable. Angela Mortimer and Shirley Bloomer are capable of beating our best when the latter don't have their best guard up.

Ours is a big tennis nation which is in no position to get complacent—the guys or the gals.

PHOTOSMILING LEW HOAD ACCEPTS CUP FROM DUCHESS OF KENT PHOTOMISS FRY TAKES TO COURT FOR FINAL PHOTOCONTENTIOUS VIC SEIXAS DISPUTES A LINE CALL IN MATCH WITH ROSEWALL PHOTOMARRIAGE-MINDED RICHARDSON HITS ONE PHOTOBEV FLEITZ, AN EXPECTANT MOTHER, WITHDREW PHOTOANGELA BUXTON AND ALTHEA GIBSON RECEIVE CUP AFTER WINNING WOMEN'S DOUBLES PHOTORUSSIA'S RAJA KIRSANOVA, WHO MERELY CAME TO WATCH, GETS IN SOME GRASS-COURT WORK

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)