For the young men and women in white who tour the eastern grass circuit, July and August are busy and exciting months. Life is gay and tennis sometimes is secondary at such carefree spots as the Merion Cricket Club, Southampton, South Orange, Newport and Rye. Players hobnob with the smart set and are often dulled by an evening of high jinks. But the players are always seriously pointing and planning in one direction—that is, toward the U.S. National singles championships at Forest Hills, the season's climax which begins on the Labor Day weekend.
When the action begins on the smooth green lawns of the historic West Side Tennis Club, the mood suddenly changes. Gaiety is replaced by determination. Party hostesses find it almost impossible to lasso a big name star. Curfews are self-imposed. Tennis players become serious for the moment—conscious that this is their opportunity for national recognition.
Champions come and go in an unceasing parade—the Tildens, Budges, Kramers, Connollys, and Willses—but even when they go the big racket-swinging show at Forest Hills never loses its luster. Fans still pour into the concrete horseshoe stadium. They cram the wooden grandstand and lean over the wire fences of the field courts. They're always looking for another Budge, a new crew-cut Kramer or a new Connolly in pigtails.
The 76th National championships will generate this same self-winding curiosity among the faithful, largely because of fresh interest in the women's division. There is one very understandable reason for it: Althea Gibson, the tall Negro girl from Harlem who has diligently labored to the apex of women's tennis. Can Althea add the U.S. championship to the crown she won in July at Wimbledon and thus stake a claim to true superiority in her time? Few doubt she can, and will.
Since winning Wimbledon, Althea has gained in confidence and poise. She has added the National Clay Courts title at Chicago and figured in three of America's points in a 6-1 victory over Britain's best in the Wightman Cup matches at Sewickley, Pa. Her forceful game—now charged with this new confidence—has reached the point where she seems to win almost without trying. Apparently there is no female player who can press her.
ALL THIS BUT BETTER
Twice she has gone against Britain's amazing 16-year-old Christine Truman—in the Wimbledon semifinals and in the Wightman Cup—and each time she has won in a breeze. England's best player, Shirley Bloomer, has proved no match for her. Darlene Hard, the bouncy blonde from Montebello, Calif., has a stinging, manlike service and she's not afraid to go to the net; but Althea can do these things better. Dorothy Head Knode of Forest Hills is a steady baseliner but her game, good enough to beat almost any other woman in the world, cracks under Althea's stabbing attack.
The women's cast will be interesting largely because of this 30-year-old product of New York. Yet there will be others worth watching. Blonde and classic Louise Brough, winner of four Wimbledon Championships, heads the veterans' list. Those who enjoy a bit of Hollywood glamour with their sports may drink in Karol Fageros, the Miami girl who is up for a movie contract. There's interest in Miriam (Mimi) Arnold, the 18-year-old, 5-foot-1 back-court precisionist from Redwood City, Calif. Britain's brilliant teen-agers, Christine Truman, Southpaw Ann Haydon and Sheilah Armstrong, will be watched with an eye to the future. The U.S.'s brightest newcomer among the women is Karen Hantze. She's just 14, but she has size and poise and strokes. Here may be the new Maureen Connolly. But for 1957 at least, it's Althea's year.
Without a front line favorite, the men's competition resembles nothing so much as a consolation contest among those seeking the title that Ken Rose-wall vacated and Lew Hoad defaulted when each turned pro. Here will be seen the Australians who will soon be seeking to defend the Davis Cup now that Hoad and Rosewall are gone.
These Australians have suffered a series of calamities since Wimbledon, where they grabbed three of the four semifinal spots. They were shut out of the semifinals at South Orange, N.J., and the victor there was semiretired Dick Savitt, who looked like the best amateur in the world at the moment as he polished off Ham Richardson and the veteran Vic Seixas on successive days. The Aussies also fared poorly at Newport, where the top-seeded Cooper was beaten by a little-known Yale player, Don Dell; and Neale Fraser by Britain's Mike Davies.
Cliff Sproule, Australia's new team manager replacing Harry Hopman, hopes to get his athletes back into the groove at Forest Hills. The Australians are loaded with talent, from Cooper and Fraser down to Queenslanders Mai Anderson and Roy Emerson, but they still haven't a big player to compare with Hoad or Rosewall.
Other internationalists expected to be on hand are Wimbledon semifinalist Sven Davidson of Sweden; mustachioed Dane Kurt Nielsen, winner of the U.S. Indoor title; Luis Ayala of Chile, who beat Ham Richardson at Wimbledon; Ramanathan Krishnan, the stouthearted Indian; Davies and Robert Wilson of England; Kosei Kamo of Japan; and Iyo Pimental of Venezuela. None of these is apt to win, but all will add to the excitement and testing qualities of the tournament.
Savitt, the stoop-shouldered oil man who covers the court like a big bear and has one of the best backcourt games in the world, probably is the player to beat for the U.S. title—unless he finds his work ties him to his Park Avenue office. Seixas at 34 is superbly conditioned and determined, a man who gets more out of his game than any other and is always a threat. Richardson, whose progress has been slowed by his studies as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, is whipping into prime shape. The American in Paris, Budge Patty, will show his talents to the home folks for the first time in five years. Experience and court savvy may bring these campaigners through, but because they all have their future be hind them most attention will be focused on the game's new crop.
Who is the boy who is to rescue America's sagging tennis prestige and bring it back to its once-dominant position? Any day now such a personality will explode out of the green of Forest Hills' turf, and all are hoping this may be the year.
It may be Mike Green. This firm-jawed youth from Miami, now 20, reminds me a lot of Jack Kramer at the same stage. He has a fine game, but he has been erratic and unsure of himself. He found his game at Newport, erasing Roy Emerson of Australia and Don Dell, the conqueror of Cooper, to gain the semifinals—where he lost to Mike Davies, Britain's No. 1 player.
It may be Ronald Holmberg of Brooklyn. This towering youngster with flaxen hair has all the big weapons for greatness. He has the size and he has the power. And he has exceptional court sense. But he moves slowly and seems to have failed to catch fire. At Newport last month he played brilliantly, however, winning the first two sets from eventual winner Mike Davies before bowing.
It may be 17-year-old Earl Buchholz. Here is another teen-ager with great potential (see below). There are others, particularly Chuck McKinley, 16, who reminds me of Rosewall at the same age, and Chris Crawford, 18, who is loaded with strokes but must learn to hit them in.
When the young tennis men of America are measured these days there is inevitably the lame excuse: they haven't any bad losses. I'd like to see another answer at Forest Hills this year, and it would go something like this: they beat so-and-so. Let's accent the positive.