If the photographs that accompany the article on tennis instructor Vic Braden, which begins on page 78, look like nothing you've ever seen, that's understandable. None like them have been produced before. They are the work of John Zimmerman, an ingenious photographer and an intrepid tennis player.
In fact, Zimmerman and his family (above) are so virulently infected by the tennis bug that four years ago they abruptly sold their home in Stamford, Conn. and moved to a new house in Los Angeles that has a tennis court in the front yard. The Zimmermans have been serving and volleying nonstop ever since.
John rarely wielded a racket during the years he was growing up in L.A., but he became interested in tennis when he was assigned to photograph it for LIFE, the Saturday Evening Post and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. He took up the sport while covering Forest Hills in 1957, even going so far as to buy a racket from Australian star Neal Fraser. He got his wife Delores to join him in his new passion, and as each child reached age 7½, he or she was encouraged to take up the game.
These days John and Delores are the low players on the family ladder. Darryl, 17, is the No. 1-ranked male at the Mulholland Tennis Club, and Greg, 15, plays on his prep school varsity. Linda, 13, is smitten worst of all. She gets up every morning at 5:30, runs a mile and a half, hits with a ball machine for an hour and rushes home from school to play until dinner.
May 9, 1976
Among them, Delores and the children have taken lessons from Harry Hopman, Pancho Gonzales, Tony Trabert and Braden. John has never been through Braden's course, but he says, "I've shot Vic so many times and listened to so many of his stories that I have a good idea what people are doing wrong. I try to tell my family, but no one listens, probably because they can all cream me."
The stroboscopic photography illustrating this week's article was done with a Hulcher 35-mm camera at speeds between 30 and 80 exposures per second. The shot of Braden serving on pages 80-81 is composed of 80 separate images on a single frame. "Multiple exposures for tennis have been used before," says Zimmerman, "but never at speeds fast enough to capture the swing, hit, follow through and flight of the ball."
The Zimmermans are one of a number of families that have studied under Braden. He is, for example, the mentor of the amazing Austin family, including the 13-year-old prodigy Tracy, whom Zimmerman shot for our March 22 cover. Was Zimmerman struck by the similarities between the Austins and his own clan?
"The enthusiasm with which the families play is where the similarity ends," he says. "The Austins have won more than 450 tournaments. The Zimmermans are about 448 behind."