learn from true legends of tennis
By Rich Neher
I researched a lot of old tennis books for this article. And
Wikipedia (www.en.wikipedia.org). And the New York Times (www.nytimes.com).
And the International Tennis Hall of Fame (www.tennisfame.com).
Tried to get an idea what made those masters of tennis become
so successful that we call them legends today. I had to go back
as far as the beginning of the last century and found plenty
of individuals so successful, and so dominating in their time,
I believe they need to be called true legends. I also found more
or less acceptable videos of most players (except Mrs. Lambert
Chambers) on YouTube (www.youtube.com).
Each true legend of tennis was
wildly successful in their time and known for at least one particular
Douglass Lambert Chambers (1878 - 1960) 7 times Wimbledon winner
Although, in 1911, Lambert Chambers won the women's final at
Wimbledon 60, 60 - this was in no way a sign of how
her future matches would go. (Btw, the only other female player
who won a Grand Slam singles final without losing a game was
Steffi Graf when she defeated Natalia Zvereva in the 1988 French
Open final). Mrs. Lambert Chambers was a powerful right-handed
player from both forehand and backhand, had very accurate passing
shots, put up irretrievable lobs, and had plenty of touch on
her drop shot. But one of the most outstanding features of this
player was her endurance.
In the Wimbledon final of 1919 the sturdily conformed, long-skirted
40-year-old matron, Dorothea Katherine Douglass Lambert Chambers,
seven times champion between 1903 and 1914, faced the slim new
kid half her age, audacious, skimpily dressed (for the time)
Suzanne Lenglen. They battled through the longest final up to
that time, counting 44 games. Lenglen's win signalled the changing
of the guard at Wimbledon, but everyone who thought Lambert Chambers
was finished, was dead wrong. In 1921, at age 41, she was the
oldest finalist at Wimbledon and lost to Lenglen again. As Britain's
Wightman Cup captain in 1925, at 46, she helped her side win,
4-3, at Forest Hills by beating 30-year-old Eleanor Goss, 7-5,
3-6, 6-1. She also captained the team in 1926. She was entered
into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1981.
only one comment: Hats off to a woman who was winning so many
matches and Grand Slams over a period of over 25 years, with
such a power game, and in full length women's clothing. I will
never again complain about my tennis outfit and that I could
have won that match with a better pair of shoes, and a dryer
Rachel Flore Lenglen (1899 - 1938) 7 times Wimbledon winner
Suzanne Lenglen was a French tennis player who won 31 Grand Slam
titles between 1914 and 1926. A flamboyant, trendsetting athlete,
she was the first female tennis celebrity and one of the first
international female sport stars, named La Divine (the divine
one) by the French press. Right-hander Lenglen was No. 1 in 1925-26
the first years of world rankings. She won Wimbledon every year
but one from 1919 through 1925, the exception being 1924, when
illness led to her withdrawal after the fourth round. Her 1919
title match, at the age of 20, with 40-year-old Dorothea Douglass
Chambers is one of hallmarks of tennis history. During her reign
as undisputed Queen of the court she won 270 consecutive matches
and gave up only two sets doing so.
Not only her performances on
the court were noted, however. She garnered much attention in
the media when she appeared at Wimbledon with her dress revealing
bare forearms and cut just above the calf, while all other players
competed in outfits covering nearly all of the body. Staid Brits
also were in shock at the boldness of the French woman who also
casually sipped brandy between sets. Some called her shocking
and indecent, but she was merely ahead of time, and she brought
France the greatest global sports renown it had ever known.
Prior to Lenglen, female tennis matches drew little fan interest,
which quickly changed as she became her sport's greatest drawing
card. Tennis devotees and new fans to the game began lining up
in droves to buy tickets to her matches. Temperamental, flamboyant,
she was a passionate player whose intensity on court could lead
to an unabashed display of tears. But for all her flamboyance,
she was a gifted and brilliant player who used extremely agile
footwork, speed and a deadly accurate shot to dominate female
tennis for seven straight years.
players don't practice shot accuracy and footwork. Heck, they
rarely practice, they want to play matches and win. Next time
I'm having a not so great day on the tennis court, which could
easily be improved by better footwork, I'll remember Suzanne
Lenglen's quote from her book "The Right Set": Your
feet are the point from which the footwork is done. You must
be easy upon them. Do not allow them to hold the ground flatly,
for then movement in any direction will not be instant - never
run too fast, run with short steps. Wow, I call this profound
advice from a Legend who took Ballet lessons as a child!!
You Tube Videos about Suzanne
Lenglen Breaks Wimbledon Record (1925)
I Play Tennis - By Mlle. Suzanne Lenglen (1925)
Lenglen vs Helen Wills - 1926 Cannes, France
No. 18 - Suzanne Lenglen (1933)
Wills v Suzanne Lenglen
Tilden "Big Bill" (1893 -1953). 3 x Wimbledon winner
If a player's value is measured by the dominance and influence
he exercises over a sport, then William Tatem "Big Bill"
Tilden II could be considered the greatest player in the history
of tennis. An American tennis player who was the World No. 1
player for seven years, Bill Tilden dominated the world of international
tennis in the 1920s. In the United States' sports-mad decade
of the 1920ies. Tilden was one of the five dominant figures of
the "Golden Age of Sport", along with Babe Ruth, Howie
Morenz, Red Grange, and Jack Dempsey.
Nobody had a more devastating service than Tilden's cannonball,
or a more challenging second serve than his kicking American
twist. No player had a stronger combination of forehand and backhand
drives, supplemented by a forehand chop and backhand slice.
There has perhaps never been an era in tennis more dominated
by a single player than Tilden in the 1920s. From 1920 through
1926 he led the United States team to 7 consecutive Davis Cup
victories, a record that is still unequalled. Among his foremost
achievements, he won the U.S. National Championship (precursor
to the US Open) 6 times in succession and 7 times altogether
(1920-1925, 1929), doubles 5 times, and mixed doubles 4 times.
He traveled by ship to England to compete at Wimbledon six times
(1920, 1921, 1927-1930) and won three times (1920, 1921 and 1930).
He never won the Australian or French singles championship because
prior to 1938 (when Don Budge won the first Grand Slam), these
were not considered prestigious titles as they are today. Prior
to 1938, the most prestigious tennis titles were the Davis Cup,
Wimbledon, and the US Championships.
Big Bill Tilden's dominance meant that he was "the gate"
for tournaments, clubs, and the USLTA (U.S. Lawn Tennis Association).
The crowds came to see him and he knew it very well. That's why
he often got away with bullying linesmen and umpires into changing
calls - both for and against him. He would stare linesmen down
and ask them to change the call. He would threaten to walk out
and not come back. Umpires generally gave in at that point because
Big Bill walking out would mean considerable financial losses
for the organizer. He was also a showman with worldly flair,
toying with his opponents to prolong matches, just to give the
audience what they came and paid for.
today's technological advances have changed the game so much
(see Mac Cam and the Challenge System), I have to admire the
sheer brashness of Bill Tilden. He used his dominance and his
influence on and off the court. In between all those negative
reports about him staring down linesmen and getting the umpires
to change calls, there is one positive report that is worth mentioning
in my opinion. I am quoting from Frank Defords great book
Big Bill Tilden The Triumphs and the Tragedy.
"However abrasively Tilden might so regularly strike people,
however rude and unfeeling he could appear to be, there was always
this incredible measure of kindness within him. Years later in
Los Angeles during the war, when he learned that a young Mexican-American
prospect would not be permitted to use the fashionable Los Angeles
Tennis Club courts, it was Tilden who put himself on the line,
who told the club manager, Perry Jones, a powerful USLTA official,
that he would blow the whistle publicly and pull out a lot of
other players if the kids ban continued. Only then did
Jones bow and let Pancho Gonzales play on his courts."
So, what can a recreational player learn from Big Bill? I am
choosing the adptability part. When Bill Tilden lost most of
one finger on his right hand he adapted, learned how to deal
with it, and moved on with determination. He started to slice
forehand and backhand shots and drove his opponents crazy until
they were able to handle those shots. Be flexible, adapt well
to changing situations, and be determined and assertive - the
Bill Tilden way.
You Tube videos about
Bill Tilden (1931)
William Tilden Silent Instructional Tennis Vintage Film
Tilden's Advanced Tennis
Wills (Moody). 8 times Wimbledon winner
Helen Newington Wills Roark (October 6, 1905 January 1,
1998), also known as Helen Wills Moody, was an American tennis
player. She has been described as "the first American born
woman to achieve international celebrity as an athlete."
Helen won the following Grand Slam singles titles: 7 US Championships,
8 Wimbledon, and 4 French Open between 1923 and 1938. Including
numerous doubles and mixed doubles titles she won 31 Grand Slam
titles altogether, in addition to 2 gold medals at the 1924 Olympics
With a winning streak of 150
matches without giving up one set, Helen Wills was the international
star player from California, who was known for her phenomenal
concentration on court. Her getting down to business attitude,
rarely smiling or showing any kind of emotion during a match,
earned her the nickname Little Miss Pokerface. It
was reported that one Wimbledon final had her play on and attempting
to serve after she won the Championship point and the umpire
had called her the winner already. She just was way too concentrated
to bother with counting her games or observing the score board.
is hard for a recreational player. So much is going on in your
mind every day. The job, the relationship, tennis elbow, bad
line calls, you name it. When I realize Im not focusing
at all on the game at hand, I follow two masters of concentration.
First I remember what David Breslow teaches. He is the famous
teacher, speaker, author, and Director of Mental Toughness at
the USTAs National Tennis Center. He teaches how to clear
your mind and concentrate only on ONE thing, e.g. your footwork.
The second master of concentration I usually follow is Helen
Wills. In The Goddess and the American Girl Larry
Engelman describes how she chanted the words EVERY POINT
to herself on every shot, in every game she ever played. Very
impressive and I can confirm that those methods absolutely work.
You Tube videos about Helen
Helen Wills Moody (1933)
against all odds
Ricardo Alonso González or Richard Gonzalez, (May 9, 1928
July 3, 1995), who was generally known as Pancho Gonzales
or, less often, as Pancho Gonzalez, was the World No. 1 tennis
player for an unequalled eight years in the 1950s and early 1960s.
During that period, he played as a professional. Mostly self-taught
with some coaching, he was a successful amateur player in the
late-1940s, twice winning the United States Championships. Gonzales
is still widely considered to be one of the greatest players
in the history of the game.
Gonzales was given a 51-cent racquet by his mother when he was
12 years old. He received some tennis analysis from his friend,
Chuck Pate, but mostly taught himself to play by watching other
players on public courts in Los Angeles. Once he discovered tennis,
he lost interest in school and began a troubled adolescence in
which he was occasionally pursued by truant officers and policemen.
He was befriended by Frank Poulain, the owner of the tennis shop
at Exposition Park, and sometimes slept there.
Because of his spotty school attendance and occasional minor
brushes with the law, he was ostracized by the overwhelmingly
Anglo-Saxon, and predominantly upper-class, tennis establishment
of 1940s, which was headquartered at the Los Angeles Tennis Club
and which actively trained other top players such as the youthful
Jack Kramer. During that time, the head of the Southern California
Tennis Association, and the most powerful man in California tennis
(and much of the country, given the way weather gave that region
a head start in tennis) was Perry Jones, described an autocratic
leader who embodied much of the exclusionary sensibilities that
governed tennis for decades. Although Gonzalez was a promising
junior, once Jones discovered that the youth was truant from
school, he banned him from playing tournaments.
Eventually he was arrested for burglary at age 15 and spent a
year in detention. He then joined the Navy just as World War
II was ending and served for two years, finally receiving a bad-conduct
discharge in 1947.
When Jack Kramer retired from his Pro-Tour, Gonzalez won a tour
over Don Budge, Pancho Segura and Frank Sedgman in 1954 to determine
Jack's successor. He stood himself as Emperor Pancho, proud and
imperious for a long while, through the challenges of Tony Trabert,
Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, Pancho Segura, Alex Olmedo and others.
For a decade Gonzalez and pro tennis were synonymous. A promoter
couldn't hope to rally crowds unless Pancho was on the bill.
The other names meant little. During his reign Pancho won the
U.S. Pro singles a record eight times.
the underdogs and love the stories how someone becomes a Champion
against all odds. The all-white elite didnt want to let
him play at the LA Tennis Club until Bill Tilden stood up for
Pancho. And he went on to become one of the greatest players
of his time. The fact that Pancho Gonzales was mostly self-taught
weighs heavily in his favor because most recerational players
dont like to spend money for tennis lessons. We do like
perseverance and learning by watching other players. That's why
you always find us at all the tournaments, watching Tennis Channel,
renting videos, and watch countless hours of tennis during the
Grand Slams. Of course, how a self-taught player like Pancho
Gonzales was able to perfect one of the hardest and most accurate
serves of all times is a complete mystery to me. We all should
be able to do that, too. So, why don't we? What is holding us
You Tube videos about Pancho
Gonzales & Roger Federer: Serving Greatness
Gonzalez - The Original "Greatest Serve of All Time"
(Gonzales) a Film by Gino Tanasescu
Gonzalez: The Latino Legend of Tennis Trailer
I also recommend