Tennis Book Review
September 2017

The Wimbledon Final
That Never Was...
And Other Tennis Tales from a Bygone Era
by Sidney Wood
with David Wood
Reviewed by Rich Neher


On Amazon
(Kindle and Paperback)

 

Who wrote this book?

Wikipedia states: "Sidney Burr Wood Jr. (Nov. 1, 1911 - Jan. 10, 2009) was an American tennis player who won the 1931 Wimbledon singles title. Wood was ranked in the world Top 10 five times between 1931 and 1938, and was ranked World No. 6 in 1931 and 1934 and No.5 in 1938."
Also: "Wood is credited with inventing, designing and patenting Supreme Court, a synthetic playing surface used for indoor courts. It was used by the World Championship Tennis tour from 1973 to 1978. He was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1964. At the time of his death he was the oldest living Hall of Famer."

Sidney Wood was born in Black Rock, Connecticut and died at age 97 in Palm Beach, Florida. His son David Woods remembers, "While most children were being read bedtime stories about Goldilocks, the Three Little Pigs or other such perfunctory fairy tale fare to lull them to sleep, we were being treated to the likes of Bill Tilden, Don Budge and other titans of tennis from the first part of the 20th century. We came to call them "Nighttime Tilden Stories" - no matter who was the subject."

David recalls that a few years later, at the suggestion of one of his father's "delighted listeners" Sidney started copying those stories from his extraordinary life to paper. He intented to write his autobiography and call it "Aged in Wood." David writes, "This book is unique in that you get a perspective, particularly about the game itself, as told by one who started as protégé of Tilden and had played, or watched play and studied and known personally every player since, all the way up to Roger Federer. There was simply no one else on the planet who could speak with his authority and first-hand knowledge of the game."

Over time, David observed that his dad was so devoted to writing the book and adding story after story that he never got around to finishing it. "He just couldn't bring himself to stop witing it, even as projected publishing dates came and went." He contemplated that his dad didn't want to let go of the past and reliving it gave him joy and vigor, a reason to rise in the morning. "It wasn't until after his passing in January of 2009 at the age of 97, that I was able to retrieve his writings and many files and made the decision to pick up the mantle and finally get this wonderful manuscript in shape for publishing for all to enjoy."

What's on the back cover?

It's the only time in the history of Wimbledon that the men's singles final was not played. Sidney Wood won the 1931 Wimbledon title by default over Frank Shields, his school buddy, doubles partner, roommate, Davis Cup teammate in one of the most curious episodes ever in sport.

Wood, in his writings published after his 2009 passing, tells the story of how Shields was ordered by the U.S. Tennis Association to not compete in the championship match to rest his injured knee in preparation for an upcoming Davis Cup match for the United States. He then discusses his "private understanding playoff" between he and Shields that saw their match at the Queen's Club tournament three years later be played for the Wimbledon trophy.

Wood, who could be called the greatest story teller tennis ever had, also relates in a compilation of short stories fascinating anecdotes that involve the most famous personalities from Hollywood and across the globe. Wood also uniquely documents the play and styles of the legends of tennis throughout the 20th century."


Photo: AP

How does the co-author describe the book?

David Woods writes:

"As you will see in the following pages, I have interjected some narration throughout the book to fill in some gaps in my father's writing or to provide proper context. It is an invaluable and unique first-hand perspective for tennis fans and students of tennis history from one who lived, and contributed to, that history."

How do others describe this book?

"The book details the life and times of Wood with a focus on one of the most unusual episodes ever in sport when he won the men's singles title at Wimbledon in a default - the only time in history of The Championships when the men's singles final was not played.

Tennis stories featuring many of last century's most famous celebrities - including Errol Flynn, Grace Kelly, Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx, the Shah of Iran, Gary Cooper, Bobby Fischer, Fay Wray and many others - are also featured in the volume. David Wood of Queens, N.Y., the youngest son of Wood, serves as contributor to the volume."

Randy Walker
New Chapter Press (the book's publisher)


"[Wood] is George Plimpton-esque in his marvelous prose which gives one a Great Gatsby feel to recollections of the champions he competed (very successfully) against and then observed through the modern era of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal."

www.WorldTennisMagazine.com


"The book's charm lies in the way it recreates early 20th century tennis history. . . . A rich source of stories about tennis history."

Long Island Tennis Magazine


The book takes you behind the curtains into a time when lines were blurred between Old Hollywood and tennis. Wood tells of Charlie Chaplin's bi-weekly tennis-infused breakfasts bringing Hollywood and tennis stars together; of "inveterate tennis devotee Gary Cooper" delivering laundry to unsuspecting clients; of sponsoring then-budding actor Errol Flynn and teaming up with him to qualify for the U.S. Nationals (now US Open) in doubles; of his one-time relationship with Grace Kelly, to whom he is not too kind.

The Wimbledon Final That Never Was... is full of anecdotes and history, and also demonstrates the way a tennis player views the sport. You can find out the identity of the server posing in the original ATP Tour logo, learn about the virtues of IMG founder Mark McCormack, get a feel for Bobby Fischer's tennis prowess, and learn tennis strategy from a Hall of Famer, all within a few pages. If going back in time and taking a ride through the decades with a top tennis player sounds like a good way to spend a few hours, then this book is for you.

Mariya Konovalova
www.talkabouttennis.com


Photo: New York Times

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What did I get out of reading this book?

Since Wood's book came out in 2011 I can't believe it took me 6 years to read it. As a student of tennis history for the past 20 years and a fan of legends like Tilden, Lenglen, Wills, Budge, Kramer, Ash, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this autobiography. It added to the information previously obtained in other books. Example: Frank DeVore wrote superbly about "Big Bill Tilden" but the story about him being served backwards by Nicolai Mishu in the first round match at St.Cloud, where the French Championships where then played, was new to me. Tilden was outraged but the serve was good. 15-0. Very funny.

Many of those little anecdotes made me smile. Some made me laugh out loud, like stories about Groucho Marx and Charlie Chaplin. So, I learned a lot about Woods, a man with stories to tell and incredible tennis achievements who I unfortunately had paid little attention to in the past. And about all those tennis playing Hollywood celebrities at a time when tennis was called the "gentleman's sport."

In the last chapter Woods got a little sentimental and, believe it or not, I liked reading that, too.

If the premise of kinship through competition ever needed confirmation, it was dramatically there for all to view in 1977 when about 50 former Wimbledon singles champions, men and women, once again made their way from all compass points to the Centre Court to receive medallions commemorating Wimbledon's centenary and to take part in an unforgettably moving ceremony.

I had phoned Don Budge hoping to arrange a flight over with him. Tony Trabert, Jack Kramer and Dick Savitt had also called, but Don said he just couldn't make it. Next scene - Don appeared in the nick of time for the presentations and stood like the colossus he had been astride the Centre Court.

As we lined up, all hands linked, on the greenest of all turfs, with the strains of "Auld Lang Syne" resounding in our ears through the cheering crescendoes of spectators risen from their seats, the memories paraded past my mind's eye, and a hundred hard-fought victories and defeats fused into a single, glowing experience. All that really mattered was being a part of this matchless cohort of ageless fellow athletes who, with rare exception, would be fast friends for life.

Well written. Great read regardless if you are a pro, fan, or recreational player.

 

 

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