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Between The Lines
April 1, 2001 Article

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History of the Pro Tennis Wars,
Chapter 2, part 2: 1929-1930

Ray Bowers Photo
Ray Bowers

(Continued from last month's column.)

DEJA VU - 1929

The European backcourt artist Karel Kozeluh and the American attacker Vincent Richards remained atop the pro tennis scene for the next two years, 1929 and 1930. Kozeluh again claimed the winter tournament on the Riviera, held in January 1929 at Beaulieu Tennis Club. Richards was not present. The young French player Ramillon made his way to the semis but then fell to Kozeluh, 6-0, 6-4, 6-4. D. R. Stuart wrote that the experience was disheartening for the younger player but it was Ramillon "who looks most likely to beat Kozeluh some day." In the other semi, Albert Burke and Najuch staged their usual struggle. Burke won, 10-8 in the fifth set. Stuart politely noted that Najuch had gotten his weight down, but another writer, from London's Times, affirmed that "Najuch's service was bad and he frequently double-faulted." The next day Burke, who was tired from his ordeal with Najuch, lost quickly to the now three-time champion, Kozeluh.

The Kozeluh-Richards rivalry remained suspended through spring and summer. Kozeluh in late January from Prague issued a challenge to any top amateur willing to meet him in a three-match series on clay, the receipts to be given to charity. Henri Cochet accepted and the Cannes Tennis Club was tentatively selected, but the French Tennis Federation unanimously voted to deny sanction. In July, Kozeluh worked in Paris with the U.S. Davis Cup team.

Meanwhile in America, the Southern pro championships at Palm Beach, revived in March 1929, produced a surprise winner. Defeating Richards in three straight sets was Brian "Babe" Norton, Wimbledon finalist in 1921 and regularly in the top eight among U.S. amateurs 1923-1926 after emigrating from South Africa. Norton, who turned pro for the occasion, repeatedly passed Richards at net and proved impregnable to direct attack on either forehand or backhand, according to the writer for New York Times. In a strange aftermath, perhaps encouraged by a report that the French Federation was moving to reinstate Paul Feret, one of the Pyle pros, Norton relinquished his winnings and officially requested reinstatement as an amateur, terminating his career as a pro. Then in May, Snodgrass defeated Kinsey in the final of a Southern California Professional Championship.

The year's climax again took place at Forest Hills, where the early rounds went predictably. Kozeluh defeated Kinsey in three seemingly close sets 6-4, 6-4, 7-5, though Merrihew and writer Grover Theis of New York Times deemed the issue never in doubt. Richards defeated Paul Heston comfortably, relying when needed on his net game.

The final was perhaps the greatest of the Kozeluh-Richards classics, before what Arthur Daley of the Times called a "wildly enthusiastic" crowd of 6,000. Kozeluh won the first two sets, both 6-4. Revealing an "indomitable, aggressive spirit," Richards fought back to win the next two, both 6-4. Richards's "wizardry at net" left Kozeluh shaking his head. Holding match point at 5-4 in the fifth set, Richards missed a possible putaway at net, and he then netted two more match points. At five games all, the fatigued Richards was, according to Daley, through. In the final game Richards delivered two double-faults, his only ones of the day, thereby losing 7-5 in the fifth. Daley wrote that many felt the match equaled anything seen at Forest Hills since Tilden-Lacoste, 1927.

Richards and Kozeluh played a total of seven times in September and October including Forest Hills, Kozeluh winning the series, five matches to two. Three matches were five-setters. At Mammoth courts, Brooklyn, on October 6, Kozeluh fell down heavily. He left the court, and returned limping. Richards moved ahead 4-0 in the fifth set and later held a match point. But Kozeluh clawed back and eventually prevailed, 7-5 in the fifth. The series ended at St. Nicholas Arena, New York, on October 27, Richards winning 6-4 in the fifth.

Except for the Forest Hills final, 1929 was not a robust year for pro tennis. The only significant newcomer was Norton, whose pro career was brief. The Kozeluh-Richards tour was a much smaller version of 1928's. Sadly, the fall tournament at Queen's was not held. Plainly, the game needed a large boost.

In our year-end rankings Kozeluh is the unquestioned champion, having won both Beaulieu and Forest Hills. Richards is second, Albert Burke and Najuch third and fourth, reflecting their play at Beaulieu. (In making their own late-year rankings, both Kinsey and Kozeluh agreed with the above order.) Ramillon is fifth for his Beaulieu performance, Kinsey next for his strong showing at Forest Hills. Norton is seventh for defeating Richards at Palm Beach, Snodgrass eighth.

Comparing the pros and amateurs was becoming a popular topic. The knowledgeable J. Parmly Paret, in an extended piece in American Lawn Tennis, wrote that the pros seen at Forest Hills were distinctly superior in defense to the top amateurs. Kozeluh, especially, "has the most perfect defense that I have seen," abler than either Lacoste's or Tilden's. "But defense alone does not make a champion," he continued. Either Cochet or Tilden at their best would defeat Kozeluh, he wrote, by sustained and expert net attack. Lacoste, he noted, lacked the needed ability at net and would have trouble with Kozeluh, and Borotra, despite his volleying greatness, would seldom win.

Merrihew agreed in general with Paret, and he reported "talk" of how Kozeluh had fared as practice opponent with the U.S. Davis Cuppers in Paris at mid-year. Tilden, he wrote, had been well ahead of Kozeluh, who had played evenly for two sets with Hunter 6-8, 9-7, and held a slight advantage over Lott. Meanwhile Richards was quoted in New York Times that, in his opinion, Cochet at his best was more formidable than Kozeluh.

In our combined pro-amateur rankings for 1929, therefore, Kozeluh stands behind Cochet, Lacoste, Borotra, and Tilden, in fifth place. Richards slips behind Hunter and Lott, in eighth place.

THE IDEA OF OPEN TOURNAMENTS

Should the game's best players earn money as professionals for competitive play? Most tennis people saw the fairness of the idea, but many also believed that by competing for money players might lose their commitment to victory and to the codes of the game. Meanwhile tennis organizers felt required to preserve the amateur game and its great international events along their present lines, not only for tradition's sake but also to assure revenues to support national tennis programs.

Still, the notion of pros and amateurs competing together in open tournaments, at least on an occasional basis, remained appealing to most aficionados. In late 1929, the executive committee of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association proposed amending the regulations of International Lawn Tennis Federation to allow open competition. The British Lawn Tennis Association voted to agree, provided that a nation sanction no more than one such event per year. Of 42 leading American amateur players responding to a USLTA questionnaire, 36 were "enthusiastically in favor" of open events, five were "lukewarm," only one was opposed. Planning began for a first U.S. open event in Germantown Cricket Club, Philadelphia, to be held in September 1930, pending ILTF vote on the American-British proposal.

But the idea failed at the ILTF meeting in Paris on March 21, 1930. The Belgian delegate led the opposition. It would be of only momentary sporting interest, he argued, to learn whether given pros are better than given amateurs. Open tournaments could soon overshadow the present international championships, he warned. "Let us prevent the work which we have erected from falling on the ground," he continued. "Let each--the pro and the amateur--remain in his own sphere."

Only the U.S. and Britain voted in favor of open events, twenty nations opposed, while the delegates from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, who had been expected to support, instead abstained in view of the tone of the opposition. Afterwards Merrihew, who liked the notion of very limited open play, strongly criticized the ineffectiveness of the presentation in support of open tennis. The U.S. had been represented only by proxy to the British.

MARKING TIME, 1930

Grist for discussion arose from an impromptu episode on the Riviera in early 1930. Tilden was competing in an amateur event at Beaulieu, Kozeluh's winter base. As Tilden later explained, the American had no scheduled match that day so he asked Kozeluh to play. There were no announcements and no officials, but a gallery soon appeared including reporters. Tilden afterwards called the publicity "greatly unwarranted," but he recorded the score in his autobiography. Tilden won, 6-4, 6-4.

Kozeluh captured the pro tournament at Beaulieu in January for the fourth year in a row. There was brief surprise in an early round, when Ramillon behind "a magnificent attack" won the first three games, with his own serve to come. But, according to our observer writing in American Lawn Tennis, Ramillon missed an easy kill and with it lost his control. Kozeluh lost only four more games in closing out his victory in three straight sets. Albert Burke defeated rising French pro Martin Plaa in a "fine, hard-hitting" four-setter, but was unsuccessful in trying to tire Najuch, who prevailed in four. The final, which pitted the hard-hitting Pole against Kozeluh proved "a most interesting match," where Najuch seemed always dangerous and ready to take command. But as was often the case in a Kozeluh final, although his opponent led considerably in earned points, it was Kozeluh and his "machine-like steadiness" that prevailed, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.

Several other events dotted the 1930 calendar. Vincent Richards won the early spring tournament in Palm Beach, defeating Paul Heston in the final in straight sets. In June, Kozeluh defeated Najuch in a Paris meeting billed for the world's pro title.

The U.S. Pro championships at Forest Hills began September 16 with an entry field of 54. Present were Europeans Don Maskell and Roman Najuch, both of whom reached the final eight without serious difficulty. The reporter from American Lawn Tennis (probably Merrihew), watched Maskell capture the first two sets of his quarter-final match against Kinsey. The British star delivered superb strokes, "almost worthy of a Tilden," while Kinsey played the defensive shot-maker, hitting looping shots with heavy overspin--"the kind Tilden hated in the old days." After one set, Maskell was soaked in sweat though still "running like a greyhound." But by the fifth set the British pro was "completely done, physically and mentally," and the favored American prevailed, 6-1 in the fifth. (Later in the week, Maskell won exhibition matches from Americans Heston and Charles Wood.)

The quarter-final between Najuch and Snodgrass seemed a toss-up. Merrihew discerned that Najuch, who looked "fat," liked to stay within a 12-foot circle centered just inside the baseline thus protecting against the short ball, meanwhile depending on his strong wrist and good racket control to produce strong groundstrokes. On this day, however, Snodgrass's all-court game and speed of foot allowed the Californian to keep the ball outside Najuch's comfortable reach. Najuch won the first set but Snodgrass claimed the victory in four.

The expected form prevailed in the semis, Richards defeating Snodgrass with volleys and ground strokes of "beautiful decisiveness," and Kozeluh sweeping Kinsey more comfortably than the year before.

It was another Kozeluh-Richards final. The European won the first set, which featured many prolonged rallies and many Kozeluh angles to the Richards backhand--"ugly customers," that Richards usually returned weakly. But down by a set and a service break, Richards's net attacks began to pay off, and the American, though seemingly tired, broke through to 10-8, making it one set all. For two more sets Kozeluh maintained his often "marvelous" lobbing and general control, while Richards persisted in his resolute attacking of net. At the end, according to the account in New York Times, Vincent Richards claimed the victory by rising "at the crucial moments." Later Merrihew reminded his readers that for years he had been saying that Richards, when fit and on his game, should defeat Kozeluh on grass. The crowd of 4,000 had been enthralled.

In an interesting doubles final, the Americans Richards and Kinsey defeated Europeans Kozeluh and Najuch in three straight sets. Watchers sensed that neither European was as effective in doubles as in singles.

After Forest Hills Kozeluh again stayed in the U.S. for a short tour with Richards. A list of the results printed in American Lawn Tennis showed Kozeluh the winner in four of their six encounters. (The count included Richards's win at Forest Hills.) Sometimes the scores and the sites reported in the New York Times did not perfectly coincide with the above tabulation, but the overall message was the same. Also performing in these sessions, in varying combinations, were Najuch, Maskell, Wood, and American pro Allen Behr.

In reaching our pro rankings for 1930 we note that Kozeluh won at Beaulieu and won the short tour against Richards. Richards won at Palm Beach and Forest Hills, the most important head-to-head meeting with Kozeluh. The narrow edge goes to Richards. Third-place is Snodgrass's for defeating Najuch at Forest Hills, and fourth Najuch's for reaching the final at Beaulieu. Albert Burke, Ramillon, Kinsey, and Maskell follow, in that order.

Again merging the pros into Myers's amateur rankings, we place Richards and Kozeluh third and fourth, behind Cochet and Tilden. Borotra and three younger American amateurs--Doeg, Shields, and Allison--complete the combined top eight.

On October 10, 1930 Vincent Richards announced that he was retiring from pro tennis. His recent play against Kozeluh at Forest Hills had been the best of his career, he said, but his legs would no longer stand regular teaching and competition. "From now on I shall swing a racket only for exercise," he affirmed.

There had been some fine pro tennis in year 1930, but there had been no growth of the game--no new events, no new faces. Richards's departure seemed a serious, perhaps a fatal blow.

But the picture would soon change. William Tilden would shortly announce his decision to turn pro, and Frank Hunter would soon follow. Their entry into the pro tennis wars would give the lagging sport a fighting chance at the lift it badly needed.

--Ray Bowers

Note to readers: The author would appreciate any help in making contact with any participant (or offspring) in these or succeeding events. The author can be reached using this form.

Chapter One of the History of the Pro Tennis Wars is available on this site. See: Suzanne Lenglen and the First Pro Tour

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This column is copyrighted by Ray Bowers, all rights reserved.

Following interesting military and civilian careers, Ray became a regular competitor in the senior divisions, reaching official rank of #1 in the 75 singles in the Mid-Atlantic Section for 2002. He was boys' tennis coach for four years at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Virginia, where the team three times reached the state Final Four. He was named Washington Post All-Metropolitan Coach of the Year in 2003. He is now researching a history of the early pro tennis wars, working mainly at U.S. Library of Congress. A tentative chapter, which appeared on Tennis Server, won a second-place award from U.S. Tennis Writers Association.

Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Ray by using this form.


 

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