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Between The Lines
October 5, 2002 Article

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Between The Lines By Ray Bowers
 
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History of the Pro Tennis Wars
Chapter IV: Tilden and Nusslein, 1932-1933

Ray Bowers Photo
Ray Bowers

(Note to readers: Earlier segments of the author’s history of the pro tennis wars told of the first pro tour in 1926; the subsequent eminence of European Karel Kozeluh and American Vincent Richards; and of Tilden’s Year of Triumph in 1931.)


The supremacy of Bill Tilden on the courts of pro tennis would fade only slowly amid the toll of age and Bill’s almost superhuman level of activity. The apparent successor was young Hans Nusslein, who had pressed Bill in Europe in late 1931 and would now face Tilden regularly in events on both sides of the Atlantic. The sport’s history during 1932 and 1933 would mainly follow the odysseys of Tilden and Nusslein.

WINTER-SPRING 1932

The new season began with a first-time venture--the Indoor Professional Championship of the United States, staged by the U.S. Professional Tennis Association. The event attracted 23 pros to the board courts at 71st Regiment Armory, New York. On the first day, December 31, 1931, the field was reduced to eight, and the next afternoon to four. That evening, teaching pro Charles Wood upset touring pro Albert Burke in five sets, and Vincent Richards, benefiting from the super-fast courts, defeated Emmett Pare. Richards won the final on January 2, 1932 in straight sets, overcoming Wood’s unaccustomed but determined attacking. The New York Times called Richards’s performance "a masterful exhibition." Tilden did not compete but attended the final. An extra attraction was top amateur Frank Shields, who played several exhibition sets against other amateurs.

Meanwhile Tilden Tennis Tours, Inc. and Jack Curley planned a five-city series featuring competition among ten pros to crown the world’s indoor pro champion. On the first night, January 4, on the Madison Square Garden canvas, Tilden defeated Albert Burke and Richards defeated Frank Hunter. The crowd was very small, but two nights later about 6,000 turned out including major celebrities Babe Ruth and Max Schmeling to watch Tilden against Richards. Bill was now nearly 39 and had played earlier in the day, but he dominated Vinnie 6-2 6-3 6-1. Richards was constantly on the run, finding the net untenable against Tilden’s hard hitting. Allison Danzig wrote that Bill was again "the marvel of yore..., with the vigor of youth still in his long legs."

Attendees were especially interested in the American debut of the young German player Hans Nusslein, who had just arrived in the U.S. and played only in the doubles. Nusslein and his partner, Roman Najuch, lost to Hunter-Tilden in a reversal of the recent outcomes in Berlin and Paris. Both Danzig of the Times and Fred Hawthorne of Herald-Tribune judged Nusslein favorably, however, commenting on his quickness. The play "had the gallery cheering deliriously until after midnight."

The warriors then moved to Convention Hall, Philadelphia, for a three-day, eight-player tournament called the Eastern Pro Championships. Both Tilden and Nusslein advanced comfortably on January 7 and 8, Bill in turn defeating Roman Najuch and Albert Burke, Nusslein defeating New Yorker Allen Behr and Emmett Pare. Attendance was dismal, in the low hundreds.

The final on Sunday, January 9, "completely satisfied" the 3,500 spectators, wrote reporter Dora Lurie of the Inquirer. For two sets Nusslein "had Tilden dashing from side to side trying to return Nusslein’s drives, amid blinding rallies almost too swift to follow." Down by two sets, Tilden fought back. Sets three and four were close, Tilden winning, but at the end Nusslein became helpless. Tilden won 25 of the last 32 points. Lurie concluded: "Nusslein lived up to expectations. He handled everything Big Bill shot over but those deadly service aces which floored him in crucial spots."

Bill again defeated Nusslein in Chicago, January 12, again in five sets before an audience held to about 2,000 by bad weather. Hans led early but at the end Bill produced "all his mastery." A week later Nusslein defeated Bill for the first time, in four sets, before a good crowd of 3,000 in Trenton. A local writer told in detail how Nusslein concentrated on keeping the ball in play, sweating and running hard in reply to Tilden’s hammering from back court. The same formula failed a week later, however, in Boston Garden before 5,000, when Tilden, at first erratic, opened up after two sets to claim his third victory in four American meetings with Nusslein. By now the earlier notion to stage an extended round-robin among ten pros had been forgotten, and at each stop a Nusslein-Tilden match was featured, preceded by a singles match between two other pros and followed by doubles. Tilden won in New Haven on February 8, again in Madison Square Garden in five sets on February 20, and again at New York Coliseum five days later.

The troupe next traveled from New York to Florida and back, during which Nusslein won five times, Tilden eight. Nusslein did better in matches outdoors, probably because Tilden’s hard serves were less effective on dirt than on indoor canvas. During mid-March, the two headliners along with Najuch, Burke, and Bruce Barnes performed in Birmingham, Nashville, and Chattanooga. To cut travel costs, Tilden Tours purchased a large Lincoln automobile at bargain price. After the Chattanooga appearance, Tilden drove for 24 hours northward as far as New Jersey, where a bearing failed "because Bill drove so fast." Tilden played that night at Hamilton.

The gladiators were back in Atlanta for outdoor play in early April. By winning, Tilden now led Nusslein in 1932 play, 32 matches to 12, reported Atlanta Journal. Then it was on to Augusta, Columbus, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh. Galleries showed their usual satisfaction in the quality of the tennis and, especially, their pleasure in the doubles. On April 17 Allison Danzig watched Tilden and Nusslein play on outdoor clay at Briarcliff Manor, New York. Nusslein contended well against a barrage of slices from Tilden in the chilly wind and eventually led 3-1 in the third and deciding set. Tilden then stepped up his serving power and consistency, Danzig reported, closing out the final five games. Danzig nevertheless judged that Nusslein had shown himself a fine clay-courter.

Indeed, most watchers deemed that Nusslein, just 21, was a satisfactory opponent for Bill. Hans had grown up in Nuremberg, where he earned money as a ballboy and then teacher. He was declared a pro for accepting clothing as prize for winning a local tournament, and he thereafter declined reinstatement as an amateur. He trained many months with master pro Najuch. Nusslein’s strengths were the depth and firmness of his ground-strokes, though they had not quite the penetration of Bill’s, along with his good court speed. He seldom came to net, and his serve was not severe. But during matches he could move Tilden about the court for long periods that ended only if and when Bill found control of his superior power. Hans was better than most at returning Tilden’s serve, often taking it on the rise from inside the baseline. Nusslein was no pure defender like Kozeluh, but whenever Hans defeated Tilden observers usually attributed it to his superior steadiness. He was shorter and stockier than Bill, and was unfailingly pleasant in manner both on-court and off. A Berlin writer in 1931 saw in him qualities of a champion--"wise without being self-important, level-headed without being mean."

Other leading European pros spent the winter of 1932 as usual on the Riviera, where the cast came together in January for the annual pro tournament at Beaulieu. The winner for the seventh straight time was Karel Kozeluh, now 36, Tilden’s main opponent the past two years and now, by winning, the permanent holder of Bristol Cup. The master baseliner lost a set in an early round to Edmund Burke, brother of Albert, and had momentary trouble in a straight-set win over Franz Schmidt of Budapest. Then in the final, French player Martin Plaa carried Kozeluh to four sets, all of them close. Plaa at first tried coming to net but failed to persist, largely remaining in back court allowing Kozeluh’s steadiness and agility to prevail. Our observer, writing in American Lawn Tennis, admired Kozeluh’s lightning-like speed in retrieving, and also liked the younger player Robert Ramillon, who lost to Plaa in the semis but showed good depth, power, and net ability, despite, the writer judged, a lack of competitive play. But the highest praise from our unnamed witness was for the event itself--"an artistic treat for all lovers of beautiful tennis."

Kozeluh returned to America in late spring, losing to Tilden in matches at the Hamilton Courts in New York on May 18 and 19, then defeating Richards a few days later on Long Island. The New York area had become home base for Tilden Tours, Inc., and in early summer, the pros staged a prolonged round-robin at Hamilton, scheduling play around other engagements in the region. Tilden played twice at Asbury Park on Saturday July 2, for example, then drove to Trenton to play Nusslein on Sunday and to Hamilton for a match that evening, all preceding a Monday match at Briarcliff and more play at Hamilton. The Hamilton round-robin ended on July 10 with Tilden declared the winner, having defeated Richards, Pare, Najuch, Burke, and Nusslein. But in the next week Tilden lost matches to Najuch, Nusslein, and Kozeluh. A witness was publisher Merrihew, who wrote, "Bill needs a rest as no other player has ever needed one."

THE U.S PRO CHAMPIONSHIP

The U.S. Pro, previously held on the grass at Forest Hills, in 1932 moved to the ground-brick dirt surface at South Shore Country Club, Chicago. The tour players advanced comfortably in the early rounds, July 23-25. Tilden lost his first set to local pro Ellis Klingeman, who played aggressively until Bill inevitably raised his game. Bobby Seller, who had been dropped by Tilden Tours recently and probably wanted redemption badly, won his first match but then defaulted with back trouble to Kozeluh. Seller would later sue Tilden Tours for contract breach. Paul Heston, winner of the year’s pro tournament at Palm Beach, lost in the second round to Bruce Barnes, in straight sets. Albert Burke defeated Charles Wood, and Richards defeated Robert Murray, age 22. Nusslein defeated Bennett, coach at Northwestern.

The quarter-finals began with Najuch unexpectedly defeating Richards in four sets. George Christie, reporting in American Lawn Tennis, wrote that the "pudgy" European amazed the gallery with his mobility and stamina. Richards took the third set with forceful sallies to the net, but the accuracy of Najuch’s backhand passing shots and Richards’s own inconsistency wrecked the American’s chances thereafter. Still, Christie concluded, it had been a "furious and splendid" match. Meanwhile Emmett Pare--a fine player on clay--staged "what looked like a winning fight" against Kozeluh, but the European prevailed in four. As expected Tilden prevailed over Albert Burke in straight sets, as did Nusslein over Barnes.

The auspices were not encouraging for Big Bill for his semi against Kozeluh. The slow, outdoor surface unquestionably favored Kozeluh and, as Merrihew had noted, Bill was probably worn down from over-activity. Tilden lost the first set, then won the second with superb control of his power drives from back court. Bill’s was brilliant tennis, recorded the Sun-Tribune writer, but somehow not enough to subdue "his dogged little opponent," who persisted in returning the ball and awaiting an error. Christie too marveled at Kozeluh’s "phenomenally steady ability to keep the ball in play." The heavily contested third set ended with a foot-fault call against Tilden, 7-5 for Kozeluh. Words from Tilden angered the intrepid linesman, who stepped toward Tilden. Bill defused the situation by extending his hand, but Tilden thereafter played carelessly, and Kozeluh prevailed easily, 6-1 in the fourth and final set.

Nusslein defeated his former mentor, Najuch, now 39, in the other semi. Our observer from Sun-Tribune attributed the outcome to Hans’s depth and power, while Christie deemed it Nusslein’s speed and court-covering ability. Najuch came within one point of winning a long second set but tired thereafter.

In the Sunday final, July 31, Kozeluh’s foot speed and shot-making accuracy were too much for the young German star, 6-2 6-3 7-5. Both men played primarily in back court except to cover drop shots, and the gallery of 2,600 watchers offered only mild applause, in contrast to the noisy enthusiasm during Tilden’s match with Kozeluh. The doubles went to the recent pairing Barnes-Tilden, who defeated Najuch-Nusslein in the semis, then Albert Burke-Kozeluh in the final, both in three straight sets.

BERLIN, SEPTEMBER

Tilden and colleagues sailed for Europe on September 8, arriving to perform in the Netherlands with several Dutch players on September 17-18. The preliminaries included some mixed doubles, Najuch and Barnes participating. In the main match, a four-setter, Tilden defeated Nusslein. The troupe then traveled to Berlin for the World’s Pro Championship on the red dirt at Rot-Weiss Club in the Grunewald, September 20-26. The event had been previously called the German International Championships and had been won in 1931 by Nusslein, who defeated Ramillon, Plaa, and Najuch. The 1932 event clearly ranked with the U.S. Pro as the year's foremost pro tournament, listing 82 entrants in singles.

As in Chicago, the favorites moved easily through the early rounds amid many one-sided scores. In the quarters, Tilden defeated Robert Ramillon in straight sets, turning back the French player’s good surge in set two. Barnes won the first set against Nusslein but was outmatched thereafter. Albert Burke defeated German pro Heinz Messerschmidt, and Martin Plaa defeated Najuch, by comfortable scores. Kozeluh was present but played doubles only.

The four survivors then played a round-robin over the next three days. A major surprise came the first day, Friday, September 23. In a match delayed by the lateness of Martin Plaa, favored Tilden started slowly, indeed "carelessly," as one writer saw it. Plaa closed out the first set 6-0. Tilden then took the early lead in the second set, but "the stout little Frenchman rallied" and Tilden’s precision again faded. Down by two sets, Tilden fought back to lead 6-5 in the third set, serving. At set point, "a sleepy official" (the words are from the Berlin paper Der Abend) failed to make the out call of a clearly errant shot by Plaa. Plaa did not yield the point, as the local writer seemed to expect, whereupon Tilden succumbed to his temper and, once play was resumed, blew the match 6-0 7-5 8-6. Another writer, from the Berliner Tageblatt, saw the events similarly, deeming Plaa "lucky," but also pointed out that the French player had already achieved a two-set lead.

Despite his defeat Tilden’s chances were not finished, as the remainder of the round-robin lay ahead. Bill did his part. He defeated Albert Burke the next day, Saturday, and Nusslein on Sunday, both in straight sets. It remained for Plaa to claim the championship by defeating the same two opponents--Nusslein on Saturday and Burke on Sunday. Both matches were five-setters. Nusslein, who had defeated Burke on the first day of the round-robin, seemed the more dangerous foe. The score was indeed tight--Plaa over Nusslein, 11-9 3-6 1-6 7-5 9-7. One writer noted that Plaa, although no better technically, showed the superior fighting spirit. Burke on Sunday also pressed the pleasant Frenchman, but at the end it was Plaa, 6-1 6-2 1-6 3-6 6-4. Thus the tournament winner was Plaa. Tilden was second, Nusslein third, and Burke fourth. Ramillon and Messerschmidt tied for fifth.

The leading players also dominated the doubles. Barnes-Tilden defeated the French pair Plaa-Ramillon in a straight-set semi. Meanwhile Albert Burke-Kozeluh defeated Najuch-Nusslein in four. Burke-Kozeluh then won the tournament by beating Barnes-Tilden in straight sets.

It was a rare triumph for Martin Plaa. Martin, now in his mid-thirties, had sometimes been called the Fifth Musketeer for his past role in helping train the great French national teams. Now, he was met by reporters and cameramen on his return at Gare Nord. There was talk that he, the "Basque professor," would open a school with Suzanne Lenglen or perhaps tour with Her Highness. Short and somewhat heavy-set, Plaa was known for his smiling countenance during play. A Berlin writer admired his invincible, indeed swashbuckling, manner on court and his despair upon losing. (The writer noticed Martin’s habit of gazing at girls in the galleries.) After that weekend of miracles in Berlin, Plaa’s short stature and his non-threatening baseline game would almost always prove inadequate against Tilden and the leading headliners to come.

The troupe toured much of central Europe during late 1932 under Najuch’s management. Najuch, who was president of the International Pro Tennis Federation, was able to arrange with the amateur bodies of several countries to allow amateurs to participate in some pro performances. A Romanian reader of American Lawn Tennis offered an account of an appearance in Bucharest in mid-October. Barnes looked good in defeating Najuch, he reported, showing excellent court speed. Nusslein led Tilden by two sets, showing "machine-like accuracy" and good use of drop shots, which Tilden usually did not chase. (It was said that Tilden had a bad ankle.) But Bill finally found his game, and his heavy serving and stroking enabled him eventually to prevail. The evening’s doubles followed, where Barnes-Tilden defeated Najuch-Nusslein, 11-9 in the fifth set, bringing the gallery to "near-hysterics." Amid the heavy tour schedule thereafter Tilden lost frequently, but in a last appearance in Berlin on November 27, Bill once again defeated Nusslein, in four sets.

1932 RANKINGS

Tilden’s dominance in the year’s first half and his near-successes in the Chicago and Berlin tournaments place him first in our ranking of pros for 1932. Second place goes to Kozeluh for his triumphs in Chicago and Beaulieu, and third to Plaa, who narrowly won the most prestigious title (Berlin) and was runner-up at Beaulieu. Nusslein places fourth. The most successful secondary players on the American tour were Albert Burke, Najuch, and Pare, where Burke defeated the others about two-thirds of the time and Najuch and Pare played each other roughly evenly. We place Albert Burke, who reached the final eight at Chicago and final four at Berlin, in fifth place, followed by Najuch and Richards, who won the U.S. Indoors. Eighth place is shared by improving Barnes, who reached the final eight at both Chicago and Berlin, and Pare.

In our combined pro-amateur ranking, first place belongs to Wimbledon and U.S. amateur champion Ellsworth Vines. The margins thereafter are extremely close in and across both domains. We alternate in merging the amateur and pro lists, placing pro Tilden second, then amateur Cochet, pro Kozeluh, amateur Borotra, pro Plaa, amateur Allison, and, in eighth place, professional Nusslein.

Barnes-Tilden won the doubles in Chicago and were second in Berlin. We accord them co-equal ranking among the pros with Berlin winners Burke-Kozeluh.

YEAR 1933

Tilden and colleagues traveled north from Florida in late January 1933. They performed on January 24 in Augusta where, as often happened, Nusslein initially dominated over Bill but then wilted before a Tilden avalanche. A few days later they played at the 7th and 71st Regiment Armories in New York. Tilden defeated Nusslein at both locations amid "long rallies and hard hitting," while Barnes and Pare each won a match from Frank Hunter, who had now recovered from a serious auto accident the previous March.

The new tour began February 1 in New Haven before 900 watchers. Tilden’s top game disappeared after the first set, Nusslein taking the next two to win the match. Barnes defeated Pare. During the full month of February, the foursome performed a total of 14 one-night engagements. Tilden regularly defeated Hans during the first half of the month, including dates in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Cleveland, and Nusslein won later in Detroit, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Fargo. Then it was on to Montana, the Pacific Northwest, and, on March 15, San Francisco. Bill had been troubled with a flu-like sickness, and prior to San Francisco had lost five of the last eight matches and been down match point in two others. Hans, who knew no English a year ago, now spoke a pleasant "Teutonic English." Bill regularly confirmed to reporters his intention to retire within a year, so each performance became a local "farewell appearance." Most travel was by train. Hefty and red-headed Bill O’Brien came along as business manager. As before, the cork undersurface and canvas court were transported for use at most sites.

Tilden won in San Francisco and again before a capacity crowd of 5,000 including movie celebrities at the Winter Garden in Los Angeles on March 18. Former tour member Harvey Snodgrass, now pro at Beverly Hills, played in the doubles at L.A. Bruce Barnes continued his recent success against Pare at both locations. Writers increasingly took note of Barnes’s hard serving, firm strokes, and aggressive net play. From California, the troupe moved on to a rare outdoor engagement at Dallas Country Club, April 5-7, before shivering galleries. On Wednesday afternoon, Nusslein defeated Pare, and Tilden defeated a net-rushing Barnes, both in three split sets. On Thursday Nusslein held five match points but Tilden somehow prevailed, as usual playing from back court except on critical points. Barnes defeated Pare, moving often to net and working his serve "with brilliant effectiveness." On Friday, Tilden again defeated Nusslein. Two days later before a good crowd on city courts in Jackson, Mississippi, Nusslein and Pare turned the tables, defeating Tilden and Barnes, respectively.

Local writers sometimes wondered whether Bill might be allowing Nusslein to do well in order to improve future gate receipts. Such speculations were dangerous for the young sport and were hard to erase. People realized that Bill sometimes used the tennis court as a stage and that he sometimes played at less than full energy. Indeed, the preliminary singles matches on tour were sometimes not concluded, and the late-evening doubles were usually played in a light vein.

Tilden and the others would endlessly profess the integrity of tour matches. Strengthening their case was Tilden’s obvious hatred of losing, reflected in his often unpleasant on-court behavior toward officials. Such conduct showed that, as a Jackson writer saw it, "his heart was in the business of winning." Tilden afterwards told the reporter that the public wanted to see two opponents fighting their hearts out, and he cited the recent matches in Dallas where the play had been sloppy but the competition superb. "And that’s what we are going to give them, fighting tennis...." The players were not there to show off trick shots, he said.

Still, gate receipts were down about 20 percent from 1932, and in early spring Martin Plaa, who had planned to join the group for several weeks, was advised to remain in Europe. Following a two-day engagement in Winnipeg, the principals were back East in early May. Data from more than half their 1933 matches to date indicate that Tilden won two-thirds of the meetings with Nusslein, while Barnes won three-fourths of his with Pare.

Meanwhile the idea of a tournament open to both pros and amateurs once again came and went. The USLTA, meeting in New York in February 1933, with little discussion voted to stage an open championship later in the year at Germantown Cricket Club, outside Philadelphia. But officials already realized that there were no suitable dates given the existing amateur schedule and Tilden’s European plans. As expected, delegates to the March ILTF meeting in Paris one-sidedly voted that the American plan was contrary to the Regulations. Soon afterwards the executive committee of the USLTA officially abandoned the idea.

EUROPE 1933

An episode in April 1933 soiled Germany’s place in world tennis. The country’s top amateur player was Daniel Prenn, ranked #6 in Myers’s world list for 1932. Prenn was a naturalized German, born in Poland of Jewish ancestry. Nazi officials in April 1933 decreed that Prenn as a "non-Aryan" could no longer play for the nation’s Cup team. The German tennis authorities went along and, although amateur stars Perry and Austin of Britain protested in a strong letter published in London Times, the ILTF took no action. Prenn soon moved to Britain and departed from the amateur game. Nor did the pros take a stand or bring Prenn into their ranks--probably not surprisingly, as Germany had become an important venue for the pro game. Responding to the times, the Meister of pro tennis in Germany, Roman Najuch, shortly resigned as coach of Poland’s Davis Cup team because of "Poland’s anti-German agitation."

Tilden, Nusslein, and Barnes sailed for Europe aboard the Bremen on June 8. Their forthcoming tour would feature several team events organized on national lines. At the Blau-Weiss Club outside Berlin in early July, the American team of Tilden and Barnes defeated a German team of Nusslein, Najuch, and Hermann Bartels by 4 matches to 1 under the Davis Cup format. The only German point came from a four-set win by Nusslein over Barnes. The closest match was Barnes’s five-set win over Najuch. Afterwards the Berliner Morgenpost reported that Najuch should have won but for a wrong call. Josef Goebbels and his wife attended the matches. Later in the month at Koln, Nusslein defeated Tilden but the American team won again, 3 matches to 2. At Dusseldorf in early August, Tilden and Barnes defeated German and French teams by score U.S. 8, Germany 4, France 2. Nusslein and Najuch played for Germany, Plaa and Estrabeau for France.

A rare sanctioned meeting of pro and amateur stars occurred at the Berlin Rot-Weiss Club on August 17 before a gallery of 5,000. Tilden, now 40, defeated Gottfried von Cramm, who was #8 in the world amateur rankings for 1932 and had just won the German national amateur tournament in Hamburg. The scores were 6-4 6-3 6-3. The Berliner Morgenpost admired Tilden’s artistry, but also reported that "our champion was not in best form, and gave in to tiredness from the Hamburg championships." The event had been government-sponsored.

The pros were back in Berlin for the World Pro Championships starting September 12 at the Blau-Weiss. Advancing to the four-player round-robin were favorites Tilden, Kozeluh, Nusslein, and Najuch. On Friday and Saturday, Tilden and Nusslein each defeated both Kozeluh and Najuch. All four matches were decided in straight sets. The stage was thus set for a Sunday meeting between Tilden and Nusslein to decide the tournament winner.

Writer Quentin Reynolds afterwards described the showdown, held under burning sun on the Blau-Weiss clay. For two sets Tilden’s racket was "tipped in magic," wrote Reynolds, while Nusslein looked like "an uninspired punching bag." The crowd seemed to favor neither player, offering polite silence to Tilden’s "ill-tempered" complaining. "There is no audience in the world as fair as a German sport public," wrote Reynolds. But Nusslein was better than he seemed, Reynolds continued, and little by little the young man began to blunt Tilden’s shot-making. With Tilden tiring, Nusslein pushed closer into court, sometimes trapping half-volleys at the service line and moving in, often behind drop shots. The German star gradually added pace and confidence, eventually dominating play and finally winning 1-6 6-4 7-5 6-3. Afterwards an exhausted Tilden spoke to Reynolds in the dressing room: "Fritz is awfully good. He is the greatest player in the world today. No one can beat him." (Reynolds explained that Nusslein’s name was Hans but that everyone called him Fritz.)

Kozeluh defeated Najuch for third place, Ramillon defeated Barnes for fifth, and in the doubles final Barnes-Tilden defeated Najuch-Nusslein 7-5 6-1 6-2. The Morgenpost writer concluded that it had been "a tournament that would long remain in memory."

COCHET’S PRO DEBUT

Musketeer Henri Cochet, now age 31, had been #1 in Myers’s amateur rankings for four consecutive years, slipping to #2 behind Vines in 1932. In France’s six Davis Cup triumphs 1927-1932, the 5-foot-6 French star achieved a remarkable 10-2 Challenge Round record in singles including three wins in four matches against Tilden. Lightning-fast, Cochet was not a heavy hitter or server, but his short backswing on both sides enabled him to pounce catlike on weak balls, typically taking them on the rise at mid-court in order to come forward. His half-volleying and volleying abilities were excellent, his overhead legendary. Though his was an attacking game, Henri was very effective on the Garros clay.

Rumors that Cochet was ready to turn pro had circulated for several years. Promoters Jeff Dickson and Jack Curley were believed to have made offers. In late August 1933 Cochet confirmed his intention to turn, saying that although pro tennis had little appeal for him the offers were too substantial to reject. His signing with Tilden was announced at a press gathering in Paris on September 9. His first pro appearance would be in a team event on Garros clay, September 22-24, where he and Martin Plaa would face Americans Tilden and Barnes.

Speculating on the likely outcome, all writers recognized that because of his limited activity Cochet had passed his peak, and most conceded that Tilden, though older than Cochet, remained close to his best form. Still, Cochet was the only player with a lifetime winning record over Bill, who in his autobiography called him "my nemesis." Henri was generally deemed a slight favorite to win their coming match-up.

Cochet defeated Bruce Barnes in the opening match at Garros, Friday, September 22, in five sets before several thousand watchers. One observer wrote that Barnes drove well but that Cochet kept him on the run. Another wrote that toward the end, "the little Frenchman found a reserve of energy on which to draw." A Reuters reporter thought that Henri’s play equaled his recent form in Davis Cup play. But despite Cochet’s win, it was Big Bill who that day was the most impressive, defeating "portly" Plaa 6-3 6-4 6-2. Plaa fought hard, but Tilden’s strong serve and his variety in pace and depth, including some deft drop shots from deep, kept Plaa always in trouble.

The doubles match began on Saturday but rains throughout the weekend prevented its completion. Monday began with the reverse singles before a quiet crowd of over 5,000. Bruce Barnes defeated Plaa in four sets, the young American moving easily over the slippery court, outhitting and outlasting his tiring opponent. But the most anticipated action remained next ahead--Tilden vs. Cochet.

To one watcher, Bill seemed as good as in years past but now with added guile from experience. The New York Times writer described how Tilden’s big serve and forehand kept old rival Cochet ever on the run. The French superstar could seldom get to net before Bill’s heavy fire and depth. Bill, who usually used his nearly flat, cannonball serve sparingly, on this day employed it regularly. A writer for International Herald Tribune wrote that as Tilden’s confidence rose, Henri’s evaporated until he was "a mere shadow of the once great Musketeer, while Bill was perhaps greater than ever." It took only 55 minutes for Tilden to complete the demolition, 6-3 6-4 6-2. A fine ovation for Tilden followed.

Having won three of the four singles, the Americans then closed out the doubles, winning in four sets. Afterwards Bill told a reporter that he had been suffering arm trouble during most of the European tour, but that just before the Garros matches an osteopath in Paris had relieved the problem. Quentin Reynolds several months later talked with Nusslein, Kozeluh, and amateurs Shields, George Lott, and others. All agreed that Tilden was still the world’s greatest player for a single important match, and that his victory over Cochet at Garros had been the proof.

Though the tour once again avoided Britain, pro tennis remained alive there. Don Maskell for the sixth straight year captured the annual professional tournament, held in London in late October 1933, defeating T. C. Jeffery. Maskell was widely known and respected for his role working with British Davis Cup players. He and other British pros played in occasional team events against the nation’s amateurs, an activity sanctioned in several European countries.

LATE 1933

With the main headliners not yet back from Europe, the entry list for the 1933 U.S. Pro Championship in late September was weaker than usual. The event was held on grass at Rye, New York, where the courts clearly favored net artist Vincent Richards. Vinnie indeed won the tournament without losing a set. Frank Hunter also did well, defeating Charles Wood in the quarters and Paul Heston in the semis. Richards in his semi defeated Robert Murray, now a pro on Long Island, who had won the Southern Pro at Palm Beach in March by defeating the 1932 winner, Heston. Murray in early rounds showed good variety and shot-making skills along with effective twist and slice serves but could not withstand Richards’s forehand and volleying strengths. One observer wrote: "It was the Vinnie of nearly a decade ago, seeking the net always in his inimitable manner...." The Hunter-vs.-Richards final on October 1 was similar, Richards winning in less than an hour, invincible once established at net.

Matches October 7-8 removed some of the shine from Richards’s victory. Tilden and Barnes, now back from Paris, joined Hunter and Richards in a two-day round-robin indoors at Park Avenue Tennis Club. The announced purpose was to choose the forthcoming opponent for Cochet in New York. On Saturday Tilden easily defeated both Barnes and Hunter, winning four sets with loss of only two games. Then on Sunday afternoon Bill’s depth and power, especially his forehand to the corners, wholly dominated Richards. Vinnie tried hard before the good-sized gallery and occasionally flashed his old brilliance at net, but the verdict was conclusive, 6-3 6-2 6-2.

World pro tennis now came to South America. The continent’s best pro players were the Chileans--the brothers Pilo and Perico Facondi, former ballboys said to be unschooled and unable to read or write, and Horatio Placencio. The Chileans had established their credentials at matches in Buenos Aires in late 1932. On October 28, 1933 in Santiago, newly arrived European pros Kozeluh and Nusslein lost close contests against the brothers. A few days later the Europeans turned the tables, Kozeluh defeating the stronger brother Pilo in five sets and Kozeluh-Nusslein winning in doubles. Kozeluh and Nusslein then traveled by air to Buenos Aires, where they proved far superior to several Argentine pros.

A pro tournament at Buenos Aires Tennis Club began November 21. The two Europeans along with the Facondi brothers became the last-surviving four. In very hot weather Pilo Facondi then upset Nusslein in five sets, commencing the round-robin phase. Nusslein later won a five-setter over Kozeluh, and the round-robin eventually ended in a three-way tie among Pilo, Kozeluh, and Nusslein. Nusslein was deemed the winner by counting sets and games won. The Argentine tennis association awarded Nusslein the title Pro Champion of South America. Just a week later Henri Cochet and Martin Plaa, who had been playing each other in a tour of France, sailed from the Riviera for appearances in early 1934 at Rio de Janeiro and points south.

1933 RANKINGS

Nusslein earned 1933’s top ranking over Tilden by strong play especially late in the year and his triumph in the Berlin championship--by far the year’s most significant pro tournament. Behind Hans, we place Tilden second, Kozeluh third. The margins are thereafter thin. We give fourth place to Vincent Richards, winner of the depleted U.S. Pro, and fifth place to Cochet, who defeated Barnes in Paris. Barnes is sixth, ahead of Najuch and Ramillon, seventh and eighth, respectively. Very close behind are Pilo Facondi, Emmett Pare, and Martin Plaa.

We accord the top place in our combined pro-am ranking to amateur Jack Crawford, honoring his winning three of the four Slams and nearly winning at Forest Hills. Fred Perry’s winning the U.S. Nationals and his fine Davis Cup performance likewise trump any claim of the pros. But Tilden’s wins over Cochet and von Cramm, both of whom were in Myers’s second five--supported by opinions of Ellsworth Vines in November and Fred Perry in an autobiography a few months later--require that the pro ladder come next. We place Nusslein, Tilden, and Kozeluh in third, fourth, and fifth places, respectively. Myers’s amateurs Satoh, Austin, and Vines complete our eight.

The victory of Barnes-Tilden over Najuch-Nusslein in the Berlin final establishes the #1 and #2 pro doubles pairs for the year, respectively. Although distinctly secondary at tour events and tournaments, doubles continued to win lively reaction from galleries.

THE SIGNING OF VINES

Davis Cup standout, champion of Wimbledon and Forest Hills, Ellsworth Vines was the unquestioned amateur champion of the world in 1932. But the young Californian’s on-court results declined in 1933. There were rumors during the year that he had already agreed to turn pro, and in actuality a prospective financial arrangement with Tilden Tours had been worked out. After Vines lost early at the U.S. Nationals and in Los Angeles in late summer, Tilden and his associates nevertheless honored their unwritten commitment made earlier to Vines.

Tilden on October 10, 1933 announced that Vines had signed a pro contract, to appear in Madison Square Garden in January and make extended tours of North America and Europe thereafter. Vines in California confirmed the news, explaining that for him it was a relief that the decision was now behind. He predicted that he would "be able to play the best tennis of my life now that some of the strain and worry is over."

With Vines and Cochet now joining Nusslein, Tilden, Kozeluh, and rising star Barnes, the list of top pros was for the first time stronger than the comparable list of amateurs. A new entity, Bill O’Brien Sports Promotion, Inc., planned an ambitious array of events ahead, including new tournaments and international team competitions. If the sport had struggled in 1933, the future of pro tennis--as when Tilden signed at the close of 1930--again looked exciting.

--Ray Bowers

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Between The Lines Archives:
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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.

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