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Between The Lines
July 25, 2004 Article

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Between The Lines By Ray Bowers
 
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History of the Pro Tennis Wars
Chapter VII:
Awaiting Perry, 1936

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; of Tilden’s Year of Triumph in 1931; of Tilden and Nusslein, 1932-1933; of The Early Ascendancy of Vines, 1934; and Vines's Second Year: 1935.)


Although the world’s top amateur, Fred Perry, remained outside the pro game, promoters O’Brien and Tilden planned ambitious North American tours for 1936. After opening in New York and Chicago, the cast of eight touring pros would divide into two groups, which would criss-cross the continent separately. One group included two females, signifying the return of women’s pro tennis, absent since the Lenglen tour of 1926-1927. But the tours would be disappointing both financially and in terms of sporting interest. The subsequent European season would also regress from the promise of recent years. Only a successful trip to the Orient by Vines and Tilden, and the signing of Perry at year’s end, again lifted hopes.

THE OPENERS

Preliminary activities followed familiar patterns. Vines and Tilden arrived in New York from California. Elly by train and Bill in his own automobile. The warriors practiced at local indoor facilities and lent themselves to pre-match publicity. Stoefen announced that he would try pro boxing--an implausible notion given his slender frame. (Jack Dempsey reportedly called him a "human exclamation point.") Patrons of Frontier Nursing Service, which would benefit from the proceeds of the opener, held dinners marketing the $100 boxes.

The program began about 7:30 P.M., January 11, 1937, before a still-gathering audience in Madison Square Garden. Tennis editor Merrihew made George Lott the favorite over Bruce Barnes in the first match by 2-1 or 3-1 odds based on their meetings as amateurs, though he noted that Bruce had improved greatly during his years as a pro. Lott indeed out-drove and outsteadied Barnes on this occasion, winning their single set 6-2. The two women came on court next.

Neither claimed celebrity status. Ethel Burkhardt Arnold, 26, had rarely competed outside northern California subsequent to her marriage in 1930. But when she came East in summer 1935, Merrihew saw in her "the fire of genius." She ended the year ranked #2 in the United States, behind Helen Jacobs, after a run of tournament wins on both coasts. Her zenith came in Wightman Cup play, when she won the deciding match against Britain’s Kay Stammers. (Stammers had beaten Jacobs in the first day’s action.) At just 4-11 in height, Arnold was a baseliner, known for her fast-moving legs, her hard hitting, and her on-court determination.

Signed as her tour opponent was Jane Sharp, 22, from Pasadena, also a firm hitter, now ranked #6 nationally. Allison Danzig, who watched her win the national indoor championship in New York in early 1935, lauded her skimming drives just over the net, her serving, and net play. That winter O’Brien and Tilden saw her compete in Memphis. Sharp had a self-reliant bent, having driven herself from place to place during her 1935 tennis odyssey. She was only a few inches taller than Arnold.

As expected, Arnold won their opener. The score was fairly close, 6-4 6-4. Ethel’s firm, accurate forehand kept Sharp largely on the defensive although, according to Merrihew, Sharp’s stroke technique was superior. Herald-Tribune writer Al Laney agreed that Sharp seemed the more graceful, the better player, and like Merrihew noted that Sharp tried to exploit the supposedly weaker, backhand side of Arnold. But Ethel’s backhand held up well and indeed added to her edge in power. The venerable Laney noted that the two women made a pleasant picture moving on the green canvas, but he also complained that the match itself seemed "a lot of purposeless banging of the ball, with not much intelligent maneuvering."

The card next pitted Tilden against new pro Richard Berkeley Bell, who like Barnes was from University of Texas. Bell was a smallish athlete known for his determined defensive play, ranked #10 among the U.S. amateurs in 1935. But his biting slices off both sides now fed into Bill’s strong ground attack, and the warhorse, now 43, ran Bell about endlessly in winning 6-1 6-4. Laney, a Tilden-watcher of many years, deemed that Bill still had one of the game’s best backhands, though it was no longer "likely the greatest single shot the game has ever known." Tilden was brilliant in flashes this night, and the match ended quickly.

The top-billed match followed–Ellsworth Vines against Lester Rollo Stoefen. As the acknowledged pro champion for two years, Vines at age 24 was now a graceful 175 pounds, about 15 pounds heavier than as an amateur. Elly’s all-out hitting had now matured largely into a devastating baseline game of controlled power, including moderate use of topspin. Elly had nearly swept the early-1935 series against Stoefen prior to Rollo’s illness, though Stoefen did better in New York and Europe later in the year. Vines had played little since Wembley, fighting knee trouble from a summer auto accident. But now in the Garden opener, Elly delivered a "steady tornado" of rockets close to the lines. Herald-Tribune writer Hawthorne wrote that Stoefen’s fast serves came back even faster, putting Rollo under immediate pressure. Laney noted that Stoefen, also 24, seemed to be copying Vines’s style but did not bend his knees enough in stroking. Laney counted 17 earned points for Vines, only 2 for Stoefen. Elly won, 6-2 6-2, .

The doubles produced a surprise. During 1935, the renowed pair Lott-Stoefen had been outperformed narrowly by the superstars Vines-Tilden. But now Vines had a different partner, the unheralded Berkeley Bell. It was known that Bell-Vines played well in pre-event practice, but everyone expected Lott-Stoefen to prevail.

Somehow the new combination seemed to click from the outset. Vines’s all-around hard-hitting meshed well with Bell’s chopping, net crowding, retrieving ability, and contagious fighting spirit. Meanwhile errors by Stoefen often seemed to offset Lott’s good play. Bell-Vines took the first set 6-4 and led 5-1 in the second before a string of Stoefen aces helped bring matters to 5-4. Bell-Vines then completed their unexpected victory. Most observers, however (and Lott and Stoefen as well), assumed that the result was an aberration, that the outcome would be different in the weeks to come. The mixed doubles closed the evening. Arnold-Stoefen defeating Sharp-Tilden 6-3 7-5. Merrihew, who had given up in his odds-making at this point, wrote that both males played badly, that the girls deserved better.

The announced attendance came to 14,800, producing receipts of $21,725--slightly less than from the 1935 opener. There had been no close matches but the crowd seemed happy, having responded to the play often and well. Even Laney agreed that the show had been a good one, that the watchers had been well-rewarded. Colleague Hawthorne offered two broad observations–(1) that public interest in pro tennis remained strong and (2) that Vines was the greatest indoor player in the history of the game.

Four nights later the cast reassembled before a slightly disappointing crowd of 5,500 at International Amphitheater, Chicago. (The local promoter was George Halas, owner of Chicago Bears.) Arnold and Sharp put on an "elegant" show in their singles, Arnold again winning in two sets. A seemingly disinterested Tilden lost the first set to Berkeley Bell and fell behind in the second, but Bill then put on the pressure to win comfortably. Stoefen played well against Vines, showing powerful serves and overheads in capturing the first set and moving ahead 4-2 in the second. Vines then steadied and Stoefen lost his earlier control, Vines finally winning what a local writer called "a smashing battle." Bell-Vines again defeated Lott-Stoefen, this time in split sets. Summarizing, Herbert Clark of Chicago Daily News called the evening "four hours of classy action." No-one minded when the Barnes-Lott singles and the mixed doubles were called off because of the lateness.

The openers in New York and Chicago had thus gone well. The ensemble now split in two. Tilden, Barnes, and the two women now swung back eastward, while Vines, Bell, Lott, and Stoefen took an itinerary that would soon take them to California.

THE TILDEN GROUP

It was probably not that women’s tennis was intrinsically uninteresting to tennis fans. A tour featuring Helen Jacobs against Helen Wills Moody would surely have drawn well. But both Helens were happy as amateurs, and, wrote Tilden, Moody would simply not talk business. The trouble was that Ethel Arnold and Jane Sharp were unfamiliar names to most people. Their matches were fine examples of high-level women’s tennis, and both players were enjoyable to watch. But–as ever--it is the superstars who sell the tickets.

Thus the Tilden group’s fortunes largely depended on Bill’s drawing power. But most prospective customers had already seen him in past tours, even as his playing ability was now understood to be in decline. Bill’s tour opponent, Bruce Barnes, was little help at the box office, bringing slender laurels from his past as amateur and pro. The tour’s disappointing financial results soon became obvious.

At Pittsburgh on January 17, the crowd of about 1,000 was smaller than those at the three past engagements in that city. (Capacity at Duquesne Garden was 5,000.) Three nights later in Boston Garden, attendance was held down by a snowstorm and reached only 2,500–a fraction of past turnouts. Only 500 showed up the next evening at the Arena in Philadelphia, Tilden’s home town, and on January 24 the gymnasium at Catholic University in Washington was only half filled, in contrast with an overflow crowd the year before. The troupe’s tennis was less than sizzling, though certainly of good quality. Arnold continued to produce straight-set wins over Sharp, showing strong, heavily topped ground strokes and amazing energy and strength in her small body. Sharp tried hard but could not answer Ethel’s pace and consistency. Their match in Philadelphia was over in 35 minutes. In the mixed doubles, Arnold-Barnes won a three-setter in Pittsburgh, and Sharp-Tilden won by close scores in the next three engagements. A Boston writer deemed the doubles "a nice mixture of good tennis and Tilden antics."

The Barnes-Tilden singles was the feature match each evening. The gum-chewing Barnes was by reputation a determined fighter–equally comfortable in baseline retrieving, net play, or any style between. In their first 1936 match-up, in Pittsburgh, Barnes won in two long sets. A local reporter wrote that Barnes worked and fought hard all the way, earning his reward. The writer thought that Tilden had become tired amid the strenuous pace, noting that three sets of mixed doubles had preceded the singles. Bill then defeated Barnes in Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington.

The group swung westward across the Great Lakes region, next south through Memphis, New Orleans, and Dallas, then west to California and Arizona for a series in mid-March. Amid the poor revenues, Tilden came under obvious strain. His nightly carping at the umpires, photographers, noisy spectators, and local officials worsened, approaching eccentricity and irking writers in all cities. Most dismal was an episode in Cleveland, where Bill abandoned the court for 45 minutes during the doubles to argue with the local promoter about payments.

Former tour pros Howard Kinsey and Harvey Snodgrass made appearances with the troupe in California. (Kinsey had been a valued teacher of Arnold.) That region was home for both Arnold and Sharp, but turn-outs remained small. Meanwhile several officially sanctioned exhibitions featuring California-based amateurs Don Budge, Frank Shields, Moody, and Alice Marble clearly outdrew the pros.

Most matches between Tilden and Barnes ended in fairly close scores, and many were split-setters. Barnes continued to gain praise for his energy, but despite persistent arm pain Bill was almost always the winner. A tally at the end of February showed Tilden ahead in wins 19-4. Bill won three of four in California and other in Phoenix, and on March 24 the two split sets in Tucson. Ethel Arnold held about the same edge over Jane Sharp, leading in one count 16-6 and then winning five of six in California and Arizona. Ethel’s strong play was everywhere lauded, though writers sometimes added that her emotionless court manner generated little crowd enthusiasm. Several writers thought that the mixed doubles gave the most entertaining match-up. Sharp and Barnes, who told reporters that they were engaged to be married, now regularly played against Arnold and Tilden, and the two pairs stayed almost exactly even in match wins. It was noted that the males were quite willing to serve cannonballs to the women.

Sharp missed her performance in St. Louis on April 20, hospitalized by infirmities almost certainly intensified by the strains of the tour. She never rejoined the troupe. For her replacement Tilden hired "protege" Jimmy McClure, a teen-aged table-tennis champion of international class, who had been lawn tennis junior doubles champion of Indianapolis. But McClure proved helpless against Arnold in their meetings, and some scheduled tour appearances were canceled. Al Chapin joined the group to complete a men’s doubles foursome, Barnes-Chapin against McClure-Tilden. Amid the wreckage, Tilden and O’Brien split up their business partnership, whereupon Tilden assumed Arnold’s remaining contract. Arnold and the four males continued to play engagements in the U.S. northeastern quadrant until late June, Tilden extending his on-court success against Barnes.

THE VINES GROUP

The Vines-led foursome meanwhile offered tennis of higher general interest and quality. Less troubled by winter weather, the group’s attendance figures held up reasonably well, running about two-thirds that of 1935 at most places. After playing Indianapolis and St. Louis, the group headed west for February engagements in California and the Pacific Northwest. In California, Stoefen married actress Ruth Moody, who thereafter accompanied the tour. Then a long transcontinental swing carried the rovers to Florida in early April, thence up the Atlantic coast to the northeastern states and Canada through May. Many of the spring engagements were outdoors.

Lott and Bell opened each performance. The shorter, round-shouldered Bell was usually the crowd-pleaser, scampering about and trying hard to unseat the stronger-hitting Chicagoan. Lott, who now wore glasses on court, sometimes seemed disinterested and often showed unpleasant temperament, his bent for humor less evident without Bill as victim. Bell had a good run in late March, cutting Lott’s lead in the series to 20-16 by O’Brien’s count. Lott led 24-18 on April 10. Except that Bell won in Richmond and Charlotte, Lott thereafter won regularly.

Top bill was usually the Stoefen-Vines singles. Elly captured their first nine meetings, often in split sets, including a three-setter on February 2 outdoors in their home town, Pasadena. Stoefen won the next day in San Diego but Vines, now wearing a brace to protect a strained back, thereafter resumed his winning habit. Following their appearance in Atlanta on March 29, the count stood 33-5 in favor of Elly. On some occasions Vines was greatly superior amid ragged play by Stoefen, but on dates when Rollo’s big serve and forehand were clicking it was all Elly could do to prevail. Writers sometimes asserted that Stoefen was improving rapidly during the spring, but Vines maintained his winning ratio despite his back and also shoulder trouble. Elly was plainly the solider ground-stroker, his once-flattish drives now tempered with moderate topspin or even backspin. Stoefen depended on his extreme power in serving to keep things close. Both men mixed in net attack, Elly as a variant and Rollo if he dared do so in the face of Vines’s baseline rocketry.

The doubles often produced the evening’s most interesting tennis. Lott-Stoefen won for the first time in Phoenix, but the Bell-Vines W-L edge reached 8-1 in Pasadena, still defying expectations. Lott and Stoefen usually concentrated their hitting at Bell, but Lott acknowledged that "that darned little guy fires the ball right back at us." Lott nevertheless insisted that Bell-Vines had been "lucky birds," and that matters would soon turn. Vines gave lavish credit to Bell for the pair’s success, calling him a better partner than Tilden. Understandably, their target in lobbing was Lott, not the powerful Stoefen.

Matters indeed seemed to change when Lott-Stoefen won six of the next eight, all on the West Coast. (Former tour player Keith Gledhill partnered Vines in Santa Barbara.) But Bell-Vines recovered and led 25-17 in early April, 30-19 later in the month, and maintained their margin thereafter. The four individuals together brought a variety of strengths. Lott’s forte was in his close-in deception and effective lobbing, Bell’s in his agile volleying and back-court retrieving, and Stoefen’s in his big serve and overhead. Vines’s specialty was in ripping the ball through the Lott-Stoefen net advance. Los Angeles writer Bill Henry proposed a casting for theater–Bell as tear-jerker, Lott as comedian, Stoefen as heart-throb, Vines as stoic leading man.

The group’s late-April itinerary included many of the prime cities–Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Boston, Washington. The performances were as crowd-pleasing as ever but galleries were invariably smaller than in past appearances. Early May brought a swing through the main cities of Quebec and Ontario. The closest thing to a grand finale took place at East Orange, New Jersey, May 30-31, where the Vines and Tilden groups appeared separately on successive afternoons. Stoefen, Tilden, and Barnes left for Europe in June, and Vines returned to Pasadena anxious for rest. A few regional billings followed for those remaining. Jurisdictional quarreling among the pros led to the expulsion of Tilden and cast from the Professional Lawn Tennis Association (PLTA) for unauthorized appearances at Orange and several other private clubs. None of the touring pros therefore competed in the tenth annual U.S. Pro tournament, conducted by PLTA at the Tudor City courts, New York, July 13-18. The winner in a field of twenty club pros was Joe Whalen, age 20, a pro at Larchmont Shore Club, New York. Whalen’s hard-hitting baseline game was too much for his final-round opponent, New Jersey pro Charles Wood.

PROS VS. AMATEURS

The year’s only match-ups pitting the leading pros and amateurs were exhibitions designed to prepare the amateurs for Davis Cup play. Working for several weeks with the American team was Karel Kozeluh, taking the role previously held by Nusslein. A three-day exhibition program was arranged for May 22-24 at Merion Cricket Club, outside Philadelphia, including match-ups of Kozeluh against the likely American singles performers. In what was described as very serious play, Kozeluh lost two sets to Budge on Friday and defeated Wilmer Allison in three of four sets on Sunday. A Philadelphia writer deemed that Kozeluh could do nothing wrong against Allison, answering the 1935 U.S. amateur champion’s best angles "marvelously." Kozeluh and Vincent Richards also played in a doubles foursome Saturday. The gallery warmly welcomed Richards, who was returning to the courts after a serious car accident. Vinnie was meanwhile hired to work with the Australian Cup team in preparing for their coming showdown with the Americans. On May 27, writers watched the workout on the Germantown courts outside Philadelphia, where Richards and McGrath played doubles against Crawford and Quist, the current Wimbledon champions. Writers deemed the play sharp all-around. (The Aussie Cup team would go on to defeat the Americans and then the Germans, for whom Nusslein had become coach and tennis-trainer, before losing in the Challenge Round to the British team led by Perry.)

GARROS

The French Professional Championships, scheduled for the first week of July on Garros clay, promised the year’s first meetings of the American and European pros. Three Americans were supposed to compete in the field of 21, but Tilden and Barnes somehow missed the Queen Mary and failed to arrive in time. The draw was therefore redone, placing Cochet, Plaa, Ramillon, and Stoefen to reach the semis. The newspaper Le Journal predicted that the winner would be Cochet, now 34–"the charmer of the balls."

The weather was stormy and attendance sparse. The top-seeded four all reached the semis, though Stoefen, for whom clay was no friend, lost the first two sets to French player A. Vissault. But Rollo steadied and, serving well on resumption the next day, managed to survive. Martin Plaa also needed five sets to overcome Albert Burke. In the semis on July 5 Stoefen, who seemed tired, won the first set against Robert Ramillon but then lost the next three. The Le Figaro reporter deemed that Ramillon’s variety and precision outweighed the "services violents" of the American. Then Cochet, who was said to be on poor terms with Plaa, destroyed the Basque veteran to advance. Henri yielded only two games in winning three straight sets. Plaa looked "almost ridiculous."

The correspondent for American Lawn Tennis, Maurice Blien, termed the final on Monday, July 6, a splendid match. Ramillon, hitting with heavy spin from both sides and mixing in drop shots, captured the first three games. But Cochet then attained form, bothered only by the drop shots, reported our observer. Ramillon thereafter won only two more games. Henri often camped in the forbidden zone midcourt, sometimes coming forward and, once there, proving impossible to pass. Blien wrote that Cochet had added weight to his serve and showed as much variety in his game as ever, and added the prediction that Henri would defeat Tilden in their expected meetings ahead. The French newspapers likewise lauded the brilliance of Henri’s performance. It was probably his finest time as a pro. The doubles winners were Cochet and Albert Burke, who defeated Bacque-Stoefen in a straight-set semi and then the defending champions, Plaa-Ramillon, in an attractive four-set final. The principals then departed for northern England.

SOUTHPORT

Controversy arose just before the start of the International Pro Championships of Great Britain in Southport. The British Lawn Tennis Association argued that the tournament’s name infringed on the Pro Championships of Britain, held annually at Eastbourne, and advised the four British entrants to withdraw. The damage seemed not critical, however, as none of the four departees had been likely to defeat the prime stars. Two replacements were quickly recruited–French pro Elfred Estrabeau and the finalist of 1935, Hans Nusslein. When an injury next forced Bruce Barnes to withdraw, the entry list became nine.

The first day’s main attraction was the singles match-up of Cochet and Stoefen. Cochet was the obvious favorite off his Garros triumph, though it seemed that Rollo’s serving and forehand power might be more effective on the En-tout-cas artificial clay surface than on Garros clay. The American held serve three times to start the first set, but Henri then began returning serve with regularity, exploiting Stoefen’s backhand from back court, and passing Rollo on the latter’s frequent forays to net. Stoefen recovered somewhat in the third set, serving and volleying better, but Henri closed out the set and the match 10-8. Meanwhile, Albert Burke eliminated Estrabeau, also in straight sets, and Tilden won a practice match from Edmund Burke.

Day two produced a stunner. In a match filled with long baseline rallies amid brilliant sunshine, Martin Plaa outlasted Big Bill in five sets. Perhaps Tilden was rusty and out of condition from inactivity since leaving New York, but it was not the first time that the plucky French player had upset Bill. The affair was filled with annoyances–a crying baby, endless line disputes, a mistake in changing balls, loud spectators. Plaa seemed on the ropes after losing the fourth set in the face of Bill’s firm and varied stroking. But Martin regained his own depth and consistency so that whenever Tilden slowed up in his barrage, one writer noted, Plaa answered with hard drives to the corners. With Bill serving in the 12th game of the final set, Plaa reached match points behind several net forays and finally claimed upon a Tilden double-fault. Meanwhile, Albert Burke won a set from Ramillon but then faded, and Nusslein easily defeated Edward Burke.

The last three days featured round-robin play among the surviving four. On Thursday and Friday both Cochet and Nusslein defeated both Plaa and Ramillon in straight sets. On both dates, Plaa failed to produce the fine play shown Wednesday against Tilden. Against Ramillon, Cochet regularly attacked Robert’s defensive underspin backhand, which proved inadequate to reverse the pressure. Nusslein meanwhile showed his customary consistency and accuracy. A Liverpool reporter concluded that Hans’s strengths were in his ability to fend off forcing shots to his backhand and in the accuracy of his passing.

Thus the championship came down to the Saturday match-up, July 11, between Cochet and Nusslein, played amid intermittent cold rain before a crowd of 4,000. Henri had never played Nusslein before, and on this date the Lyonaise was unable to find a weakness. The Nusslein machine worked to perfection, featuring consistent depth and excellent defensive play–passes, droppers, lobs, all made more effective than usual by the slow playing conditions. There were many long, baseline duels, where watcher Edmund Gillow deemed that the difference was in the backhands–Henri’s was always heavily sliced, which could only be defensive, while Hans hit flat. Beaten both at net and in back-court, Henri tried slowing up his shots, whereupon Hans attacked successfully, generating his own, ample pace. Hans won the championship 6-3 6-2 6-2 in a match that Gillow called "full of gems."

The doubles championship was decided in a four-pair round-robin. Cochet-Ramillon won, defeating Stoefen-Tilden in four sets to complete a round-robin sweep. Gillow wrote that Stoefen played well, using his power game to good effect, but that the Americans were hurt by poor teamwork and lapses by Tilden. The French twosome, he continued, seemed superbly paired and played with "sustained brilliance." A Liverpool writer concluded that the decisive weapons had been Ramillon’s twist serve and angled volleys along with Henri’s overhead. Elated at the end, Cochet knocked a ball beyond the grounds. Third place in the doubles went to Albert Burke-Nusslein, who defeated Estrabeau-Plaa. Plaa took third in the singles, defeating Ramillon in five sets amid the Saturday rain.

The outlines of the pro rankings for the year had now emerged. Vines and Nusslein were clearly tops in America and Europe, respectively. Further sorting out of the next echelon–Tilden, Stoefen, and French players Cochet, Plaa, and Ramillon–awaited Bonnardel Cup play, next.

BONNARDEL CUP

The Americans advanced to the final round of Bonnardel Cup 1936 by defeating Ireland on July 17-18 at Southport. Tilden and Stoefen comfortably swept the brothers Burke, again amid wet weather. Later at Noordwijk, Cochet, Plaa, and Ramillon easily beat the Netherlands team led by Hemmes. Thus it became France against U.S. in the Cup finals, held at Southport August 14-15.

Friday’s singles match-ups repeated pairings seen in the July tournament at Southport. The rain remained, but both outcomes changed. It was a different Stoefen, whose cannonball serve was working from the outset. Cochet meanwhile played well, "waiting for the break in the storm that never came," wrote Gillow. Rollo won three straight sets, all by close scores. In the second match, Tilden revenged his loss to Plaa in a baseline duel decided in three close sets. Gillow reported that despite a bad elbow, Bill steadily pounded the corners while mixing in some drop shots, while Plaa’s best retrieving proved "not good enough."

Some 4,000 spectators attended on Saturday, more than doubling the first-day’s turn-out. Stoefen started erratically against Plaa but eventually played even better than the day before. Plaa was usually able to block back the cannonball, but Rollo often shifted to a high-kicking serve, or American twist, following it to net where he volleyed superbly. Gillow called Stoefen’s serving and overhead work spectacular, and noted that the tall one was adding finesse to his game, "like Vines."

The U.S. team thus held a conclusive 3-0 lead in matches won, so that some of the luster was removed from the Tilden-Cochet match-up. The two grand antagonists from amateur days had played the previous week in the final of a pro tournament at La Baule, Cochet winning in four sets. Their Cup match became an extended battle. Henri lost the first two sets in the face of Bill’s relentless pounding to the corners. But Henri again came back to force a fifth set, where matters reached three games all. Bill then produced a final run, capturing all but two points in winning the last three games.

Cochet-Ramillon then won the doubles in straight sets, making the final tally U.S. 4, France 1. Both Tilden and Cochet spoke during the presentation ceremony, recalling their past matches and praising one another. It was announced that the 1937 Cup final would again be held at Southport.

LATE SUMMER

There would be no 1936 indoor pro tournament at either Wembley or Paris, although contrary information is wrongly given in other books. Tilden in late July tried to change the minds of the Wembley promoters, who believed that without Vines the tournament would lose money. Writer Clifford Webb, who described these discussions in London Daily Herald, himself disagreed with the promoters, arguing that Nusslein "is the most entertaining thing in tennis." Bill telephoned Elly in California and Vines promised to reconsider his plans, but the event was lost. Thus Vines and Nusslein never faced each other during the year.

Cochet traveled by air to Soviet Union in late August and September for exhibitions in Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev. His match on the third night in Moscow against the Russian champion Novikov drew a reported 10,000. Henri afterwards wrote highly favorably of the venture. Later in the year, Henri made an extended tennis excursion to Egypt and the Middle East, returning via the Balkans.

Dan Maskell again won the British Pro, held at Eastbourne in August. After a late-August tournament at Touquet, which included another Stoefen win over Cochet, Tilden and Stoefen returned to America. The German Pro was held in late September at the Rot-Weiss club, Berlin. On the last day of the concluding four-man round-robin, Nusslein lost to Ramillon in split sets. But Hans became the champion, as Ramillon had lost earlier in the round-robin to Goritschnig and Hans had the better W-L record in sets. The Berliner Morgenpost afterwards blamed Ramillon’s loss to Goritschnig on that day’s cool weather, which had been unsuited to the "tennis magician’s" lively nature. (Ramillon, 27, who spoke good German, had been especially warmly received by the Berliners.) The Facondi brothers of Chile both failed to reach the final four, losing to Nusslein and Ramillon, respectively. The brothers, however, dominated the fifth-place round-robin, Jose taking fifth place, Thomas sixth. They also won the doubles championship, defeating runner-ups Nusslein-Najuch in five sets. The European pros then performed in several short tournaments, including at Koln and Roubaix.

JAPAN TOUR

Cold-shouldered by the Australian Lawn Tennis Association, Vines and Tilden continued plans for visiting Japan and other Oriental destinations. Vines, Tilden, and Jane Sharp sailed from San Francisco on September 18 and reached Yokohama on October 5. In a letter printed in American Lawn Tennis, Vines told of the welcome parade down the Ginza and of a just-completed 12,000-seat outdoor stadium in Tokyo with an En-tout-cas court.

Jane Sharp opened the first performance, October 9, before about 9,000. Her opponent was Sanae Okada, Japan’s leading woman player, who had just turned pro. Sharp lost the first set but won the next two. Against Vines, Bill started slowly but won the second and third sets. Vines eventually prevailed by score 11-9 in the fifth set. Mixed doubles closed the program, Okada-Vines against Sharp and a Japanese male pro.

The crowd was even larger on the second day. Sharp again won, and Tilden, "in splendid form" according to watcher B.F. Shively, defeated Vines in straight sets. The troupe then left Tokyo for three performances at Koshien (Osaka) in western Japan, 16-18 October. Okada defeated Sharp on all three occasions, while Vines reasserted his mastery over Bill. Back in Tokyo on October 24 and 25, Sharp and Vines both won twice, all matches in split sets. At this point Sharp led Okada 4-3 in matches won, while Vines led Tilden 6-1. Two more appearances were scheduled, at Nagoya, which were expected to bring total attendance to 70,000. Shively wrote that the Vines-Tilden matches dazzled the spectators. The margin between the two men had seemed slight, he continued, but when Vines decided to unleash his biggest guns, Bill could offer no sustained reply. Tilden and Vines departed on November 3 for dates in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Manila, eventually reaching California in mid-December. Sharp returned earlier.

THE RANKINGS

Vines and Nusslein were clearly the two top pros for 1936. Elly proved himself unquestionably superior to Stoefen and Tilden, but did not play against the Europeans. Meanwhile Hans won Southport conclusively and Berlin narrowly. Which man should be ranked the higher? Three contemporary evaluators–the Paris sporting paper l’Auto, Tilden in a January 1937 column, and Budge in a piece published in early 1937–all agreed in placing Vines first. Here, we accord Vines the top position, narrowly ahead of Hans.

The next five places are also problematic, as the five candidates proved nearly equal in the European season. We award third place to Tilden, recognizing Bill’s winning the long tour against Barnes, his revenge wins over Plaa and Cochet in Bonnardel Cup, and his competitive performances against Vines in the Orient. Cochet is closely behind, recognizing his Garros triumph and his runner-up finish at Southport. Stoefen is fifth for his improved showing against Vines in the North American tour and his fine wins in Bonnardel Cup, which offset disappointing losses at Garros and Southport. In next choosing between Plaa and Ramillon, we note that both showed equivalent success at Garros, that Plaa beat Tilden and then Ramillon at Southport, and that Ramillon showed well in Berlin, Plaa being absent. We make Plaa sixth, Ramillon seventh. (Tilden reversed these two in his ranking.) George Lott is eighth by narrow margin over Bruce Barnes. Kozeluh is omitted, though his defeating Wilmer Allison in the Davis Cup trials revealed that his competitive ability remained strong.

Here then is our 1936 pro singles ranking:

1. Vines 2. Nusslein 3. Tilden 4. Cochet 5. Stoefen 6. Plaa 7. Ramillon 8. Lott

Once again we reach our combined pro-am ranking for the year by merging our pro list with Myers’s amateur.

1. Perry 2. Vines 3. von Cramm 4. Nusslein 5. Budge 6. Tilden 7. Quist 8. Cochet

It seems plain that Perry’s triumphs at Wimbledon, Forest Hills, and in Davis Cup exceeded Vines’s 1936 achievements. (The other rankers--l’Auto, Budge, and Tilden–all placed Vines ahead of Fred.) Budge in his list agreed with our placing Garros champion von Cramm ahead of Nusslein, but Tilden did not, asserting that Nusslein beat von Cramm consistently in Davis Cup training. Perhaps revealing bias in favor of the pro candidates, Bill illogically placed Cochet ahead of Budge, who had match points against Perry at Forest Hills and then defeated him in California.

In our pro doubles list, we place Bell-Vines first, Cochet-Ramillon second, Lott-Stoefen third. The French pair defeated Stoefen-Tilden at Southport and also in the Cup final. Unquestionably first among the women pros was Ethel Burkhardt Arnold, ahead of Jane Sharp, second, and Sanae Okada, third.

PERRY SIGNS

The headline in New Orleans Item after a dismal turnout in that city for the Vines group asked, "Is Pro Tennis on the Way Out?"

There were indeed many disappointments during 1936--the disappearance of the tournament at Wembley and the indoor event in Paris, the decline of the U.S. Pro tournament, the failed try for women’s pro tennis, faltering revenues in the American tour, disunity in the Pro Lawn Tennis Association. O’Brien in late summer talked of getting out of the business, and Vines, who professed loyalty to O’Brien and Tilden, nevertheless expressed impatience with their inability to recruit Perry or the Australians. Unquestionably, pro tennis was in decline.

By summer 1936 Fred Perry realized that his time to turn pro was near. A generally satisfactory contract took shape during Forest Hills–offered not by O’Brien and Tilden but rather by a syndicate led by Howard Voshell, who had competed and been a tournament manager in amateur tennis, and Frank Hunter. Both sides understood that the offer to Perry would be richer if he won the U.S. Nationals. Perry indeed won at Forest Hills, though he lost soon afterwards at the Pacific Southwest. Perry signed in New York in early November, but first Fred talked with Vines, then in Japan, to make sure Elly agreed with the forthcoming plans. As Perry later wrote in his autobiography, it was the start of a great partnership between the two superstars.

Perry explained that his main reason for signing was financial, that he wished to secure a comfortable retirement for himself and his wife, actress Helen Vinson. He planned to live in California, echoing Helen’s wishes and his own film-acting inclinations. Most members of the world tennis community agreed that, having contributed hugely to British and international tennis, Fred was now entitled to rewards. The first Perry-Vines tour would open at the Garden in early January--the long-sought match-up of the three-year champions of the amateurs and pros, respectively.

--Ray Bowers

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Between The Lines Archives:
1995 - May 1998 | August 1998 - 2003 | 2004 - 2014


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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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