(Note to readers: Earlier segments of the authors 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 Tildens Year of Triumph in 1931; of Tilden and Nusslein, 1932-1933; of The Early Ascendancy of Vines, 1934; Vines's Second Year: 1935; and Awaiting Perry, 1936.)
Frederick John Perry seemed just the right medicine for pro tennis. The
acknowledged world's amateur champion 1934-1936, the British superstar was the
first player in tennis history to have won each of the four Slam tournaments at
least once during a career. He was undefeated in the last three Wimbledons and
At 27, Perry was two years older than Ellsworth Vines, with an athletic
physique only slightly less tall and wiry. He was generally thought an attacking
player, having perfected Cochet's technique of meeting the ball very early on
the rise, often executing a kind of swinging half-volley. He sometimes moved in
to punish opponent's second serve in this manner, especially off the forehand.
His wrist strength and continental grip--hand atop racket on the forehand--led
to a pronounced snap in executing shots, with relatively short backswing. His
reactions at net were quick, as would be expected from his earlier
international success in table tennis, his overhead excellent His forehand was superior
in effect if not in classic form, his serve could produce aces though it
lacked the weight of Vines's, Stoefen's, or Tilden's, while his
backhand--executed without grip change--was generally deemed ordinary and was usually sliced.
He could rally with firmness and consistency, and was excellent defensively
behind his superior court mobility--strengths that would be critical against
Vines's artillery. Both his speed of foot and physical stamina as an amateur were
legendary. Cochet described his on-court presence in tough
competition--"ruthless, full of confidence, insolent, a rough fighter."
But most observers thought that the tour winner would be Vines, who brought
the more powerful serve and ground strokes and who was more experienced
indoors. Donald Budge, who practiced with Elly in California and had just faced Perry
on the world stage, believed that the power of Vines would dominate. Tilden
strongly agreed. Elly had won most of his meetings with Fred as an amateur,
though Perry won their last battle, on Paris clay in 1933.
The two titans arrived in New York from California by rail on January 3,
1937. Perry had been working in movies, avoiding hard tennis in order to stay
fresh, he explained. Vines had been nursing a sore right shoulder during his
recent tour of the Orient. Now, with only three days to go, both men played
practice sets with other pros in Brooklyn. Also in New York was Bill Tilden, who
would appear in the doubles at the Perry-Vines opener but would then embark on a
separate tour. Seats for the January 6 engagement in Madison Square Garden sold
briskly, and at top price $9.90 it was evident that the gate would be
tennis's greatest ever. Inauspiciously, as the hour approached both men began to
experience flu-like symptoms, and early in the day of the showdown Elly became
confined to his room with sore throat and very high fever. There was no
announcement of his illness.
In the preliminary match Bruce Barnes and George Lott played spiritedly.
Barnes won the first set, and the second was stopped at five games all. The house
then darkened, and first Perry and then Vines entered under spotlights and
amid introductions. National anthems were sounded, and large national flags were
lowered from above. Perry afterwards said the ceremonies lifted him
emotionally. A pause for photography followed, and then came the warm-up. Every
standing-room space had been filled for at least an hour.
Sadly, the tennis failed to equal the setting. Both men held serve for the
first ten games, both playing largely from the baseline. Both seemed off their
game, and their many errors kept most rallies short. But perhaps tellingly,
watchers noted that Perry seemed able to get a racket on nearly all Vines's hard
serves even when receiving close-in--i.e., standing roughly on the baseline.
Perry finally broke in game eleven and took the first set at 7-5. The quality of
play improved in the second set. Elly broke early when Perry several times
came to net unsuccessfully, but then Fred broke back with some fine angled
drives. Vines broke again later with some accurate hitting and then closed out the
set with two winning serves to equalize at one-set-all.
With both players now coming to net more often, Elly took the early lead in
set three, but it soon became clear that the American's stamina was gone. The
Vines forehand, whether hit neutrally or in attack, now often found the net or
flew over the baseline. But even in those moments where Elly pounded the
corners at his best, Perry's quickness and replying power seemed able to neutralize
or even reverse Elly's bombardment. With his primary weaponry thus largely
denied, and with his own flu-like symptoms deepening, Elly's tennis degenerated.
The American dragged himself through a listless fourth set, and Perry--mostly
not attacking but simply letting Vines miss--finished off his win, 7-5, 3-6,
6-3, 6-4. After watching the evening's doubles, Tilden-Barnes defeating
Lott-Perry, John Kiernan of New York Times wrote that Tilden had been the best player
of the night.
The 17,630 watchers who paid $58,000 murmured at the subpar play of the two
superstars. Vines made 108 errors, earned only 37 points, and Perry's numbers
were only a little better. Newsweek called it "a black eye for pro tennis."
Back in the hotel afterwards, Elly's temperature exceeded 102 degrees. Most
writers were surprised not so much that Perry defeated a sick opponent, but that
Perry had shown an ability to blunt Vines's game even when Elly's power was
working. The great writer Al Laney judged that Vines must now realize that
hitting the ball hard would not be enough against this opponent.
Two nights later before 3,000 in Cleveland, Vines took an early lead but
Perry won again, 13-11 6-3. Vines still looked tired and drawn, especially in the
second set. Both men played primarily from back court. Vines's only edge was
in his serving. Then in Chicago before 12,600 on January 9, $5.50 top, Vines's
strength failed totally. He seemed out on his feet, utterly weary, and often
leaned on the railings to rest. Perry won easily, 6-0 6-2 6-3. Elly staggered
through the doubles and then went directly to St. Luke's Hospital, where he was
admitted as a patient. The public announcement of his hospitalization cited
influenza complicated by tonsillitis.
The Chicago crowd had been mostly quiet, offering only a few catcalls and
boos. But Arch Ward of Chicago Tribune afterwards wrote that the paying fans had
been swindled. Agreement was general that the match should have been
postponed. Vines acknowledged that he should not have played any of the matches to date
and said that he would not play again if ill. There were no apologies or
Elly stayed in St. Luke's for five days. The scheduled engagement in Detroit
was canceled when Tilden, whose own tour had already started, replied that he
could not serve as a replacement. Vines stayed in the hospital until, much
improved, he entrained on January 14 for Pittsburgh.
Vines's first win came on January 16 in a nearly filled Duquesne Garden,
Pittsburgh, before 7,000. There seemed no trace of Elly's recent illness, and in
some stretches the tall Californian played flawlessly, seemingly effortlessly.
Elly's serve was a major weapon, generating 12 aces and many near-aces, while
Fred produced more double-faults than aces. Most of the play was from back
court, though rallies were generally short. Vines won again the next night before
6,500 in Olympia Auditorium, Detroit. The first set required 26 games, ending
when Elly broke Fred's serve with a down-the-line pass. Vines then quickly
won sets two and three, his scorching drives eliciting many errors by Fred.
Elly drew even in the series, three-wins-all, before 9,700 on January 18 in
Boston Garden. The tennis was excellent both in quality and competitiveness.
Perry made fewer errors, but Vines led in earned points 59-39--most of them
"booming" backhand winners, reported Associated Press. Perry had match point in
the fourth set, but Elly survived and finally triumphed by 7-5 in the fifth. The
Boston Globe reporter noted that the only thing lacking was "an element of
relief from the intensity of the play." For aficionados of competitive sport,
there could scarcely have been higher praise.
Perry won in Buffalo on January 20 amid erratic play by Vines, and again in
Philadelphia two nights later before more than 6,000 in Convention Hall. The
writer for American Lawn Tennis, apparently the renowned coach Mercer Beasley,
reported that Vines was nearly at his best in Philly but that Perry was able to
keep Elly on the move and in deep court, unable to set up for attacking.
There were many backhand-to-backhand exchanges, often ending when Fred was able to
smoke a winning forehand to Elly's deep forehand. Matters remained tense
until the end, but the British star won in four sets. Perry thus took a 5-3 lead
in matches won.
The ensemble now headed south, completing five more engagements during
January. Vines won on all five occasions, winning in two straight sets in Baltimore
and College Park, outside Washington, and then winning split-setters in
Richmond, Charlotte, and Miami. Elly's power serving and stroking dominated amid
relatively few errors in these matches, and there seemed little Fred could do to
change the outcomes. In College Park the match was played on shiny wood
instead of the usual canvas, amplifying the effect of Elly's hitting. In Richmond
Elly produced 30 aces in just 14 serving games, and he consistently answered
Fred's bids to take net with strong passing shots. The Miami match was played on
outdoor clay, and the slower conditions helped Fred keep matters close. With
most action from the baseline, Vines missed many drop shots in losing the first
set but he persisted in this tactic, which eventually worked well.
Attendance had been generally excellent through month's end. Vines now led in
the series 8-5 and seemed clearly the stronger player. Meanwhile Barnes and
Lott were exactly even in the preliminary matches, which included one tie. The
doubles pairings changed after January 20 so that the two superstars
thereafter opposed the two preliminary-match artists, at the suggestion of the latter.
Play was often in a light vein but intensity sometimes became high, as when
Perry-Vines won deciding third sets by 14-12 in Baltimore, by 20-18 in College
Park, and by 10-8 in Miami. At month's end Perry-Vines had won five matches,
February began for the troupe in Florida and would end in the Pacific
Northwest. Perry won on outdoor clay at Palm Beach on February 1. Dodging floods
while heading west, Perry and Vines divided wins in Birmingham and New Orleans,
then did so again in Houston and Dallas. The two superstars then flew from
Texas to Burbank airport in southern California--home country for both men now that
Fred owned a home in Beverly Hills. On February 16 they played a
best-of-five-set match in Pan-Pacific Auditorium, Los Angeles. Elly won in straight sets
behind his blasting serve and "a pitiless barrage to the right-hand corner"
against the Perry backhand. Among the 7,400 watchers at $6.60 top were Gable,
Dietrich, and other glitterati. The win also gave Elly a three-match lead in the
series. But Fred then captured their next three meetings, all in California.
Elly then won in Vancouver, but Fred again prevailed in Seattle and Portland.
Unlike in past tours the tally of match wins was regularly announced and
reported worldwide, albeit sometimes erroneously, and February ended with Perry
By now, the strengths and strategies of the two headliners were generally
understood. Local writers had often expressed surprise that both stars played
mostly from the baseline, but most soon recognized that (1) the shot-making power
and depth of both men made it difficult for either opponent to move forward
and that (2) the mobility of both, especially Fred, made it made it hard to win
points at net without severely pressing opponent first. Both men were
conscious of keeping the other deep. In one interview, Elly described what it was
like playing Perry. Certainly, he told the reporter, there were no habitual
weaknesses in Fred's game. Fred had the finest defense Elly had ever seen and could
readily shift from defensive situation to attack. Elly admitted that
sometimes it was possible to defeat Fred by purely blasting away but only on those
rare occasions where Elly's game was at its absolute best. Most of the time, he
continued, he tried to play varied and changing styles, concentrating on making
every shot as perfect as possible. In his autobiography Elly later cited
Julius Heldman, a fine player and a watcher over many years, in explaining that
Fred's return of serve was "masterful," his overhead "deadly," his
continental-grip forehand "the finest of its kind in history."
Meanwhile Vines's primary asset remained his potent first serve, which he
backed with an ability to deliver a severely bounding second-serve twist. Against
Elly's deliveries, Fred's patented technique of stepping in against second
serve was almost useless. Too safe a return, however, often invited Elly's
forehand rocketry. In those cases where match statistics were reported, errors by
both men usually exceeded earned points by about 2-3 times, Elly always
producing more of both than Fred. Spectators easily saw that both headliners were
much harder hitters than the preliminary performers Lott and Barnes. Generally
when on court Elly showed his customary serious, indeed dour manner, while Fred
when ahead would often become the showman, courting the audience in an
During March the warriors roamed the American heartland, visiting most of the
middle-sized cities known from past tours. Fred won on wood in Salt Lake City
on March 2, then lost several nights later in Denver, where Elly produced
what one writer called "the best tennis I've ever seen." Starting March 15 in St.
Paul and ending March 20 in Chattanooga, the troupe performed on six
consecutive nights, each time in a different city. Such difficult intervals seemingly
produced little drop-off in the play, indeed some extremely attractive
At the end of March Perry and Vines were exactly tied at 19 wins each. In the
preliminary singles Barnes was now slightly ahead of Lott, while in the
doubles Barnes-Lott despite improvement were still behind Perry-Vines.
PERRY vs. TILDEN
Everyone understood that Bill Tilden, now 44, had no chance of prevailing in
an extended tour against either Perry or Vines. For a single evening, however,
or indeed for a short series, Big Bill was thought likely to do well. The
ovation given Bill for his doubles appearance at the Garden in January suggested
that public interest in such matches might be high. In late February,
promoters Voshell and Hunter announced that Tilden and Perry would play a five-match
series, starting March 24 in Madison Square Garden and ending 12 nights later
in Boston. Bill insisted that all matches be best-of-five setters.
Tilden and his ensemble had been on the road since mid-January. With Bill
were French player Martin Plaa, Hytaro Satoh of Japan, and Al Chapin, augmented
at some locations by Vincent Richards or local pros. The itinerary
criss-crossed the nation reaching Florida, California, and the northeastern states. Many
of the engagements were at private tennis clubs. Tilden, whose past arm
discomfort had been helped by surgery in late 1936, regularly beat Richards and Plaa
and in Miami on January 17 defeated Joe Whalen, winner of the diminished U.S.
Pro in 1936, by one-sided scores. Asked in late February about his forthcoming
series against Perry, Bill said he thought he knew how he could win, hinting
that to beat Fred you must "smack the ball."
The Garden attendance on March 24 was indeed excellent--in excess of 15,000 at
$5.50 top. The crowd gave Bill wholehearted support at the outset, and Bill
responded spiritedly. But after the first four games the hall quieted down.
Allison Danzig reported that the match-up was "hopelessly uneven," that Bill was
wholly outclassed and that his weapons were failing him badly, especially the
once-magnificent backhand. Bill's recent tour opponents had given him little
preparation for Perry's power, accuracy, and mobility. Tilden took the third
set but a total of only three games in the other three sets. Grantland Rice
wrote that Bill was now but a shadow of the past--that his demise meant "the end of
the Golden Era of sports."
Perry won again in Chicago Stadium before 6,000 on March 28. Tilden played
better, producing fine power in serving and stroking in capturing the first set.
But Bill's stamina faltered thereafter, and Fred took command. Perry
meanwhile also played main-tour matches against Vines on March 25 and 29 at other
cities. His tiredness was beginning to tell, and his overnight auto trip from
Milwaukee in Elly's Buick almost surely contributed to Bill's four-set win in
Pittsburgh on March 30. Fred later explained that prior to their match in
Milwaukee he and Elly had reached their only collusion of the tour, agreeing to play
just two sets, but that Elly reneged. Fred resumed his success over Bill on
March 31 in Detroit, and won again in the final match of their scheduled
five-match series in Boston on April 5. The Boston crowd of 5,000 showed
disappointment in the endless baseline play of the principals.
Vincent Richards played the preliminary singles on the five dates of
Perry-Tilden, either losing or splitting sets with Bruce Barnes or George Lott. In the
doubles, Perry-Vines won on all five occasions over Richards-Tilden, all in
straight sets. The match-ups seemed strange--Vines played only doubles, and
Lott and Barnes played only singles.
An ankle injury to Vines gave Tilden two more chances against Perry, both
best-of-three setters. Substituting for Elly on a main-tour engagement, Bill
played Perry in Elizabeth, New Jersey, April 9. At first Fred was genial in manner
amid many backhand-to-backhand exchanges. But after splitting the first two
sets, a more determined Fred began advancing to forecourt. But there he found
himself regularly beaten by Bill's lobs and angled passes. Bill broke serve
early and stayed ahead thereafter. A local writer noted that a wringing wet
Tilden afterwards showed obvious joy in winning. Bill won again the next evening in
Tilden sailed for Europe three weeks later. Perry later wrote that Bill had
been a tough opponent, in some ways more difficult than Vines, as Bill had
greater variety and was less predictable.
FINISH IN NORTH AMERICA
Perry and Vines continued their odyssey into early May. Vines took the series
lead on April 12 in Ithaca, extended it in Albany the next night, and never
thereafter relinquished it. The principals split best-of-five-setters in
Montreal and Toronto. Writers at several places noted that both men seemed tired,
that their play seemed flat.
The troupe returned to Madison Square Garden on May 3 before 6,800. Elly won
in three straight sets, seemingly far more motivated than Fred and plainly the
more interested in attacking net. One count of points decided at net showed
19 winners and 4 errors for Vines, 4 winners and 4 errors for Fred. Watchers
noted that Perry had lost weight and Vines had gained since their January
opening. One writer saw that Vines seemed to have developed a new attacking weapon,
a down-the-line backhand. Elly explained that using his preconceived tactic of
attacking Fred's backhand had made him "tired of being continually passed at
net." Fred reversed the Garden outcome on May 5 in Chicago, however, winning
in three straight sets. Elly then won three straight sets at Louisville the
Satoh or Chapin filled in on occasion for Barnes or Lott. Meanwhile
irritations built up among the cast. During the doubles at Hartford on May 9, George
Lott started to punch Perry and had to be restrained. Observers had overheard
harsh words among several of the players earlier and had been surprised that
even Vines addressed Perry by his last name. Years later, however, Lott told an
interviewer that Perry had become a warm and lifelong friend.
Vines's win in the tour finale in Scranton on May 12 created a 32-29 lead in
match wins for Elly. (The count did not include the two occasions when Tilden
substituted for Vines.) Vines also led in sets won 88-86. The North American
tour had been touted for the world's pro championship, so it was everywhere
recognized that Vines now held that honor. Meanwhile Barnes became the narrow
winner over Lott. Bruce led 18-11 in my count of matches played to completion,
and by 25-19 if incomplete matches are included. (Excluded are 10 ties and 4
unknown outcomes.) In doubles match-ups where Perry-Vines played against
Barnes-Lott, the former pair led by 25-16 (not counting 4 ties and 6 unknowns).
Financially the tour had been easily the most successful to date. Announced
gross revenue was $412,000. Payments to local promoters, expenses, and taxes
left $91,000 for Perry (well in excess of his guaranteed amount), $34,000 for
Vines, and $57,000 for the investor-promoters. Bill O'Brien had been only a
minor investor in the Hunter-Voshell syndicate but served for a time as tour
The closeness of the Perry-Vines running tally stirred suspicion that the
competition was not completely honest. No one pointed out specific episodes
indicating fraud, however, and both players insisted that they always did their
best. Vines several times pointed out that he felt it critical to win the tour in
order to be the prime tour opponent when the next top amateur turned pro.
Rough statistical tests can be applied to examine the tour's integrity. For
example, if two opponents are exactly evenly matched and if each set is
independently decided, then the player winning the first set of a match should also
win the second set half the time on average. But if the players wish to make
things more entertaining, then they might split the first two sets more often
than not. In actuality, in their 61 matches in North America, Perry and Vines
divided the first two sets 37 times, while the same player won the first two
sets 24 times. Was the idea to keep matches close to improve the entertainment
Another test raises suspicion of a different kind. In matches played when
Vines was ahead in the running tally by two matches or more, then Elly's W-L
record was 8-17. In all other matches his W-L record was 24-12 (or 24-9 excluding
the first three matches when Elly was ill). Vines lost all seven times when he
was three matches ahead. Why did Elly perform so poorly whenever he was
comfortably ahead? Was he purposely allowing the tally to stay close?
The results of both tests are eyebrow-raising but both are within the limits
of plausibility. Indeed, there are mental factors that may help explain the
patterns. All tennis competitors know that a player who is behind improves in
determination and concentration, while a player who is ahead tends to let up.
Our suspicions therefore remain unproven, but they remain.
PERRY AND VINES IN BRITAIN
Perry and Vines sailed for England on May 15, arriving six days later. Their
first engagement would be a three-match show-down on the boards at Empire
Pool, Wembley, the winner to receive the King George VI Coronation Cup. In
preliminary matches on the three evenings, four other pros would compete for the
Coronation Plate. The scheme protected Perry and Vines from the others, Fred
having earlier said that he was not willing to play a tournament at Wembley.
Preparing for the matches, Perry practiced with British coach Dan Maskell at Queen's
Club. Having not seen Fred in nearly a year, Maskell now wrote that Fred had
developed a faster first and a more effective second serve along with a
better-controlled backhand. He also noted that Fred was now keener and more thorough
in his match preparation.
The new Perry-Vines series began at Wembley on May 25 before more than 5,000
watchers and a knowledgeable corps of tennis writers. The painted wood floor
made for sensational velocities in the exchanges, and the gallery applauded
regularly and with enthusiasm. The correspondent for The Times marveled in
Perry's ability to return Vines's service rockets, and contrasted Vines's flat
forehand power from well behind baseline with Perry's quickness and skill at
taking "the rising ball he loves." In observing the many backhand exchanges, A.
Wallis Myers detected that the two warriors knew each other so well that their
styles were automatic and their rallies "unrelieved by enterprise." He saw Vines
the usual aggressor in serving and at net, Perry the more patient and the
more likely winner of long rallies. Vines won in five sets. Afterwards a tired
Perry told Clifford Webb of the Daily Herald that he was terribly disappointed
in the outcome, though still determined, while Vines was jubilant at having
offset Perry's win in the New York opener. Webb deemed the fourth and fifth sets
"superior to anything seen at Wimbledon in recent years."
Perry reversed the outcome on the second night, May 26. Elly won the first
set, playing "hurricane tennis," but Fred outlasted him in the second behind
excellent lobs and passes with Elly at net. Webb took note how Vines's heavy
groundstrokes largely neutralized Perry's attacking forehand by keeping him deep.
Perry also won the third match on May 29 before 8,000, this time in straight
sets. Fred's usual edge in steadiness was pronounced on this occasion, and Elly
achieved only mixed success in countering by coming forward. Maskell wrote
that the difference was Fred's ability to handle Vines's serve. Perry thus
became the winner of Coronation Cup, two matches to one.
Preceding the main bout each evening was the Coronation Plate competition. On
the first night, Tilden defeated Martin Plaa in two comfortable sets. Myers
wrote rapturously on Bill's display of genius. On the second night, Hans
Nusslein beat Lester Stoefen in an entertaining straight-setter. The survivors,
Nusslein and Tilden, met on the third evening in what became a baseline contest,
Tilden trying to get Nusslein on the run with strong drives mixed with heavily
sliced shots of varying depth. The German star returned consistently, making
some incredible recoveries and awaiting Bill's errors. Nusslein won the match
and the Plate, 10-8, 6-3. In the late-night doubles matches on the second and
third evenings, Perry-Vines defeated Plaa-Tilden and Tilden-Stoefen,
The principals played four more times in Britain. Vines won outdoors at
Bournemouth on June 5 and indoors in Glasgow on June 8. Perry won a second Glasgow
match on June 9 and won again on June 12 before a reported 11,000 at a
football grounds in Liverpool. The British writers agreed that Perry had improved
substantially from his amateur days, and praised the quality if not the emotion
in the play. Two more matches remained, in Dublin on Irish grass, June 14 and
15. Most of the play on the first date was from the baseline, but the fifth set
was decided when Perry attacked net more regularly. An Irish Press reporter
liked the tactic, noting that "volleying coups are the spice of the game."
Perry won both matches in Dublin, the second in three straight sets. Tilden
appeared in the preliminary matches, regularly defeating Plaa. Perry-Vines continued
their success in doubles, though Tilden-Stoefen defeated them in their
extended and crowd-pleasing match in Liverpool.
Thus Perry claimed six victories in the nine matches played in Britain and
Ireland, and the global tally between the two superstars thereby became exactly
even, 35 wins each.
Perry and Vines departed for America immediately after Dublin, leaving Tilden
and Nusslein the primary contenders in the subsequent European circuit. Both
would prove clearly ahead of the next echelon--French stars Cochet, Ramillon,
and Plaa, along with the tall American Stoefen, who like Bill would traverse
Europe all summer. Tilden had already, in mid-May, played and defeated Cochet
in a tournament in Scheveningen (near The Hague) where Plaa and several Dutch
pros also competed. The season's first major event would be the French Pro
Championships at Garros, planned for mid-June following the Perry-Vines tour. It
had been understood that Perry and Vines might come to Paris to compete, and
their absence was a disappointment. According to Paris-based writer Maurice
Blein, both Cochet and Nusslein asked to be quoted denouncing the headliners for
this "indignity to pro tennis, which had been built up by Tilden and others."
They charged that the absence of Perry and Vines showed "fear of an untimely
The tournament at Garros went on as scheduled June 16-20, with over two dozen
entrants. Martin Plaa, said to be out of condition, lost in the first round
to French pro Alfred Estrabeau. The latter went on to upset Stoefen in the
quarter-finals, playing David to the American Goliath, one writer put it. The best
quarter-final pairing was between Robert Ramillon and Nusslein. The score
reached one set all, the French player having dazzled with disguise, spins, and
variety. But "the German machine" remained solid and prevailed in four sets. In
the semis Nusslein repeated his Coronation Plate victory over Tilden by
superior defense, forcing Tilden to nail the lines with near-perfect shots in order
to win points. Bill won the first set and extended the second but finally
lost in four. Cochet then defeated Estrabeau in four, and in the final round
Nusslein scored regularly on passing shots against a net-attacking Cochet to win
in three. In the doubles final, Tilden-Stoefen defeated Cochet-Ramillon by
their superior serving. Blein noted that neither pair seemed interested in closing
After a short interval for the early rounds of Bonnardel Cup, described
later, the cast reassembled for the annual tournament in Southport, July 13-17,
except for Cochet, who had left on a trip to Soviet Union. Knocked out early were
the English pros Jeffery and Poulsen, along with Plaa, Estrabeau, and the
Burkes. Heavy rains delayed things at mid-week but the En-tout-cas surface
recovered well, and the quarter-finals were completed by mid-day Friday. Joining
Tilden and Stoefen in the semis were the continental stars Ramillon and Nusslein.
One semi-final brought no surprise. Lester Stoefen dictated play at all
times, but his own errors and Nusslein's retrieving powers produced a straight-set
win for Hanne. The other outcome was unexpected. Robert Ramillon narrowly lost
the first set to Tilden, playing well and scoring often with drop shots. Bill
also won the second set but then lost the third 13-11 after holding set-point
four times. Ramillon then pressed on to complete his win over a very tired
Tilden. In the final on Saturday, Nusslein defeated his French opponent in a
"nice but not spectacular" four-setter. Ramillon showed the effects of his
previous day's struggle with Tilden and could not produce the needed super-tennis.
Stoefen-Tilden won the doubles in three extended sets by weight of firepower
Lesser tournaments in coastal France followed. Stoefen won the final at
Deauville on July 25 over Plaa, who had beaten Tilden, and Tilden won the next week
at La Baule over Ramillon, who had beaten Stoefen. Tilden-Stoefen and
Plaa-Ramillon in turn won the doubles at these events. The cast also played at
Touquet on August 12-15, while across the channel at Eastbourne, Dan Maskell
relinquished his British pro championship after a nine-year run, losing to T.C.
Jeffery in a match lasting over three hours.
The Grand Palais, Paris, hosted what was billed the World's Pro
Championships, indoors. Play on the first day, August 6, reduced the field of eight down to
four--the identical semi-finalists of Southport. Round-robin matches started
with two rounds on Saturday August 7, where Nusslein defeated both Ramillon and
Stoefen, and Tilden defeated the same two players. Bill's match with Stoefen
was a five-setter that lasted long past midnight. Thus the Sunday match-up
between Tilden and Nusslein would decide the championship. Bill was not fresh
after his late-night ordeal against Stoefen, and Hans became champion of the
event in three straight sets. The Herald-Tribune Paris reporter wrote that after
making a good fight in set two, Tilden "went out like a candle." Ramillon took
third place by defeating Stoefen. Doubles was not played.
In the opening round of Bonnardel Cup, Netherlands faced Ireland in Southport
on July 7-8. Waasdorp and Hemmes both won two singles in defeating the Burke
brothers 4 matches to 1. The Hollanders then played France on July 9-10.
Waasdorp defeated Plaa the first day but otherwise Ramillon and Plaa swept the
remaining matches for a 4-1 team victory and a place in the coming Cup final. The
reporter from Liverpool Post wrote that Ramillon looked very strong, showing
good power with his usually soft forehand.
Meanwhile Germany hosted the Americans in Koln, July 10-11. The Americans won
two of the first three matches when both Tilden and Stoefen defeated the
German player Goritschnig in singles. Tilden then completed the U.S. team victory
by defeating Nusslein after losing the first set. A reporter wrote that
Nusslein was playing below form and that Tilden had been motivated by his recent
losses to Hans. The American pair then won the doubles to make the team score 4-1.
The final round of Bonnardel Cup was held at Southport on September 3-4 amid
meager attendance. The event was marred by a foot injury in the opening match
to Stoefen, who had won the first two sets from Ramillon. The French star then
won the last three sets comfortably. Tilden next defeated Plaa, dominating in
a strong cross-court wind, thereby equalizing the team score. On the second
day Stoefen took the court against Plaa but was forced to retire, and Tilden
proved unable to withstand a Ramillon playing at his very best. Ahead 3-1, the
French pros thus claimed the Cup for the second time in its three-year history.
Stoefen-Tilden defeated Plaa-Ramillon in a meaningless resumption of their
ON THE CONTINENT
Hanne Nusslein resumed his run of success by capturing the first Dutch
international pro championship, held at Scheveningen, September 9-12. The German
star defeated Stoefen in a straight-set semi and Tilden in a four-set final. Bill
had beaten Ramillon in five sets.
Next came the German Pro at the Blau-Weiss in Berlin. On hand were the
customary German teaching pros along with a strong international cast. The prime
quarter-final match-up pitted Stoefen against Nusslein. Rollo held up well,
losing an extended first set and then winning the second. But the big-serving
American faded thereafter, yielding sets three and four quickly in the face of the
inevitable. Joining Hanne in reaching the last four were Tilden, Ramillon, and
Goritschnig. In the ensuing round-robin, 17-19 September, Goritschnig, as
expected, lost in straight sets to each of the other three. The championship thus
was decided in the head-to-meetings among Nusslein, Tilden, and Ramillon.
Tilden and Ramillon squared off on Friday, September 17, Bill winning in
three straight sets. Saturday produced a "sensation" when the French player
defeated Nusslein in four sets. Our watcher from the Morgenpost deemed that Hanne
was not in best form, and that it was Ramillon who on this day was the great
one. But the defending champion still had a chance to win the championship if he
could defeat Bill in three straight sets. Before more than 7,000 spectators on
Sunday, Hanne almost did that. In the "battle between the masters," the
younger player won the match against Tilden, comfortably capturing sets one, three,
and four. But the second set went to the grand veteran, 6-3, and with it, the
championship--decided by sets won and lost during the round-robin. (Tilden
was 7-3 in sets, Nusslein 7-4, Ramillon 6-4.) It was a rare blemish against
Hanne's almost-perfect record during the year.
On Sunday, Nusslein and Ramillon combined to win the doubles in a
well-contested five-set struggle against Tilden-Stoefen.
Tilden and Stoefen opposed Cochet and Ramillon in Bonnardel-like reprises in
Brussels on 21-22 September and then in Roubaix in northern France, outside
Lille. The Americans won by 3-2 in the first case, the French by the same score
in the second by reversing their previous loss in the doubles. Tilden won all
The indoor tournament at Wembley again crowned the European pro season after
a one-year lapse. It was understood that Tilden had been a driving force in
reviving the event, insisting that it be held despite the absence of Perry and
Vines and the possibility of financial loss. The field consisted of eight pros.
Knocked out on the first two dates, September 28 and 29, were the recent
finalists at Eastbourne, Maskell and Jeffery. Also eliminated early was Martin
Plaa, who lost to Nusslein in three sets amid many long rallies and occcasional
"strokes of genius" by the winner. Ramillon also exited after a duel with
Stoefen lasting more than two hours. The American was erratic, but he also produced
lightning on the fast boards often enough in his drives and smashes to
prevail in five sets.
Both Nusslein and Tilden won their semis in three straight sets. Hans
defeated a Stoefen unable to win points except by outright winners, and Bill defeated
Henri Cochet, just back from Russia. Myers judged that the wood floor helped
Cochet in his volleying but that Bill was too good on this evening. Tilden
scored often with lobs when Henri Cochet came forward. Another Nusslein-Tilden
final thus lay ahead, October 1.
Myers called it a magnificent match, played by two "shrewd apostles of
controlled speed," both striving for victory at all times. Big Bill's serving was no
longer enough to win strings of easy points, but Nusslein's backhand was a
"weapon of steel, which Tilden attacked only in vain." If neither man came
forward, it was because the driving from both sides was severe and accurate, and
the gallery rewarded the splendid exchanges with warm applause. It came to a
fifth set, which to Myers became a question of who would wear down. Bill saved
one service game with two aces but then faltered, victim of the years. Hanne
won, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.
In the doubles final, Nusslein teamed with Plaa to defeat Stoefen-Tilden in
straight sets. The new pairing combined Plaa's excellent close-in and low-ball
skills with the overall excellence of Nusslein.
FIRST U.S. OPEN
Years of brave talk among members of U.S. Pro Lawn Tennis Association finally
produced a first U.S. Open tournament--open to both pros and amateurs. The
pioneering event commenced on October 13, 1937 at the Greenbrier Golf and Tennis
Club, White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia. Neither the Greenbrier nor
U.S.P.L.T.A. were now members of U.S. Lawn Tennis Association, which in any case
withheld sanction of this "open" competition as required under rules of
International Lawn Tennis Federation. A total of 10 amateurs, all of them obscure, and 28
pros entered. Three of the amateurs withdrew before the first round. Six
others lost their first match in straight sets. The only winning amateur was
Gordon Riach, who then lost in straight sets the next day. Because of their
participation, Riach and five of the others were later officially barred from future
U.S.L.T.A. amateur competition.
Rain and frost troubled the late rounds and amplified the advantage of the
slow surface to the steady baseliners. The quarter-finals were delayed to
Saturday, October 16, on which date veteran Karel Kozeluh defeated Herman Peterson,
pro at Larchmont, New York, and young Joe Whalen defeated Al Chapin. Both
matches were straight-setters. In matches completed on Sunday, Bruce Barnes
defeated Vincent Richards in four sets, and George Lott defeated Los Angeles pro Ben
Gorchakoff in five.
In one semi-final, also played on Sunday, Kozeluh swept Whalen in straight
sets. Then on Monday morning Barnes won his semi by defeating Lott in straight
sets. In the final round that afternoon, Barnes faced Kozeluh amid light rain.
The younger player had announced his intention to attack net aggressively, but
for most of the match the depth of the master pro kept Bruce nailed to the
baseline. The deep placement of Kozeluh grew increasingly effective, and in the
fifth set the Czech veteran closed out the tired American 6-1. Kozeluh thus
became the first U.S. Open champion.
Lott-Richards won the doubles final, played on Sunday, defeating
Barnes-Kozeluh by 9-7 in the fifth set. Years later Lott nostalgically recalled the long
match--the only occasion where he played as Vinnie's partner. The opponents
regularly challenged Vinnie's overhead, Lott remembered, but though he was less
than two years from having broken two hips, Lott related, Richards never
During October, Nusslein, Tilden, Cochet, and Ramillon toured major cities of
Italy. (Hanne was a replacement for the injured Stoefen.) A highlight was a
three-day round-robin in Milano, where Tilden defeated all three others
including Nusslein. In an unusual twist, the players changed doubles partners each
date. Cochet lost with all three partners, so that each of the others won twice.
At the ornate Foro Mussolini in Rome, October 17-18, Nusslein proved dominant
after Cochet surprised Tilden in split sets. The group then traveled to
Egypt, Albert Burke replacing Nusslein, for six weeks of exhibitions and teaching,
pursuing a "world tour" that would carry the travelers to India and Southeast
Asia in the New Year.
Perry and Vines spent summer and fall in California giving attention to their
investment at Beverly Hills Tennis Club. Various tennis and movie celebrities
played often at the club. Perry's instructional movie, "Tennis Tactics," was
released, and Vines gave lessons at $5 each. Elly, who had worn a back brace
during much of the 1937 tour, underwent surgeries designed to correct
back-muscle and throat problems.
PROS AGAINST AMATEURS
There had been little on-court competition during the year between the top
amateurs and pros. Don Budge was understood to have won "his fair share" of his
practice sets against Vines. Elly also practiced sometimes with teenagers Jack
Kramer and Joe Hunt. On one occasion at the Beverly Hills club, Hunt
reportedly carried Elly to an 11-9 set and with Gene Mako split doubles sets against
Vincent Richards and Berkeley Bell provided practice opposition for the
Australian Davis Cup players preparing for the summer's Aussie-U.S. Cup showdown.
In doubles the two pros nearly held their own against Crawford-Quist, the Cup
nominees. Meanwhile George Lott and Karel Kozeluh worked with the Americans. A
Herald-Tribune reporter watching Kozeluh's practice match with Frank Parker on
May 13 saw "a long deep-court duel marked by great court covering and deadly
accuracy by both men." Lott regularly partnered amateur Wayne Sabin in doubles
practice against Budge-Mako, where the pairs proved almost exactly equal. A
surprise happened one day when rising player Bobby Riggs, replacing Budge,
partnered Mako in defeating Lott-Sabin. Nusslein served as coach with the German
Cup team, Ramillon with the Italian.
RANKINGS FOR 1937
The long Perry-Vines series of 1937 failed to produce a clear pro champion
for the year. Elly has usually been accorded that honor because he won the North
American tour. But Perry's success in Europe exactly balanced the count,
where both men won a total of 35 matches in the two tours combined. In these 70
matches Perry won the most sets, 108-102, along with 11 of the 21 matches that
were best-of-five setters. Of their six meetings in seemingly prime situations,
Perry won three (New York opener, Chicago opener, Philadelphia), Vines three
(Boston, Los Angeles, London opener). Perry won their two meetings on outdoor
grass. If Vines was handicapped by illness at the start, Perry endured extra
fatigue at mid-tour in his singles matches against Tilden. Disagreeing with the
majority view, long-time watcher E. C. Potter, Jr. in his rankings placed
Perry ahead of Vines. In my judgment, the extensive record requires that Vines
and Perry be deemed equal for 1937.
The remarkable 1937 achievements of Hans Nusslein place him very close to
Perry and Vines. Nusslein never played against either headliner during the year,
but he regularly defeated all others in capturing nearly all the major
European pro events. Nusslein won the Coronation Plate at Wembley, the tournament at
Garros in June, Southport, the World Pro in Paris indoors, the Dutch Pro in
September, and Wembley in October. He lost the German Pro only by the
round-robin tiebreaker method.
Nusslein's results against Tilden during the year can be compared with
Perry's. Both Nusslein and Perry defeated Bill regularly in the prime meetings, and
both lost at least twice in lesser situations. Tilden in early 1938, praising
Hanne's superb consistency, accuracy, and variety, added that while Vines at
his best was superior, over the long haul Nusslein might be slightly above
either Perry or Vines. As I see it, Nusslein ranks behind Perry and Vines for
1937 only by the thinnest of margins--perhaps equivalent to Hanne's misstep in
Here then are our pro rankings for 1937:
1/2. Perry, Vines
8. Barnes, Kozeluh
In merging our pro list with Myers's amateur, the foremost problem is in
placing the year's top amateur, Budge. Vines late in the year offered that the
young Californian was in the same class with the top pros, and in early 1938 Elly
ventured that Budge might be ahead of Perry outdoors and would be close
indoors after a few weeks. Rising amateur Jack Kramer, who practiced with Vines
during the period, in a later book apportioned honors for 1937 equally to Budge
and Vines. E. C. Potter placed Budge first. Certainly Budge improved from 1936,
rising over von Cramm by defeating him in the Wimbledon and U.S. finals and
in their epochal Davis Cup meeting. But Perry too improved during the year,
attested in Maskell's close and expert judgment. We place Budge co-equal with the
two top pros.
Just behind the top three are Nusslein and von Cramm. These two played
practice sets against each other fairly frequently in these years but results were
not reported. In his very helpful short biography of Nusslein, Robert Geist
quoted an official of Deutschen Tennisbund that Nusslein should regularly
defeat Cramm. (Geist added that after their 1934 public match in Berlin, won by
Gottfried, the Tennisbund would not agree to Hanne's wish for a chance at revenge.)
Both Nusslein at age 27 and Cramm at 28 were in 1937 close to prime tennis age.
Our pro-am rankings follow:
1/3. Budge, Perry, Vines
4/5. Nusslein, von Cramm
The year's top doubles pair among the pros was Perry-Vines, whose success in
America was reinforced by wins in the British Isles. Barnes-Lott, who
regularly pressed and often defeated the top pair, in my opinion shared second place
with Tilden-Stoefen, who won Southport, Garros, and Scheveningen and were
runners-up at Berlin and Wembley. The various combinations of Nusslein, Cochet,
Plaa, and Ramillon are only slightly behind, along with Lott-Richards, champion
pair at U.S. Open.
It had been a remarkable year for men's pro tennis. The Perry-Vines grand
tour proved a financial success and brought wide attention to the sport.
Meanwhile the makings of an enduring circuit of European pro tournaments seemed at
hand, complemented by annual team competition analogous to Davis Cup. Holding the
first U.S. Open seemed perhaps another forward step. Perry and Vines,
however, by not participating in these events, surely held back the game's upward
evolution. The two superstars talked of the need for open tennis, but their
bodies were absent when needed at the Greenbrier and on the European continent.