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Between The Lines
July 30, 2005 Article

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Between The Lines By Ray Bowers
 
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History of the Pro Tennis Wars,
Chapter IX:
Readying for Budge, 1938

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; Vines's Second Year: 1935; Awaiting Perry, 1936; and Perry and Vines, 1937.)


The coming of a new superstar--Tilden in 1931, Vines in 1934, and Perry in 1937--always invigorated pro tennis. But the general rule was that the gains in attendance and news coverage slipped away after a year or so. The same happened in 1938, Perry's second year as a pro, even amid the first Grand Slam in amateur tennis history, by American Don Budge. Although expected, the phenomenon was disappointing for the pros, as other than Budge the world's best players were all professionals--Vines, Perry, and Nusslein. Coloring everything during the year was the growing likelihood of war in Europe amid intolerance in Nazi Germany, seen in the imprisoning of amateur tennis superstar Gottfried von Cramm.

TILDEN, COCHET IN INDIA

Wandering pros Tilden and Cochet, with Robert Ramillon and Albert Burke, arrived in India in mid-December 1937 for a six-week tour of the subcontinent. Tilden later wrote of the difficult travel in that fascinating land, the heat everywhere, the water often not good. Court surfaces ranged from excellent grass around Calcutta to extremely fast, hard-packed clay in the South. Some courts were of asphalt or cement, sometimes of poor quality. Amid play at New Delhi it was discovered that the service line on one side of the court was three feet too close to net, and at Ajmer the courts were laid out east-west, making the Sun impossibly difficult from one side. Bill misbehaved unusually badly at Ahmedabad, blaming bad light, a bad court surface, and bad line-calling. But outweighing all the negatives, to Tilden, were the large, enthusiastic, and friendly Indian crowds, which totaled 60,000 people in the 29 engagements. All in all, Bill deemed the India experience "wonderful."

Bill wrote columns for Times of India, published in Bombay, offering rare first-person descriptions of the flow of certain matches. In their opener at Madras, December 19, Bill wrote that his opponent, Cochet, played mainly defensively, waiting for errors from Tilden, who was rusty from the recent sea and train journey. Before 3,500 on January 2, 1938 at Calcutta, Bill started at his very best, he wrote, but became taxed by the severe heat and Henri's pressure. Henri, who won in four sets, looked muscular and wiry photographed in tight shirt. Cochet won six of their first seven matches in India. Bill doubted that Henri had ever played better.

Matters turned to favor Bill after Calcutta. Ellsworth Vines, who thought highly of Tilden's volleying ability, believed that against Henri, Bill was customarily too wedded to backcourt. Bill, however, wrote that his India turnaround came because of Henri's weariness under the strenuous schedule and Bill's regaining his usual strengths in serving and baseline play. On January 9 at New Delhi, according to Bill, Cochet was "unable to break up the fury of my attack," and on January 19 Bill equalized the tally at seven wins each. Meanwhile Ramillon remained third-best of the group, the firmness of his backhand regularly too much for Burke. Many of the engagements were organized as team matches, France against U.S., where the "U.S." team consisted of Tilden and Burke (who was from an Irish family and lived in France). The doubles typically became the decider, where the winning pair was usually Cochet-Ramillon who, Bill wrote, were superior in volleying power.

After performing at Trivandrum near the southern tip of India on January 31, the troupe moved on to engagements in Ceylon, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and several sites in Java. The grass court at Kuala Lumpur was "perfect," wrote Bill, but he noted that only the Europeans and a few Chinese in the gallery seemed knowledgeable about tennis. Having completed the planned schedule in late March, Cochet returned to Europe via a Dutch airline. Tilden, too, would soon be back in Europe.

PERRY-VINES TOUR

The 1938 Perry-Vines tour of North America drew smaller crowds than in the previous year but gave comparable sporting and entertainment value. Impresario Jack Harris, who earlier roamed the continent setting up the bookings, now traveled with the troupe as overall manager. Both Perry and Vines were among the investors. Elly had undergone tonsil and back surgeries in late 1937 and now pronounced himself "streamlined." Often it was stated that the tour winner would win the right to defend the pro crown in 1939 against the expected challenger, Budge.

Again in the supporting cast would be Berkeley Bell--the Tumbling Texan--a scrawny crowd-pleaser for his high-energy scrambling. Bell's singles opponent each night would be Walter Senior of San Francisco, who as an amateur in 1937 won several tournaments including the Canadian, showing wins over Riggs, Allison, and Kovacs. Senior was a heavy server and stroker at a gangling but athletic 6-3. He would usually pair with fellow Californian Vines in the doubles against Bell and Perry.

The tour opened on January 11, 1938, in Pan-Pacific auditorium, Los Angeles, before a less-than-capacity crowd of 7,500 studded with movie and sports celebrities. Vines had overwhelmed Perry in the same arena in 1937. In the preliminary match, Bell won the first set from Senior and the second was stopped at 5-all. In the main event both Perry and Vines were erratic in their shot-making, each struggling against himself on the canvas-covered wood floor. But the product was a five-set thriller, where Vines prevailed at the end, though he seemed the more tired. The doubles was shortened to one set, ending long after midnight, Senior-Vines winning, few watchers remaining. Bill Henry of L.A. Times summarized the evening: "If not the world's best tennis, it was exciting and there was plenty of it."

Vines won again two nights later, capturing two of three sets before a disappointing turn-out of 2,000 at Dreamland auditorium, San Francisco. The play of the headliners was inconsistent, reminiscent of the opener in L.A. The troupe then played four engagements in the Pacific Northwest, each headliner winning twice.

Outcomes between the two varied unpredictably in the next weeks. In Salt Lake City on January 27, reporter Mark Corbett marveled at the speed and placement of Elly's serves. Vines delivered these "handkerchief placements" almost at will, wrote Corbett, against which Perry was almost helpless. Vines won the match 11-9, 11-9, despite ferocious efforts by Perry, who kept many points going long enough to yield a Vines error. It made for "some of the most dazzling tennis ever played here." But the next evening in Sacramento, Perry produced what writer Kurt McBride called a smooth, well-polished destruction of Vines, whose backhand was sadly off form. Vines afterwards said he lost his timing in trying to rush Perry excessively.

Back in southern California at the end of January, Perry and Vines were exactly even at five wins each. Bell and Senior had also shown themselves closely matched, as had the doubles pairs. Vines then won the next three matches through February 3 in Pasadena, taking a lead over Fred that he would never relinquish. Engagements followed in Arizona, Texas, and New Orleans, where former tour player Emmett Pare joined the cast for one night. The wanderers reached Florida in late February.

The on-court battles were sometimes intense. Bruce Barnes officiated at a performance in Texas. Both men squawked plenty, Barnes reported, and both used every trick in the trade to win. Against Vines's strong serving Perry usually stood in close, blocking back the rockets, often winning praise from watchers at his ability in doing so. But on nights when Elly's first serves were working well and when his ground-stroke screamers cleared the net and clipped the lines consistently, there wasn't much Fred could do. Elly occasionally came to net behind his forcing power, showing his excellent volleying and overhead ability. Fred too sometimes came forward, typically behind an attack of a rising ball--his signature tactic as an amateur. But usually both men stayed in back court out of respect for his opponent's passing ability. Jack Harris noted that Perry's game usually deteriorated when Fred became upset mentally, which explained some of Elly's victories. In contrast, Elly's calm concentration never wavered.

From Florida the troupe made their way west and north to Minneapolis and further wanderings across the Midwest and Northeast, traveling mainly by car. Walter Senior said he had signed up to see the country, but that all he ever saw were road signs. For Jack Harris, every day meant 16-20 hours of, in his words, "breakneck activity."

The running tally of match wins was provided to newsmen by the advance man, Al Ennis. The count was regularly given in pre-match news stories, though sometimes erroneously. Vines stayed ahead in the reported counts, leading by two wins at the end of February, by seven a month later, and by ten in late April. Several Perry victories in the Northeast cut Elly's reported lead to seven at the end of April.

Perry was usually the talkative one with the press, almost always in good humor. He told reporters that in England "we have an expression for American tennis, B.F. and B.I.--Brute Force and Bloody Ignorance." (Fred didn't explicitly tie the remark to Elly's style.) But as he fell behind in the tally, Fred grew increasingly edgy. He said he resented the notion that he, Fred, could only win when Elly was off his game, and he told one reporter that Vines could not beat him in Europe (i.e., on clay), where the bounces are lower and slower and where smashes lose their force. The European balls are slower, Fred continued, and the atmospheric conditions are different. "Vines is lucky," he asserted. Berkeley Bell seemed to agree, adding that Fred's superior ability in generating angles was hindered in indoor arenas. Indeed, Vines's low-trajectory rockets often smacked the net cords, which were usually loose, and dropped over for instant winners.

There were many signs of friction between the principals, who spent little time together off court. Elly once let it be known that he heard and disliked Fred's disparaging remarks during changeovers. In public Elly sometimes lavishly praised Fred's retrieving ability. (Was this a comment on Fred's lesser offensive power?) Late in the tour Vines pointed out to a reporter that he, Elly, led in the series outdoors as well as overall.

Both men wore down toward the end. Fred, who was delightful when ahead and could be nasty when losing, now seemed disinterested, apathetic. Perry, in one radio interview, contrasted the pleasures of amateur play, where each tournament meant several easy matches, with his situation in facing Elly's thunder night after night. Angry after a hard-fought loss in early May, Fred said that he wished he'd never turned pro. Meanwhile Elly often said that he preferred golf to tennis, and that he intended to play in the U.S. amateur golf championships later in the year. Near tour's end he told one reporter that he would forsake pro tennis if Budge beat him in a 1939 tour.

The tour ended in Chicago on May 30, 1938. Elly moved firmly ahead during the final month, though there is slight disagreement as to the final margin of victories. I believe the best information is from Jack Harris, who accompanied the players and kept count. His tally made the final score 49-35 in Vines's favor, though most newspapers reported 48-35, probably using information from Ennis. Either way, Vines narrowly missed his announced objective of winning by at least 15, said to be subject of a substantial side bet. (Of those matches where I can document date, place, and score, Vines won 42, Perry 32.)

In the preliminary matches Walter Senior's strong forcing game generally prevailed against Berkeley Bell. Both men were crowd-pleasers--Senior with his power and Bell with his energy and court antics. Both took their matches seriously. Vines, who was often seen courtside encouraging his doubles partner, called their matches the "little world's series." The playing styles made interesting contrast, Senior slugging away and Bell hanging in tenaciously--a pattern resembling that of the headliners. My incomplete count shows Senior winning or ahead on 25 occasions, Bell on 12, and 19 ties. Meanwhile, press accounts make clear that all four players took the doubles as primarily entertainment. My tally shows Senior-Vines winning or leading 33 times, Bell-Perry 21 times, with 5 ties.

Although the paid attendances had been smaller than hoped for, the long tour was profitable for the headliners and kept the public interested in the prospects of Budge, who attended several of the engagements. At tour's end, Harris wrote that both Perry and Vines were playing their best ever, especially Vines, and that Senior had grown his game greatly. In finishing ahead of Fred, Vines made an irrefutable case for recognition as world's pro champion. Satisfied with these laurels, Elly returned to California to work on his golf. Fred spent much of the summer with his wife in the Northeast, occasionally joining in exhibitions arranged by Berkeley Bell.

TOURNAMENTS IN AMERICA

Two tournaments in April kept alive the idea of a pro tournament circuit. Joining the usual cast in such events were two Californians, newcomers to the pro wars--Richard Skeen and John Faunce. Skeen was a pro in Hollywood, said to have a clientele of movie celebrities.

The North and South tournament, for amateurs only, had been an annual fixture at Pinehurst, North Carolina. An event for pros was added in 1938 with several dozen entries, mainly teaching pros, commencing April 17. The newcomers started off well. Faunce defeated George Lott in five sets, Skeen defeated Joe Whalen in five sets, and Jan Kozeluh, younger brother of Karel, defeated Vincent Richards in four. In the semis, Karel Kozeluh, now representing Boca Raton Tennis Club, Florida, defeated Skeen in three short sets, and Jan advanced when Faunce won the first set but hurt his ankle and withdrew. In the final on April 21 Karel easily defeated his brother to win the $200 first-place prize. Richards-Whalen won the doubles, defeating the Kozeluhs in straight sets. The great writer Fred Hawthorne watched the doubles final, noting that Vinnie was insistent in urging his net-shy partner to "get up there." Hawthorne deemed Vinnie easily the outstanding player, his volleying on this date "remindful of amateur times."

The same warriors, joined by Bruce Barnes, reassembled a few days later for the second U.S. Open, usually called the Greenbrier open, at the Greenbrier Golf and Country Club, West Virginia. The event offered $2,000 total prize money--twice that at Pinehurst. A half-dozen amateurs entered, none of them well known except for pro golfer Sam Snead. Several women sent entries but were not accepted. The playing surface was an artificial green-colored clay called Har-Tru.

George Lott won two first-day matches, April 25, though one of them required five sets. Al Chapin lost to teaching pro Herman Peterson on day two, but otherwise the favorites advanced easily. Golfer Snead had the misfortune of drawing Karel Kozeluh, who at age 42 was the tournament's defending champion. Sam won a total of three games in three sets. Whalen then eliminated Skeen in five sets, Karel outclassed Hunter, and a nimble Jan defeated Lott in five. In the semis Karel defeated brother Jan in four sets, while Barnes won from Whalen in straights.

Thus the final-round, April 30, would again pit Barnes and Kozeluh. The recently married American reversed the previous year's result, winning 57 62 64 36 64. Play followed a three-hour rain delay and lasted nearly three hours. An Associated Press reporter wrote that Barnes was handicapped by foot and hand blisters but won by means of superior power and, toward the end, "an exhibition of precise volleying." In the doubles final, delayed to the next day, Barnes-Lott defeated the Kozeluhs in four sets. The new open doubles champions proclaimed a challenge to all comers.

Amid the tournament the players assembled to discuss how to make pro tennis profitable--"like golf." A week later Hawthorne, writing in New York Herald Tribune, deplored the absence of Vines and Perry from the recent events and their general lack of cooperation with P.L.T.A. The main problem, he deemed, was that prize money was far too small to interest the superstars. Hawthorne urged appointment of an overall manager/promoter for pro tennis and nominated Robert E. Harlow, of Pinehurst, who had "raised pro golf from practically nothing." Harlow had previously told Hawthorne that he could do the same for tennis. A few weeks later, Harlow was officially given this charge by P.L.T.A., with an immediate task of promoting pro events in the coming fall season.

The U.S. Pro tournament, not played in 1937 unless the open at Greenbrier is viewed as its replacement, reappeared in Chicago in early fall 1938. With Chicago Times as a sponsor, the announced total prize money was $3,000 for singles, $1,800 for doubles. Joining the usual cast were members of the 1938 tour Perry, Bell, and Senior, making a field of two dozen. Teaching pro Lloyd Budge, older brother of Donald, competed, along with Art Hendrix, lately a promising amateur who had been named coach at U.S. Naval Academy. It was an impressive field, full of implications for the year's pro rankings. Absent were Vines, now busy with golf, and Kozeluh.

It was Perry's first appearance in a pro tournament. Fred, a late entrant, upon reaching Chicago learned that his wife had been hurt in a traffic accident. He at once tried to fly back to New York but missed the plane. Learning that Helen's injuries were minor, he decided to stay on and compete. Play began on September 28, on the canvas-covered indoor courts at Chicago Arena.

All eight favorites made it to the quarter-finals. Enroute, Skeen lost a set in defeating Richards, Whalen a set in defeating Hendrix. Then in the quarters Bell defeated Lott, and Barnes defeated Whalen, both in four sets. Dick Skeen defeated Senior in straight sets. One observer thought that the lithe Skeen showed a superb backhand comparable to Budge's but a somewhat cramped forehand and a weakness in volleying. These flaws became vulnerable in the semis, according to our American Lawn Tennis observer, against the well-rounded game of Bruce Barnes. The Texan, Barnes, beat the Californian in four.

But it was clear from the start that Perry was in a class by himself. Fred easily won his first two matches, then lost only six games in defeating his quarter-final opponent, Faunce. His next victim, Berkeley Bell, did a little better, but in the final on October 2 Fred ripped through Barnes, 63 62 64. It was an impressive validation of Perry's credentials and, indirectly, those of Vines as well. Perry and Vincent Richards then won the doubles, defeating Barnes-Bell in four tough sets. Perry won $450 for the singles crown, another $240 for the doubles. The tournament's success was auspicious.

EUROPEAN SEASON -- SOUTHPORT

Tilden and Cochet resumed their cordial competition May 26-28 at the Fitzwilliam courts in Dublin, Ireland. The cast was the same as in India except that Edmund Burke replaced brother Albert as the weakest member of the foursome. The two headliners both defeated Edmond and Ramillon in the early action, though Henri needed three sets to defeat Robert. Henri played unaggressively, content to win by superior steadiness. Then on the third day. before a nice crowd of 3,000 in bright sunshine, Tilden and Cochet awakened the previously sedate crowd with a fine display of baseline tennis, Bill winning in three straight sets. All play had been on a dirt court, the dampness ruling out using the Fitzwilliam's grass.

With Henri now preparing for another visit to Russia, Hans Nusslein and Martin Plaa joined Bill and Ramillon at Glasgow, July 6-8, in a tune-up for Southport. Nusslein and Tilden both won on the first day, Wednesday. After all-day rain on Thursday, on Friday Tilden captured the event by defeating Nusslein in straight sets. Our observer from Glasgow Herald saw the difference in Tilden's "powerful and well-timed drives to the sidelines," for which Hanne had no answer. Bill easily handled Hanne's many drop shots, sweeping them deep to the corners.

At Southport, Bill and Hanne headed a field of six pro veterans in eight days of round-robin play, July 9-16. It was the fifth year of a major event at Southport, in the north of England. Again the court surface was of En-tout-cas, "all-weather" artificial clay. Rain hampered play on nearly all dates and scarcely helped the cold symptoms of Tilden and Plaa said to stem from the chill rain in Glasgow. Total attendance was 5,400 (including 2,400 on final-round Saturday), up from the previous year's 4,800. Copies of the daily Southport Visiter, provided by Austrian writer Robert Geist, give us detailed eyewitness accounts of the action.

Clearly out of place in the round-robin was Edmund Burke, who lost to all five opponents. The Irish-French veteran never won more than four games in any set. Also losing in straight sets to each member of the top three were Dan Maskell and Martin Plaa. Plaa defeated Maskell for fourth place, though our anonymous reporter praised Maskell for playing aggressively and moving to net often. But it was the battles among the tournament's top three--the familiar Nusslein, Tilden, and Ramillon--that became the week's prime attractions.

The Tilden-Ramillon match-up came on opening day, Saturday, just after tea-time. Error-making cost Bill the first four games, but after that he steadied. The games became long with many deuces, but Bill won most of them. Robert's "artistic" serving generated heavy spin, but Bill was able to return the offerings low over the net and with good pace. Meanwhile Tilden's serves usually elicited looped returns, which Bill could readily drive to a corner. The French star played "fine tennis" to win the third set, but the severe hitting and drop-shot artistry that Robert would display later in the week were absent as Bill, behind his superior power, claimed his four-set win.

Our reporter admired Nusslein's "full-blooded" forehands and "crisp" backhands, seen in Hanne's first three wins. Ramillon had won a set from Hanne in Glasgow, but on Friday at Southport, Nusslein captured three straight sets. Robert's attacking slices played into Hanne's greater power, and his droppers were losers against Hanne's speed of foot.

On the last day, Saturday, with Tilden showing the effects of his cold and with the court slowed by morning rain, Nusslein played nearly mistake-free tennis. Outclassed for most of the going, Bill made many errors in trying high-risk shots. Tilden managed to win the third set, fighting well, and both players began the fourth set producing "some really fine tennis." But when Bill's energy flagged, Hanne won the last six games and the match, 61 61 57 61. It was Nusslein's third straight championship at Southport. Acknowledging the crowd's warm applause, Hanne graciously attributed his triumph to the colds of the other players.

FALL SEASON IN EUROPE

There would be no international tournament at Wembley in 1938 nor at Scheveningen, and no Bonnardel Cup team competition. In August, Dan Maskell won the British Pro at Eastbourne, the event as usual limited to Britishers. Maskell thus regained the championship he had held 1927-1936. Jeffery, who won in 1937, hurt his shoulder in defending.

Hanne's superiority was convincing in capturing the French pro championships at Roland Garros, September 9-11. In the semi-finals Nusslein prevailed over Plaa in four, Tilden over French player H. Vissault, who had surprised Ramillon in the quarters. Hanne then defeated Tilden in the final, 60 61 62. The reporter for Le Journal judged that Tilden, knowing that Hanne was "solid as a wall," played too boldly and destroyed himself by accumulating errors. A fortnight later Nusslein scored another triumph, regaining the German Pro championship at the Berlin Rot-Weiss. In the round-robin among the last four, Hanne and Ramillon both won their first two matches. Nusslein won their final-day show-down, September 18, in five sets. Third place went to Vissault, who had taken a set against both leaders. Tilden did not compete.

The arrival in Europe of Vincent Richards added late-season interest. In a three-day round-robin in Brussels, October 21-23, Vinnie lost in turn to Nusslein, Tilden, and Ramillon. Le Libre Belgique termed Nusslein's passing shots on the first day "extraordinary." Both Nusslein and Tilden remained undefeated until the last day, when Hanne beat Bill in straight sets for the championship. Le Libre deemed that Nusslein was imperturbable amid incidents made overly dramatic by Tilden. The same four players repeated the format in Copenhagen, October 25-27. The singles outcomes were the same though the scores were closer. Bill carried Hanne to five sets before losing on the final day.

Most of these tournaments included doubles, where Nusslein was usually on the winning side. At Southport the winners were Maskell-Nusslein, who defeated both Plaa-Ramillon and Burke-Tilden in the three-pair championship round-robin. Other, "exhibition" doubles filled out the daily programs. The winning pair at Garros was Plaa-Ramillon, who defeated Nusslein-Tilden in a five-set final. At Brussels and Copenhagen the four players changed doubles partners each day. At Brussels Nusslein was undefeated with the three different partners, and at Copenhagen Nusslein, Ramillon, and Plaa finished 2-1 in doubles, while Tilden lost in turn with all three.

The European pro season ended prematurely when an accident with a taxi door in Copenhagen cost Richards the tip of a finger. An eight-player event scheduled at Sporting Club in Paris was canceled. Thus Nusslein's superiority was unbroken in major events of 1938 from Southport to Copenhagen.

CARIBBEAN TOUR OF PERRY AND VINES

Perry, Vines, and Vines's wife sailed southward from New York aboard Santa Elena, November 11, 1938. Ahead were eight head-to-head engagements in six different countries on the Caribbean. Vines had been inactive from competitive play since May and was said to be overweight. Thus the venture promised a good tune-up for the 1939 tour. Local players joined the headliners for doubles and singles play at each stop.

The warriors opened under lights on a concrete court in Curacao, November 15. Perry won in three straight sets. Vines answered by winning a five-setter the next night in a bullfighting ring in Caracas, Venezuela. Our eyewitness, one Olaf von Scanzoni, reported to American Lawn Tennis that Vines had early trouble with the court and lights, and that Perry missed many easy shots. Still, it was "marvelous play never seen here before." Someone courtside said that Perry talked like a radio.

Elly won again at Maracaibo, Venezuela, and Perry won a best-of-three affair at Barranquilla, Colombia after a morning arrival by air, November 18. An engagement in Balboa, Canal Zone, followed three dates later, won by Vines.

A capacity crowd of 2,000 including His Excellency the Governor turned out at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica, November 25. The reporter for Kingston Daily Gleaner, having watched Perry in 1932, now wrote that Fred's serving seemed vastly improved. Perry's flashing to net was "undoubtedly one of the finest things the game has produced." Vines lost the first set, seemingly uncomfortable on the grass surface, but won the second and led 52 in the third, coming to net sometimes against Fred's backhand. But in the long, deep-court rallies that characterized most points, Perry gradually gained the edge. Fred won in four sets. Two days later on the same court, Elly won in three straight sets in a rare grass-court victory over Fred. Immediately afterwards the players took a plane for Cuba.

An audience of close to 5,000, including Colonel Fulgencio Batista and the U.S. Ambassador, watched as Perry and Vines inaugurated the new Sports Palace in Havana, November 29. Perry won in four sets, earning applause for his "highly scientific game," reported Havana Post. Thus the tour ended with matters exactly even, both men having won four times. The venture had been a financial and sporting success.

1938 RANKINGS

Vines's winning of the North American tour establishes him the year's pro champion. Perry proved a tough opponent, and Fred's triumph at the U.S. Pro confirmed him well ahead of the others in North America. Meanwhile Nusslein's consistent success in Europe makes him co-equal with Fred in our world pro ranking.

Tilden at #4 and a resurrected Cochet at #5 follow, clearly behind the leaders. Henri held his own with Bill in Asia, but we award the edge to Bill in view of Bill's success at Dublin and over all comers other than Nusslein thereafter. We place Ramillon #6, Bruce Barnes, winner at Greenbrier and runner-up at U.S. Pro, #7, and Karel Kozeluh, the winner at Pinehurst and runner-up at Greenbrier, #8. Just missing our roll was Walter Senior, third-best in the North American tour but an early loser at U.S. Pro.

In reaching our pro-amateur list, we deem Budge ahead at #1, recognizing his unprecedented achievements as an amateur. Three pros follow--Vines in second place, Perry and Nusslein tied for third. Next are amateurs Austin, Bromwich, and Riggs, in that order as listed by Myers, with Tilden as our #8. Amateur star von Cramm, who was inactive most of the year, was not ranked by Myers and is omitted here.

No doubles pair achieved extended success during the year. We make three pairs co-equal--Maskell-Nusslein for their win at Southport, Perry-Richards, who won U.S. Pro, and Plaa-Ramillon, winners in Paris. Not far behind are Senior-Vines and Cochet-Ramillon, who led in the North American and Indian tours, respectively.

SIGNING OF BUDGE

It had been a year as no other in amateur tennis--the year of history's first Grand Slam. The California red-head J. Donald Budge lost twice to von Cramm in Australian tune-ups in January. But Budge won his main objective, the Australian Nationals, after von Cramm lost in the semis to Bromwich. Soon afterwards, von Cramm's imprisonment by the Nazis removed Gottfried from Budge's further path to the Grand Slam.

Talk that Budge might turn pro was widespread. He had turned down an offer in 1937 from Jack Harris, and another in early 1938 from the leading New York boxing promoter. On his return to America from Australia Budge publicly stated that he would remain amateur through the 1938 season. That he would turn pro immediately thereafter became conventional wisdom. Certainly Vines and Perry thought so.

With the P.L.T.A. still weak, it was clear that whoever controlled the current champion controlled pro tennis. The inside track to sign Budge belonged to Harris, who was highly trusted by Vines, himself a trusted adviser of Budge. After several weeks seeking a higher guarantee, Budge, now 23, reached agreement with Harris for a guaranteed $75,000. Explaining later that his reasons in signing were purely financial, Budge said that "Little Bill" Johnston later regretted his decision to turn down the money. Budge's lawyer in the negotiations was Walter Pate, U.S. Davis Cup captain. Also present at Pate's New York office for the announcement on November 10, 1938 was U.S.L.T.A. president Holcombe Ward, who joined in expressing good wishes to the new venture.

Plans for a 1939 North American tour, Budge against Vines, were announced, with Barnes and Skeen as the set-up players. A shorter series against Perry was also anticipated, along with a May tournament at Wembley featuring Budge, Vines, and Perry.

CROSSROADS FOR VINES AND NUSSLEIN

Even as he talked of leaving the game, Ellsworth Vines's greatest challenges lay just ahead. For five years as a pro Elly, now 28, had defeated all comers, primarily in extended North American tours. His body was no longer the slender and supple specimen of the former basketball star. There had been eternal back and perhaps shoulder troubles along with other wear-and-tear aches from the many matches on hard surfaces. If his yearning for golf suggested tennis burn-out, still the competitive flame remained strong, seen in his strong finish against Perry in May 1938. His two-year edge over Fred had been hard-won, and it probably owed most to his powers of concentration and determination, his superior ability to resist distraction. The forehand now had a bit more spin than five years ago, probably more sidespin than top, for control, and the backhand had improved hugely. The all-out serve was a shade less overpowering from the years, certainly a lesser asset in reflection of Perry's fine return ability, though Elly's overall serving ability remained a dependable weapon even on nights where his groundstrokes misbehaved. The drop-shot knack was a valuable addition, but in essence Elly was still the baseline power player, with little margin for error either in clearing the net or in staying within the lines.

Don Budge was in Elly's immediate path, but also ahead were long-awaited face-offs with Nusslein in Europe. Nusslein, also 28, was also approaching a crossroads. Seven years had passed since Hanne as a relatively unknown young pro in Europe severely tested the pro champion, Tilden. Then came tours of America against Tilden and later Vines, and in recent years a multitude of events in Europe where Hanne had bested essentially all opponents.

Nusslein held no fame from international triumphs as an amateur, and his style of play was relatively colorless. In late September 1938 a writer for Kolnische Zeitung, after watching Hanne demolish foes in an event in western Germany, observed that Nusslein played without flair or fire, that his game was hardly a "feast for the eyes" like Ramillon's. Instead Hanne's tennis was businesslike, of cool simplicity--"a pleasure for every expert of the game."

Promoters interested in box office success thus had little interest in him, and the big money seldom came his way. Much of his time and probably most of his income were now as a teaching pro in Koln, where getting away for competitive play was surely difficult. Lacking evidence from head-to-head meetings against Vines from recent years, we generally ranked Hanne below Elly each year by the narrowest of margins. The new year, 1939, would bring Nusslein the chance to refute such judgments.

THE OPEN TENNIS IDEA

Did Pate's and Ward's support of Budge in signing mean that the U.S. amateur establishment was now ready for open tennis? With the world's acknowledged top four players all in the pro ranks, and with von Cramm, now released from prison, reportedly interested in a pro career, the amateur game risked possible descent to irrelevance.

Many of the lesser pros, and certainly the general tennis public, strongly wished for open tennis. But the national associations of the tennis powers remained opposed, though the U.S.L.T.A., the nation whose top ranks had been most depleted by the pros, seemed perhaps willing to bend. Indeed for several years the American amateur body had favored returning to the earlier policy of allowing each I.L.T.F. member nation to decide for itself on open tournaments, though Holcombe Ward still opposed actually having them. Certainly there had been no movement to reinstate the Greenbrier Club and the players who lost their amateur standing by competing in the open there. Moreover with Riggs perhaps destined to replace Budge as world amateur champion and with teenagers Kramer and Hunt in the pipeline, it seemed likely that public interest in the amateur game would remain strong in America.

Nor were the pro superstars inclined to risk prestige and future income in order to participate in open tournaments. George Lott wrote in early 1938 that the financial interests of Vines and Perry lay in touring with each other, not in playing in tournaments for relatively small purses, whether the events were pro or open. Perry's competing at the U.S. Pro was a rare break in this pattern.

To Allison Danzig it was a disheartening picture. The amateur game was clearly losing, but most pros were no better off than before 1926, wrote the premier American tennis writer. To the dismay of the sporting public, the game of tennis remained in disarray.

Green DotGreen DotGreen Dot

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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