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Between The Lines By Ray Bowers
 
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FORGOTTEN VICTORIES:
A History of Pro Tennis 1926-1945
Chapter XI: AMERICA, 1940-1941

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; Perry and Vines, 1937; Readying for Budge, 1938; and Budge's Great Pro Year, 1939.)


The coming of war drew most European pros into military service, their tennis careers largely if not completely suspended. In Britain Dan Maskell, now a Pilot Officer, occasionally played in exhibition events benefiting war charities. Cochet, Plaa, and Ramillon all returned to civilian life after short periods as war prisoners upon the defeat of France in 1940. All three sometimes appeared in tennis events thereafter where distinctions between amateurs and pros were absent, performing at about the level of the better French amateurs. Likewise in occupied Netherlands, pros Hemmes and Waasdorp competed in occasional events with amateurs. Hans Nusslein served in the antiaircraft forces of the Wehrmacht in the German homeland.

Tennis remained vibrant in the United States, which legally was not yet at war and where pro and amateur tennis stayed largely divided. Among the pros Fred Perry, now a U.S. citizen, rekindled his playing career as Donald Budge's most dangerous rival, while Ellsworth Vines kept to his new golfing career after a few tennis appearances in early 1940. An interesting schedule of pro tournaments featured both Budge and Perry along with various former tour pros and teachers--Tilden, Skeen, Barnes, and others. Continuing in both 1940 and 1941 were the familiar North and South pro tournament at Pinehurst, the Open at the Greenbrier, and the U.S. Pro, held both years in Chicago. Meanwhile the signing of Alice Marble made for a successful pro tour in 1941 that also featured Budge.

TOURNAMENTS 1940

Observers had long agreed that pro tennis badly needed an established series of meaningful tournaments featuring the top superstars. Over recent years, however, the leading players often avoided tournament play, seemingly to protect their valuable reputations. The pattern changed in 1940, where the top pros came together in seven principal events. Budge played in six of these, winning four. Perry played in five, winning two.

First-round play in the Southeastern Pro championships, staged by the city of Miami on the clay courts at Flamingo Park, began Sunday, February, 18, 1940. Total prize money was stated at an attractive $2,500. Budge and Perry were the clear favorites among the field of about forty, which included a good representation of tour veterans and teachers of the game. As usual, the teachers knew that their chances against the tour pros were slim, but most understood that it never hurt to renew one's contacts or keep one's name before the public.

Two players in their first pro tournaments provided early-round surprises. Art Hendrix, 26, coach at the Naval Academy, showing an excellent backhand, in a chill wind defeated Bill Tilden, while husky John Nogrady, a New Yorker aged 25, outsteadied Karel Kozeluh from back court. Nogrady again played well in his quarter-final match against Budge, employing drop shots effectively against Don's forcing drives and managing to keep the scores close. Afterwards the pro rookie said that his main thought during the match had been that Don's barrage of hard-hitting must surely end. "It never did," he added.

Lloyd Budge, Don's brother, defeated Vincent Richards in an early round. One watcher noted that Richards had lost weight and could bend better than before, but added that "there must be money in the pro game, as they certainly don't starve themselves." In other mild surprises, Walter Senior outsteadied Bruce Barnes and then took a set from Perry amid Fred's "clowning around."

In the Sunday final before 2,500 watchers, February 25, Budge reached his best in defeating Perry 61 75 61. Both players stayed mainly in back court. Budge, reported Luther Evans in Miami Herald, seemed machine-like in his relentless power, seldom speaking or showing emotion.

The leading pros next performed in a March 10 evening program in New York benefiting Herbert Hoover's Finnish Relief Fund. Both USLTA and the USPLTA professed full support, reflecting public sympathies favoring Finland, then resisting invasion by Soviet Union. After a preliminary singles and sandwiched around a doubles match, the four prime participants played what amounted to a knock-out tournament. Perry in two straight sets defeated an overweight and out-of-practice Ellsworth Vines, who had flown in from California to contribute his services. Next Budge beat Tilden in a pleasing straight-setter. To end the program, the two winners--Perry and Budge--played each other, best-of-three sets. It became a crowd-gripping struggle lasting past midnight, where the fresher Perry lost the first set but won the next two. The Fund afterwards received about $4,000 of the $11,000 gate, amid allegations that contrary to the public understanding, some of the pros received more than just expense money. Vines denied having done so, but the charge was probably valid in one or two other cases.

Several weeks later Budge and Perry joined four others in the first "annual" West Coast Pro championships, played on hard surface at Los Angeles Tennis Club, April 2-8. The singles format was six-man round-robin. Although the financial returns were disappointing, the event proved a clear sporting success.

Fred Perry became the singles champion by winning his first four matches. Fred was hard-pressed but defeated Tilden in "two ferocious sets" (score 7-5 15-13) on opening day, and two days later he defeated Vines after losing the first set. He then beat a tired-looking Budge in straight sets on day five, 64 86, and assured his crown the next day by defeating local pro Ben Gorchakoff, who replaced Keith Gledhill. Perry then lost on closing day to Lester Stoefen.

Emerging as the crowd favorite was Bill Tilden, who followed up his strong performance against Perry by defeating Budge 75 75 before an animated gallery, the largest of the week. Ellsworth Vines began poorly, losing to Gledhill, but he then showed some of his old serving and rocketry prowess in defeating Stoefen and Tilden and extending Perry and Budge.

Many of the matches, both singles and doubles, had been excellent, played before highly-engaged galleries. Perry finished with singles W-L record of 4-1. Both Budge and Stoefen finished at 3-2, where the second-place nod went to Stoefen for winning a total of seven sets to Budge's six. The pair Budge-Vines was undefeated in their four doubles matches.

Later in the month, April 16-21, Budge proved devastating in capturing the third annual North and South pro tournament in Pinehurst over a field of about two dozen but lacking Perry. In a hard-fought semi-final meeting, Dick Skeen beat Bruce Barnes in four sets, where both men played with obvious interest in finalist's prize money. Watchers were surprised by Skeen's telling ground strokes and skill in finishing points at net. Meanwhile Budge comfortably defeated Nogrady in their semi and, the next day, defeated Skeen in the final, 60 63 60. Eyewitness Fred Hawthorne of New York Herald Tribune wrote that Budge had been "about at his peak."

The same cast plus several obscure amateurs gathered the next week, April 23-28, at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia for the fourth annual U.S. Open there. As in past opens, USLTA refused to sanction the event and banned the few amateurs who entered from future amateur competition. Bad weather troubled matters until the last two days, but total attendance approached 3,000. In early matches John Faunce led an erratic Budge by a set and a service break before Don found himself, while Nogrady fell victim to Barnes's heavy pressure. Barnes and Budge played an interesting final, where Bruce held his own in splitting the first two sets behind forcing play and net-rushing. After that, Don was in command, winning 57 64 63 63. Officials announced that the $2,000 prize money would be increased next year to $2,500.

The U.S. Pro tournament took place on outdoor clay amid ideal autumn conditions at Chicago Town and Tennis Club, September 21-29. The Club underwrote the tournament by $4,500, including $2,500 prize money, and was to receive three-fourths of the receipts. Jack Harris, a Club member, served on the tournament committee. Perry lost a set in his semi-final with Nogrady, but otherwise both Budge and Perry advanced through the field of more than twenty without serious trouble. (Budge beat Tilden in the other semi). Some 4,000 watched the Budge-Perry final on Sunday, September 29. One watcher deemed Budge sluggish in his footwork until intermission but, ahead two sets to one, Don thereafter "drove through to victory," 63 57 64 63.

In early October Budge became hospitalized with scarlet fever and strep throat. Severely weakened, he was out of competitive tennis for the rest of the year. Thus Fred Perry became the prime favorite in the six-player round-robin held at the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, October 14-20. Also competing in the "Pacific Coast Invitational" were familiar stars Tilden, Stoefen, and Gledhill, along with John Nogrady, who replaced Budge. Another late substitute was rangy Ben Gorchakoff, now in his thirties. Ben had been U.S. national collegiate runner-up at Occidental College in 1927 and 1928 and was now pro at the Ambassador. All matches were under outdoor lights.

Eyebrows rose the first two evenings when host-pro Gorchakoff defeated first Perry and then Stoefen, both in split sets. Instead of fading as the week unfolded, the surprise leader next defeated both Tilden and then Nogrady in straight sets, all close. His crown thus assured, Ben went on to defeat Gledhill by one-sided scores. Throughout his remarkable run, Gorchakoff blunted the harder hitting of his opponents by an unusual mix of back-court defense, soft spins, and occasional net rushing behind semi-forcing approaches. These strengths outweighed what one watcher saw as softness in his ground-stroking and an erratic serve. The triumph became Ben's most noteworthy competitive achievement as a pro. Meanwhile both Fred Perry and John Nogrady, "the new flash from the East," finished at W-L 3-2. Fred became the event's runner-up, whether measured by most sets won or by his head-to-head win over John.

RANKINGS 1940

Budge is clearly first in our pro ranking for 1940, ahead of Perry. Don won the most tournaments, recounted above, while the two split their four head-to-head meetings where Don's win at U.S. Pro was the most prestigious. The gap between second and third place was wide, but the margins thereafter were small. We choose Nogrady third, ahead of Gorchakoff, Barnes, Stoefen, Skeen, and Tilden, in that order. The European pros, essentially inactive, are omitted here.

In the year's doubles, Budge played in six events and won all of them. (Budge-Perry won Miami and U.S. Pro, Barnes-Budge won Pinehurst and the Greenbrier, Budge-Vines won the L.A. Tennis Club round-robin, and Bell-Budge won the two sets played at the Finnish Relief.) The winning pair at the seventh event, L.A. Ambassador round-robin, was Gledhill-Stoefen, undefeated in four matches. First-place in our ranking goes to Budge-Perry, while the Barnes-Budge pair ranks second, and the winning pairs at the two round-robins are tied for third.

There were no international rankings of the amateurs for 1940. Here, we merge our pro rankings with the official U.S. amateur list. We place pros Budge and Perry first and second, respectively, ahead of amateurs McNeill and Riggs, third and fourth. The next four places go to amateurs, where Australian amateurs Quist, who won the Aussie Nationals in 1940, and Bromwich probably merit inclusion.

MARBLE-BUDGE TOUR 1941

Alice Marble grew up an inveterate tomboy, playing tennis and other sports at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. In her early twenties after two years away from tennis because of illness, she resumed her upward climb, capturing four U.S. Nationals singles titles during 1936-1940 and winning Wimbledon in 1939. In early 1940 Marble and her long-time coach, Eleanor Tennant toured the U.S. by auto, Alice playing in amateur tournaments and Tennant paid by Wilson Sporting Goods Company for conducting clinics along the way. Late in the year, Tennant negotiated with President Lloyd B. Icely of Wilson for Alice to turn pro and receive a guaranteed $25,000 for playing a 1941 North American tour. In her autobiography, Courting Danger, Alice told how she later threatened to leave the tour, thereby obtaining a revised contract from Icely raising her pay to that of the tour's male headliner, Budge.

In announcing the signing of Alice and the planned Garden opener, Jack Harris on November 12 explained that the cast would also include Budge and Tilden. A few days later came the announcement that Alice's tour opponent would be the British star Mary Hardwick. Harris publicly said that he was the sole backer and underwriter of the tour, thereby continuing the unannounced nature of Icely's and the Wilson Company's close role in pro tennis.

At age 27, Queen Alice was an athlete of style and strength, admired everywhere. Although at 5-7 she was not extremely tall, her serve was a superior weapon, carrying considerable pace or spin, as desired. Her stroking was forceful from both sides, her quickness and court speed excellent. Consistent with her attacking style, she volleyed exceptionally well and she hit every overhead with authority--like the top men, it was sometimes said. Her tour opponent, Mary Hardwick, was a veteran of international play and held world amateur ranking of #8 in 1939. (Alice of course was #1.) Mary had stayed in North America upon war's onset, and had been promoting British war relief causes.

No one expected that the tour would be exciting competitively. Hardwick, who had never beaten Marble as an amateur, was obviously well behind Alice in ability, while Tilden at 47 could hope to threaten a Budge only occasionally despite Don's recent illness and obvious gain at the waistline. But customers in most places were eager to watch the world's acknowledged best--Budge and Marble--even if outcomes seemed certain.

Opening night at Madison Square Garden on January 6, 1941 was worthy of past openers. Allison Danzig called the Marble-Hardwick match a "stern, punishing battle," as Hardwick put forth firm stroking and steadfast defense in resistance to Marble's persistent attacking. Mary won the first four games from the baseline employing what Herald-Tribune's Al Laney called "a backhand as good as any woman has ever owned." Alice then stepped up her play and eventually prevailed, 86 86, despite occasional sub-par spells by both players. The difference was, wrote E.C. Potter, Alice's ability to come to net. But Mary's strong play led Fred Hawthorne to predict that Mary would win more often than expected. Later that night, Alice bristled at a remark by Icely implying that Alice had intentionally kept the scores close.

In the evening's second match, Don Budge, playing methodically and "well within himself," comfortably defeated Tilden. Potter wrote that Bill substituted antics for solid shot-making, but added that the crowd seemed not to mind. The mixed doubles, where Tilden and Marble paired against Budge and Hardwick, proved crowd-pleasing. Marble-Tilden won in split sets. Most of the 12,000 watchers stayed to the end.

The card was identical two nights later before 7,000 in Chicago Stadium. Mary won the first set and reached three match points, but Alice increased her net-attacking and eventually won the match, having produced twice Mary's total of placements. Budge defeated Tilden, two sets to one, and Hardwick-Budge won the mixed doubles.

After Chicago, Marble began asserting her strong superiority, winning easily on January 10 in Minneapolis and again on January 12 in Cincinnati, where Alice's weaponry forced Mary to endless retrieving. On January 23 in Boston after nine defeats, Mary won for the first time. Meanwhile Budge, who had been ill in late 1940, seemed overweight and unable to produce his former sustained power. Tilden made most of their matches interesting, and scored his first 1941 victory over Don in Detroit, January 13. Bill injured a leg a few days later in a car accident and was replaced in several engagements by John Nogrady, who had originally signed on in charge of the equipment truck and the portable canvas court.

The tour itinerary stretched well into spring, criss-crossing the continent to its extremities and reaching many of the same arenas visited by the pros in the past. Attendance held up well, helped by the previous winter's stand-down and the invigorating of America's economy amid rearming. But it seemed clear that it was the presence of Marble that made for box-office success. Part or all of the nightly proceeds sometimes went to war charities. Eleanor Tennant gave clinics at many tour stops, joined sometimes by one of the principals. The cast was congenial to one another. Both Mary and Alice liked and admired Tilden, who helped them in their tennis and was interesting in conversation. Budge was cool toward Tilden, perhaps because of Bill's homosexuality, Marble suspected. Writers everywhere were captured by Alice's personal magnetism and beauty.

Tilden's longevity as a competitive player at 47 brings wonder. Watchers in 1941 often noted that Bill's cannonball serve now lacked its past fury, that Bill sometimes made no effort to reach balls in the corners. The record showed that Tilden at times could play essentially evenly with Budge or Perry. But even when these episodes lasted for the full course of a match, the exertion would probably carry a major penalty in fatigue for several days thereafter. Bill himself largely minimized these considerations. Replying to a reporter's question, Tilden answered that his most significant decline was in his vision. His eyes had slowed, he explained, reducing his ability to react to an opponent's offerings. That, he said, plus a decline in his "will to win," were the main changes affecting hs play.

According to Al Ennis, the tour's advance and publicity man, the final engagement in Birmingham on May 10 brought the tour's performances to 61, a number closely consistent with all other solid information. Hardwick won three times (Boston, Phoenix, and Columbus, Ohio), so that the final count of victories was 58-3 in Marble's favor. My tally of documented outcomes shows Budge ahead of Tilden, 43-5 in matches won plus one tie. (Tilden won in Detroit, Fort Worth, Dallas, Memphis, and Maywood-Chicago.) There were also 7 cases where Nogrady played instead of Bill and another 5 cases where scores are unknown. If we accept the general understanding that Tilden won a total of seven times, then the final tally would have to be 46-7-1, Budge over Tilden. As to the mixed doubles, by my count Marble-Tilden won 25 and lost 21 against Hardwick-Budge, while Hardwick-Tilden won 2 of 3 against Marble-Budge. (Again, there were 7 Nogrady substitutions and 5 unknowns.) Tilden later wrote that playing mixed with Alice was like playing men's doubles.

The countless newspaper accounts written by uniformly delighted reporters make it beyond question that the tour was everywhere successful from the viewpoint of the paying customers. Hardwick was widely admired for her tireless on-court efforts, Marble for her skill and bearing. But it was Tilden, it was often noted, who "stole the evening."

TOURNAMENTS 1941

With Budge occupied on tour into early May and then weakened after facial surgery, Fred Perry swept the 1941 schedule of pro tournaments. At Pinehurst, April 16-21, both Perry and Dick Skeen advanced to the final round without serious difficulty, though Skeen, 35, lost a set to big Joe Whalen. Fred Hawthorne watched their final, where Skeen--"the trim little Californian"--held command over Perry much of the way, moving ahead two sets to one. Hawthorne admired Skeen's "controlled speed," especially in returning serve and in maintaining close-to-the-lines pressure. Skeen reached several match points in the fourth set, but Perry staged a closing rush, his forehand "ripping gaps in Skeen's court." The three-time Wimbledon champion prevailed in five.

Outcomes were almost identical at U.S. Open at the Greenbrier one week later, April 22-27. In the semis Perry defeated Whalen by close scores, while Skeen overcame Walter Senior in straight sets by avoiding Walter's strong forehand side. In the final, Skeen's fine stroking again pressed Perry severely, Dick winning the first set and leading 51 in the second. But fortune shifted and with it the balance of confidence, and Fred won the match in four sets. Contributing stronger-than-expected performances in the early rounds were veteran pros Karel Kozeluh and a trimmed-down Vincent Richards. It would prove the Greenbrier's last "U.S. Open."

The U.S. Pro, May 24-June 1, 1941, was again held at Chicago Town and Tennis Club. On hand was defending champion Don Budge, who was barely out of the hospital from his surgery and had been married only two days before. (Attending Don and Deirdre's wedding was Wilson Company president L.B. Icely, who reportedly served as best man at the ceremony.) Budge, who was scarcely ready for competition, lost to his first opponent, John Faunce--a "gangling, blonde kid" at age 26, who had extended Budge at the Greenbrier in 1940. Faunce's winning strategy in Chicago, he afterwards explained, was to tire Don by making him chase down droppers and shots to the corners.

Perry, accompanied in Chicago by his new wife, his second, reached the final by winning five matches, including victories over Nogrady in the quarters and Gledhill in a four-set semi. Once again his final-round opponent was Skeen, who had beaten Whalen in the quarters and, in a tough four-setter, Faunce in the semis. Reporter William Fay of Chicago Tribune wrote that against Skeen, Perry was not the better player but was the better and more-experienced competitor. With the court damp from heavy rains the previous date, Skeen managed only one period of sustained net attack--in closing out the second set to equalize at one-set-all. Thereafter, Perry won comfortably from the baseline, consistently outrallying his opponent.

Directly afterwards came a three-day event on the grass at Forest Hills, June 6-8. Management was by a committee from West Side Tennis Club, where part of the gate benefited British War Relief. Attendance was a disappointing 3,000 on the first day, Friday, roughly doubled on Saturday, and further increased on Sunday. The tennis was generally seen as spotty, especially the first day, heavy rains having prevented grass-court practice by the players earlier in the week and leaving the turf slippery and soft.

The format was round-robin--four players competing in singles and four pairs in doubles. The big winner was Perry, who won all his matches both singles and doubles. On opening day, Fred fended off Tilden after Bill, using spins heavily on the damp grass, won the first two sets. Herbert Allan of New York Post wrote that Tilden, 48, for much of the match was as brilliant as in his days of glory. J.P. Allen of New York Sun, however, highly criticized the quality of play. Although he conceded that the turf was unusually difficult, Allen wrote that Perry's "seldom rose above high school tennis."

On Saturday Perry overcame Dick Skeen in four sets, showing the better consistency in returning serve and regularly succeeding in his advances to net. Grass was largely new to Skeen. Budge meanwhile comfortably defeated the same two opponents, Skeen and Tilden. But on the final day, Sunday, Don could not find his top tennis against Perry. Hitting relentlessly and attacking with low-bouncing volleys, Fred was, it seemed to Hawthorne, "virtually unbeatable in forecourt." Even the Sun acknowledged that Perry was at his best. Perry defeated Budge 64 62 63, extending his past success against Don on grass. Meanwhile Skeen took third-place in the round-robin by easily beating a Tilden still tired from Friday.

The doubles cast at Forest Hills was also attractive. Perry and Budge were partners, and the two superstars won all three of their matches in the round-robin. Gledhill-Stoefen finished second, Bell-Barnes third, Richards-Tilden last.

The crowds were much smaller a week later, June 14-17, at the rain-troubled Eastern Grass Court pro tournament at Westchester Country Club, Rye, New York. Nearly all the leading pros competed in a field of about thirty. The event became yet another triumph for Perry. Enroute to the final Fred defeated Bell, Stoefen, and Barnes, winning all six sets while losing only ten games. Meanwhile Dick Skeen defeated Chapin, Kozeluh, and Budge. Don, who had trouble overcoming Whalen earlier, against Skeen was "stampeded" by Dick's punishing drives from both sides that "reached for the lines and often clipped them," wrote Allison Danzig of New York Times.

In the final-round showdown against Perry, Skeen was the more-frequent aggressor. To Hawthorne, Fred seemed slow, scarcely keen, uninterested in advancing to net. Danzig agreed, writing that Fred at times played "indifferently." But Fred answered Dick's net-attacking well, fencing off Dick's volleying and refusing to give errors. The result was four close sets, three of them won by Perry. Danzig concluded that Skeen would have been better off to stay back, relying on his hard forehand and firmly sliced backhand.

SUMMER 1941 TOUR

Four pro veterans staged a 39-engagement tour from late June to September 1. The principals were Fred Perry and Bill Tilden, whose matches usually followed the "animal act" featuring Vincent Richards and Karel Kozeluh. The itinerary began at Richards's club in Bronxville, New York, reaching to Columbus, South Bend, and two engagements in Chicago in mid-July. Two weeks in Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas followed, where Kozeluh was hurt in a car accident, hampering his play for several weeks thereafter. At the end of July it was reported that Perry had beaten Tilden in 20 of 23 matches. Kozeluh and Richards were said to be "about even."

A three-date round-robin in St. Louis followed, 1-3 August., where Perry split sets with Kozeluh and defeated both Tilden and Richards. Fred won all three of his doubles matches, in turn partnering each of the others. The troupe then moved directly to New England and at month's end made what was thought to be a first pro appearance at the venerable Casino in Newport, Rhode Island. The tour closed with a final engagement on the courts of New York Athletic Club, Travers Island, where Richards once again professed his "final" retirement from the pro wars, once again wrongly.

Perry continued to outplay Tilden to the end, though Bill won at least twice in August (Worcester and Newport). Kozeluh and Richards remained close, where my incomplete data show Kozeluh, who won on the Newport grass, slightly ahead. In the usual doubles pairing, Richards-Tilden and Kozeluh-Perry were also close. Attendance averaged around 500. No outside promoter was involved, but the tour was described as financially successful to players, clubs, and various charities.

RANKINGS FOR 1941

Fred Perry unquestionably earned top place in any pro ranking for 1941. Second place is less clear, where the candidates were Dick Skeen and the badly off-form Donald Budge. In the five tournaments recounted above, all won by Perry, Skeen was the runner-up in four cases and invariably gave Fred trouble in their final-round meetings. Budge in comparison lost early at U.S. Pro and in the semis at Rye, and was runner-up at Forest Hills, where he lost one-sidedly to Fred. In the two head-to-head meetings between Budge and Skeen, Don won at Forest Hills, Dick at Rye. In my opinion, the record of the full year requires placing Skeen second in our ranking, narrowly ahead of Don. Third place belongs to Budge, far ahead of Tilden, fourth, whose place reflects Bill's occasional wins and many strong performances in tour play against both Budge and Perry. Next, from their tournament results, are Whalen, Faunce, and Gledhill, in that order, followed by Barnes and Senior, tied for eighth.

Topping our pro doubles list is Budge-Perry, the winning pair at U.S. Pro, Forest Hills, and Rye. Tied for second are Perry-Richards, who won at Pinehurst and the Greenbrier, and Gledhill-Stoefen, runners-up at U.S. Pro and Forest Hills.

Our combined pro-amateur ranking recognizes that the top-ten amateur list in America was ahead of the comparable list of pros. Back when Budge signed with the pros for the 1939 tour, the top pros had been much stronger than the amateurs. But since then there had been no major recruitments, the pro stars had grown older, Vines had departed, and Budge was now scarcely himself. Meanwhile an excellent crop of male amateurs had emerged in America. That the amateurs were now ahead was suggested by writer J.P. Allen, who quoted one watcher unhappy with the listlessness of the pro matches seen at Forest Hills. Allen seemed to agree with his source in deeming that leading amateur Bobby Riggs should defeat the top pro, Perry. Direct evidence for such comparisons was of course sparse, but the split-set outcome of an exhibition between Budge and amateur top-tenner Gardner Mulloy, played in Miami in February 1940, reinforced the view that the days of pro superiority were fading.

For our merged amateur-pro ranking of 1941, we accordingly place amateur Riggs and pro Perry in a tie for first place. Amateur Kovacs is third, while amateur Parker and professional Skeen are tied for fourth. Budge is sixth, just ahead of a sequence of amateurs.

NEW PRO TOUR

There was talk that because the international tennis federation was now inactive, it should now be possible to start open tennis in America. The Australian LTA decided to allow amateurs and pros to compete against one another for war-related fund-raising and urged the Americans to do the same. But the improved strength of American amateur tennis weakened pressure on U.S. amateur officialdom to find accommodation with the pros. Also hurting chances for open tennis were the recriminations about moneys after the Finnish Relief matches. Meanwhile large increases in amounts paid as "expenses" to top amateur players by amateur-tournament organizers brought stern reactions by USLTA officials. The departures of amateur stars to professional tennis, overdue for a year or two, were not long in coming.

The newest pro tour would have a cast of four superstars that could scarcely have been more intriguing The announcement came at Toots Shor's restaurant in New York, November 26, 1941. The new organizer was Alexis Thompson, 28, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles football team and head of a new entity called the East-West Sporting Club, Inc. Present for the announcement was Don Budge along with Bobby Riggs, the current U.S. amateur champion. Thompson told the audience about plans for an 80-match tour of North America, featuring Budge and Riggs along with Fred Perry and the second-ranked amateur, Frank Kovacs. An extended round-robin of singles competition among the four was envisioned, featuring two prime singles matches at each engagement. As Roscoe McGowan of New York Times put it, it would be "the world's greatest pros against 1941's leading amateurs."

The attack on Pearl Harbor and U.S. entry into the war intervened prior to the scheduled opening in New York. All four of the aforementioned tour principals would enter military service within the next year or so. But for the moment, all were eager to go ahead with the exciting new tour. Bobby Riggs, whose interest in making big money as a professional reached back several years, proclaimed in his autobiographical Court Hustler, "I was an honest tennis player at last."

--Ray Bowers
Arlington, Virginia, U.S.A.

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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