In his autobiography, Uncovered, Pat Cash remembers his days on the junior European tour:

My third European trip showed that great things were by now a distinct possibility. To start with, I finally managed to win the Avvenire Cup singles prize in Milan. First I had to beat two players who could certainly go on to make their mark on the game: Emilio Sanchez in the quarterfinals and Karel Novacek in the semis. My reward was a place in the final, and a first confrontation with another young Swede who would figure prominently in my career.

In those days Stefan Edberg played the traditional Borg way. Like all the others he rarely strayed from the baseline, hit with a double-fisted backhand, and seemed to regard the net as something carrying rabies. Although feeling extremely nervous, I beat him without too many problems, and my rapidly rising junior ranking escalated still further. However, my supposed knowledge of Stefan Edberg tested the strength of my friendship with Wally Masur a year or so later.

The two young Aussies arrived in Lisbon to try and qualify for a tour event. Wally was drawn against Edberg, and I told him there was nothing to worry about because he was a typical Swede who just stayed back on the baseline. But sitting courtside, I couldn’t believe what I saw: there was this supreme young fair-haired athlete who served and volleyed everything with the crispest single-handed backhand I’d ever seen.

To pretty swift sets later, a soundly beaten and decidedly pissed off Wally stumbled his way from the court to the locker room. On his way, he gave me the unfriendliest of looks and I thought I heard him utter, thanks for the tip mate. I’d like to think they were the exact words he used, but I know for a fact they were interspersed with other considerably stronger.

Billie Jean King

From Love Thirty: Three Decades of Champions, by Rex Bellamy (published in 1990)

Like Ashe, Billie Jean King had a pioneering zeal that made her an inspiring leader of many causes. If there was no crusade available, she invented one. They included her campaign for parity of prize money and draw numbers between men and women; the introduction of professional ‘team tennis’ and the concept’s expansion to other levels of the game; her famous ‘Battle of the Sexes‘ with Bobby Riggs, an occasion that had implications and effects outweighing the showbiz razzmatazz; her role in forming the Women’s Sports Foundation and re-enforcing the women’s liberation movement; and a maze of associated business ventures. For all that, King will most obviously be remembered for her supreme tally of Wimbledon titles during a span of 23 years. She began that Wimbledon saga as ‘Little Miss Moffitt’ and ended it as a self-styled ‘Old Lady’ who seemed to be part of the furniture. By that time she had graduated to the same class of all-time Grand Slam champions as Helen Wills and Margaret Court. But neither of these (nor any other woman, for that matter) matched King’s revolutionary status. consequently, because of her combined achievements on and off court, she became the most important figure in the history of women’s tennis.

King’s father, an engineer in the Long Beach fire department was an all-around athlete but had no interest in tennis. Her mother was a good swimmer and her brother Randy became a major-league baseball pitcher. When she first played tennis, at the age of 11, King used a racket borrowed from a friend. Then she popped spare nickels and dimes into a jar until she had $8, which was all she needed to buy a racket from the local sports shop. She made the most of the free lessons available in pubic parks at Long Beach and seized the chance to study celebrities in action at Los Angeles. King particularly liked the serve-and-volley style of Louise Brough and at 15 she spent three months receiving weekend tuition from another one-time US and Wimbledon champion, Alice Marble, who had a similarly aggressive game. Aspiring climbers are taught not to reduce the leverage of fingers and toes by getting too close to the rock. For different reasons, Marble warned King not to get too close to the ball.

Moffitt spent three years at Los Angeles State College, where she met a law student called Larry King. They were to marry in 1965. Meantime she was developing a liking for Wimbledon. In 1961, aged 17, the tomboyish Moffitt won the Wimbledon doubles with Karen Hantze, 18. King built rapidly on that early success and in 1963 she reached the Wimbledon singles final. But the road to full-time tennis was rather bump in those days and King as 21 before she could press the accelerator hard down and keep it there. Late in 1964 Bob Mitchell, the Melbourne businessman who had previously helped Margaret Court, offered to pay King’s way to Australia, where Mervyn Rose improved her groundstrokes and service and put her through a sharpening programme of training and practice drills. With a remodeled game and a total commitment to the circuit, King brought increasing confidence and intensity to her 1965 campaign. Court stopped her in an Australian semi-final and US final. Bueno stopped her in a Wimbledon semi-final. But King had beaten both in previous years, before Rose brought a bloom to her tennis, and thee could no longer be any doubt that the Court-Bueno duopoly of grass was not going to last much longer.
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Venus Williams in 1994

Venus made her professional debut on Monday, October 31, 1994, beating 59th-ranked Shaun Stafford in the first round of Bank Of The West Classic in Oakland. She almost beat the world No.2 Arantxa Sanchez in the next round, leading 6-3 3-1.

Robin Finn of the New York Times wrote: “Venus Williams is the most unorthodox tennis prodigy her sport has ever seen. She is a 14-year-old African-American girl with a ghetto in her past, a total absence of junior competition in her present and a plan to spend no more than a decade pursuing Grand Slam titles and six-digit purses so she can put a college degree in her future.”

Shaun Stafford: “She moves extra well for her height, she’s got a great serve and it’ll get better. It’s exciting for tennis to have her here. When I came on the tour at 19, I was intimidated, but here she is at 14, ready to play the pros. It’s unique.”

Venus joined the WTA tour full time in 1997 and reached the US Open final, losing to Martina Hingis.

Source: On this day in tennis history by Randy Walker

14-year-old Serena Williams makes her professional debut, losing in the first round of the Quebec City tournament’s qualifyings to Anne Miller 6-1 6-1.

Robin Finn of the New York Times wrote: “Instead of a stadium showcase, she competed on a regulation practice court at a tennis club in suburban Vanier, side by side with another qualifying match. There were no spotlights, no introductions, not even any fans. Her court was set a level below a smoky lounge bar that held a bar, a big-screen television, an ice cream cart and 50 or so onlookers with varying stages of interest in her fate.”

Serena: “I felt bad out there because I lost. I didn’t play like I meant to play. I played kind of like an amateur.”

Anne Miller: “I guess I played a celebrity… She has as much power as anybody around, but maybe she needs to play some junior events the way Anna Kournikova has to learn how to become match-tough. There really is no substitute for the real thing. I felt like a complete veteran compared to her.”

A year before, Serena’s older sister Venus had defeated the world’s 58th-ranked player, Shaun Stafford, in straight sets in her pro debut in Oakland, then led No. 2 Arantxa Sanchez 6-2, 3-1 before losing in three sets.

Serena did not play another pro event for another 17 months, when, in her fifth tournament back, she dispatched Monica Seles along with Mary Pierce in Chicago. She captured her first WTA title in 1999 in Paris, defeating Amelie Mauresmo in the final.

Anne Miller left the tour to return to college 3 years after her victory over Serena. She is now a stay-at-home mom in Portland and on the board of directors for a local nonprofit.

Sources: On this day in tennis history by Randy Walker, ESPNW

Vijay Armitaj

From John Newcombe’s autobiography, Newk: Life on and off the court

In 1973, with all players, contact professionals or not, allowed to play Davis Cup again, I was raring to make up for lost time. I decided to forego the pro circuit that year and concentrate only on the Grand Slams and winning the Cup back for Australia, after America had hogged it for the past five years.

The early rounds of our Davis Cup campaign under captain Neale Fraser took us to Japan and India. With Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall temporarily unavailable, Mal Anderson, Geoff Masters and I were the singles players, while Geoff and I handled the doubles. Our Cup tie at Chepauk in Madras, southern India, was held in unbelievable temperature regularly over the 40-degree-Celsius mark. After three games you’d be drenched with sweat.
Something else we had to get acclimatised to was the playing surface: the court was made of dried cow dung, which played a bit like fast, hard clay. Once I got used to the idea I was okay.

At lunchtime 10 days before the tie began, we players were hanging around in our fifth-floor hotel rooms when Neale Fraser called us down to a room in the administrative section of the hotel. Standing there with him was a guy who was the spitting image of the actor Sidney Poitier. After Neale introduced him to us as a colonel in the Indian security forces, this imposing fellow gave us some scary news. According to a message intercepted by Interpol, Pakistani terrorists were about to take reprisals against India in protest at the latter’s holding 90,000 Pakistan prisoners of war from the two countries’ recent contretemps. One possible target was the Davis Cup event. Oh great, I thought. As one of the world’s best-known players, I reckoned I’d be ripe for kidnapping or assassination.

Colonel Poitier told us we could leave India and finish the Cup tie in a neutral country, or continue playing in Madras.

“If you choose to stay”, he said, “I can guarantee you maximum security. We’ll have guards with you all the time and if a bullet is fired at you, it will pass through me first, and if a knife comes, it will have to pass through me,” he declared, stabbing with his finger at his barrel chest.

We were not about to be stood over by terrorists. We’d finish the Cup in Madras. Suddenly our hotel became a fortress as the security men moved all other guests off our floor and stationed armed guards at every entrance and exit. There were soldiers with machine guns in the lobby, and a machine-gunner at the front entrance of the hotel and on the driveway outside. When we traveled to the stadium, we went in a convoy escorted by army vehicles in front and behind. At our matches, 300 of the people in the 10,000 capacity-crowd perched in makeshift bamboo grandstands were military staff.
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