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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Andy Murray at Sanchez Casal Academy

Belgium chose to play the upcoming Davis Cup final on clay, Andy Murray‘s “worst” surface. Clay doesn’t really suit Belgian players David Goffin and Steve Darcis, but they probably think this surface is their best chance of beating Murray.

Even though the world number 3 has only won his first two titles on clay this year, he is a 3-time Roland Garros semifinalist (he lost to Rafael Nadal in 2011 and 2014, and to Novak Djokovic this year) and has spent 3 years training at the Sanchez Casal Academy in Barcelona.

In 2002, aged 15, he left Scotland for Spain. He had made the decision to train abroad the previous year, after a discussion with Rafael Nadal, who had been telling him about his four-hour-a-day hitting sessions in the heat of Majorca and his practices with former world number 1 Carlos Moya. Andy was then practicing only about 4 hours a week.

At the Academy, under the tutelage of tennis guru Pato Alvarez, he learned how to play on clay, and when he could attack. The Sanchez‐Casal system that splits the court into 3 zones: defence, transition and attack, improved Murray’s patience and movement.

Murray partied with Alvarez in 2005, he explained at the time that Alvarez wanted him to be less aggressive and play like the Spanish players, and that’s not the way he plays.

A few pictures taken at the Sanchez Casal Academy in November 2004, two months after Andy’s US Open junior title.

Andy Murray and Pato Alvarez

Andy Murray and Pato Alvarez
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Margaret Court

45 years ago, Margaret Court completed the fifth calendar Grand Slam in history, after Donald Budge (1938), Maureen Connolly (1953) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969). Twice previously (in 1962 and 1969), Court had failed to win the coveted Grand Slam, falling both times at Wimbledon.

The powerful Australian was the most dominating player in the 60s, winning 13 Grand Slam tournaments.
Then she decided to retire after Wimbledon in 1966. But after getting married in 1967, she changed her mind and returned to tennis in 1968. Her goal: to complete the calendar-year Grand Slam. In 1969, she captured 3 majors, but lost to Ann Jones in Wimbledon semifinals.

In 1970, she had already won the Australian and French Championships when she met Billie Jean King in the Wimbledon final. This match is still considered as one of the greatest played on Center Court.
Court prevailed 14-12 11-9. 46 games, a record for the final, the tie-breaker not yet in use. But the result might have totally different: King broke Court’s serve 4 times in the first set, she served for the second set at 5-4, 7-6, and 8-7, and saved four match points. It would be the third and last title for Margaret Court at Wimbledon.

She met doubles specialist Rosie Casals in the US Open final, cruising through the first set 6-2. Casals bounced back to take the second set 6-2, but Court overcame her nerves in the third and captured her fourth US Open title 6-2 2-6 6-1. She also won the women’s doubles and mixed doubles.

Rosie Casals:

We called Margaret ‘The Arm’. It was like her right arm was a mile long when you tried to pass her.

Court regards her U.S. Open win against Casals in 1970 as the best moment of her career.

I had won three of the four Grand Slam tournaments twice before but completing the full set in one year was very special. Maureen Connolly was the only player who had previously achieved the Slam in the women’s game. In those days the US Open was played at Forest Hills, an old-fashioned club that was very different to the massive Flushing Meadows. Winning that final against Rosie Casals was special.

Court retired again to have children but came back in 1972, and won 3 of 4 Slams in 1973.
She retired permanently in 1977 when she learned she was expecting the last of her four children.

Margaret Court won 62 Grand Slam championships, more than any other woman, and in 1970 became the second woman (after Maureen Connolly in 1953) to win the grand slam of tennis singles: Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the Australian Open, and the French Open titles in the same year. She is the only player to achieve the Grand Slam in mixed doubles as well as singles, winning the four events with fellow Australian Kenneth Fletcher in 1963.
She’s also the only person to have won all 12 Grand Slam events (singles, doubles and mixed doubles) at least twice.

Margaret Court 24 Singles titles:
– Australian Open: 11 (1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973)
– French Open: 5 (1962, 1964, 1969, 1970, 1973)
-Wimbledon: 3 (1963, 1965, 1970)
– US Open: 5 (1962, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1973)

In January 2003, Tennis Australia renamed Melbourne Park’s Show Court One to the Margaret Court Arena. She was the recipient of the 2003 Australia Post Australian Legends Award, and featured on a special 50c stamp. In 2006 she was awarded the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) highest accolade, the Philippe Chatrier Award.

Apart from her wonderful on-court achievements, Court who found a ministry (the Margaret Court Ministries), is also known for her homophobia. She said in particular that Martina Navratilova and other lesbian and bisexual players were ruining the sport of tennis and setting a bad example for younger players.

More on this controversial champion.

Althea Gibson

From Tennis Confidential by Paul Fein (published in 1999):

“Given the same chance as others have had, blacks would dominate our sport as they have in other sports”, asserted Arthur Ashe, tennis first black men’s champion, in 1968.

For the first half of the twentieth century, blacks had no chance to compete at, let alone dominate, world-class tournaments. A major reason for this racial discrimination was that white athletes in tennis and other sports were afraid of competing on an equal basis with blacks.

“For 120 years, white America has gone to extraordinay lengths to discredit and discourage black participation in sports because black athletes have been so successful,” Ashe wrote in a New York times column.

In the not-so-good old days, the “Whites only” signs on tennis courts didn’t refer only to clothes. To end that separate but unequal segregation and to promote the grassroots game among black Americans, the American Tennis Association was organized in 1916. Before the ATA, black players, chiefly from the Northeast, participated in invitational interstate tournaments, the first being staged in Philadelphia in 1898. But since blacks were barred from playing in United States Lawn Tennis Association – sanctioned tournaments prior to 1940, the ATA struggled for years to ovecome that towering barrier to equality.

Despite a shortage of rackets, balls, courts, topflight coaching and funds for travel, outstanding black players such as Ora Washington, Jimmie McDaniel, and Oscar Johnson Jr emerged. Washington, a superb all-around athlete, captured seven straight ATA national women’s singles titles from 1929 to 1935.
McDaniel was “the greatest black tennis player of them all,” according to Sydney Llewellyn, a self-described archivist of black tennis from New York’s Harlem neighborhood. “McDaniel was better than Ashe. He was bigger, stronger,” Llewellyn told Tennis USTA. “He was a tall lefty, maybe 6’5. He’d take etwo steps and be all over the net. He had it all. He would have won a bunch of Grand Slams somewhere along the line, if he had had the chance.”

He didn’t because his heyday, albeit an obscure one, ended in the 1940s. Johnson dubbed “the Jackie Robinson of tennis”, came closer. As a skinny seventeen-year-old from Los Angeles, he broke ground as the first black to play in and win a USLTA national tournament, the 1948 National Junior Public Parks. Five years later promoter Jack Kramer offered Johnson a pro contact, but a snapped ebow tendon prematurely finished his career.

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Tim Henman and Andy Murray

Andy Murray will attempt to win Wimbledon again, two years after his historic title of 2013. Former British No 1 Tim Henman talks about the game and personality of his successor.

Interview by l’Equipe, translation by Tennis Buzz

Q: Do you remember the first time you met Andy Murray?

It was during a Davis Cup tie in 2004, we were playing against Luxembourg. He had a knee injury, but he was there as a drawer of water. He was only 16 years old but he looked and listened everything, he was very interested in what was happening in training. He immersed himself in the atmosphere.

Q: And the first time you played him?

It was in La Manga, Spain, where we were training before a Davis Cup tie. Even though he was still very young and we were playing at a different level than his own, he had time, he was not under pressure and we knew then that he was going to be really good.

Q: You were one of his early role models, was he intimidated?

He had seen me play a lot and he was probably surprised how relaxed I was and how I liked to have fun off the court. We got along well, we made jokes, we played backgammon during rain interruptions. We had many things in common, and especially we both knew he was about to take over as British number one.

Q: He says you’ve been like a big brother for him, did you feel some kind of responsability towards him?

It was not really a responsibility, but I liked him. I thought that with my experience there were some areas in which I could help. When I arrived on the circuit, I trained a lot with Jeremy Bates, who was British No 1 at the time. Just to see him and be around him helped me to break barriers, to be accepted on the circuit. We trained a bit together, we went out to dinner and we talked about many different things.

Q: When you’re the British number one, you’re always on the spotlight. Which advice did you give him?

It was more related to life on the circuit, how to handle different aspects such as the media, sponsors, practices. On this stuff, the ball was always in his camp. When you’re British No. 1, you’re always on the spotlight, a lot of people want to give their opinion. In fact, I did not want to give him more reviews. I just wanted to give him some advices only when he asked me to.

Q: Do you remember the first official match you played against each other?

He beat me, but it should have been much easier for him that day (smile). It was the first round of the Basel tournament in 2005. He ended up beating me 7-6 in the third set. It was the kind of player I did not like playing. When I gave him a possibility, he was very good to pass me or force me to make a low volley and then pick me on the second ball with a great lob. I still try to remind him that I beat him in the last game we played together in 2006 in Bangkok (smile).

Q: How would you describe his personality?

He has a very dry sense of humor. He is stubborn. And he is honest.

Q: Like you before him, Andy has to face huge media and public pressure as British number one. Did you advise him on this subject too?

When he was young and began to attract media attention, I told him not to read everything that was written in the press and focus on the work he has to do. And to be honest, he did not (laughs). For a long time, he read what people wrote about him and he was influenced by it. That’s not a problem when you are on the rise and they write nice things. But when things start to go wrong, there are criticisms and he was frustrated. Sometimes he probably tried to fight against that. But it’s a learning process. Today he is much more mature, he understands how things work, he has the experience and manages it all very well.

Q: Why is it so hard to be the British No. 1?

There’s sometimes a disproportionate amount of attention. As Wimbledon is the largest and the world’s best tournament there is a lot of interest in the sport in the country, but we have very few good players. That’s the advantage you have in France, there is more depth while here there is huge attention on one player. It was me during my career, and today it’s Andy. It takes time getting used to it.

Q: How did it materialize at your time?

I realized it soon enough. It’s probably when I was disqualified at Wimbledon in 1995. I was the first player in 125 years to be disqualified at Wimbledon. And it was a very fast learning. I got destroyed by the media and I realized that I needed to have good results to make sure that people would not remember me just for that. I also realized that I had to get control of things that I could control. And everything that was said in the press, on TV, I could not control it. I could not help it, and from that day I very rarely read the newspapers.

Q: At one point in his career, when he could not win Grand Slam tournaments, Andy Murray was labeled as a loser, like you…

He did not mean to lose four Grand Slam finals in a row, but when we look at it closer, he lost against Federer and Djokovic, two of the best players of all time. And this 28-day period between the final of Wimbledon 2012 where he lost against Federer and showed so much emotion and winning the London Olympics on the same court against the same opponent, it was a turning point in his relationship with the British public. They really understood what it meant to him and how hard he worked.

Q: What was the role of Ivan Lendl to help him take that step?

Ivan played a huge role in Andy’s development of Andy and his success, and I believe that the symmetry between their careers was incredible. Lendl lost four Grand Slam finals before winning one and Andy was in the same boat. Lendl helped him keep believing he could win these big tournaments.

Q: You were here, in the commentary box, when he won in 2013

The expectation around the match was so huge, it was the seventh day of the seventh month, 77 years after Fred Perry last won… The excitement was huge and when the match took place, the seven first games lasted incredibly long time, in stifling heat. The first set was crucial. Andy never gave up, his tenacity and performance were absolutely incredible.

Q: How did you feel during this famous last game, when he served for the match?

Andy served from the side which was right outside our box. When he was 15-0, we said one done, just three more points, back to simple things. Then it was 30-0 and 40-0, he has three match points, it will be the right time! But this game kept going for another 10 or 12 minutes. The pressure, nervousness there was everywhere was unbearable.

Q: Andy Murray has a very complete game. Which are his strengths in your opinion?

He has many. His groundstrokes are fantastic. His athletic abilities are sometimes underestimated, the way he moves, his anticipation, the way he plays the game. I think the variety of his game is another strong point. He is able to change the pace a lot. He uses well his backhand slice. He is very comfortable at the net. His play at the net is underestimated. Above all, he is able to change the game in terms of style according to the situation and it is very rare. When you have only one style of play, it is easier to work on it and continue to improve your game, but it also makes you a bit limited. He has different aspects, more variety. It took him a little longer to understand his assets and use them, but nowadays we see the best of Andy Murray.

Q: And his weaknesses?

Fortunately, he still has plenty of them. When he plays badly, his first serve percentage decreases and his second serve is a bit vulnerable. The service is a crucial aspect, and that’s something he’s working on a lot. From the baseline, when he dictates play and he is aggressive, that is where he is at his best. When he gets on the defensive, he reacts, steps back and his opponent dictates the game, he must run and is struggling. He must find the balance between attack and defense, and recently he has found it.

Q: Does the Big Four still exist?

For me, yes, no doubt. Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic rankings inside the top 4 change, but when we look at how they dominated the biggest tournaments, all the Grand Slam semifinals they played, the number of Grand Slams and Masters 1000 won, they are still the players to beat. Djokovic is the head of this group today.

Q: You were one of the last serve and volley players. What do you think about the state of net play in today’s tennis?

There are no serve and volley players anymore, it’s sad but that’s the way the game has evolved. On hard courts, grass or indoor, the surfaces are slower, the conditions generally are slower. It is also about the way the players move. Returns of serve are better, faster and stronger, which reduce the opportunities to come to the net. If you come to the net today you must be even more effective than before. It is reflected in the way the players have changed at the junior level. Less coaches how to volley well. Many players today don’t have the correct grip position.

Q: Can you give us your top 5 of best players at the net?

Looking at the Top 100, I have trouble answering the question “who is the best volley player?” Some players volley quite well like Andy Murray, Feliciano Lopez and Radek Stepanek. But none of these players would be back in the Top 20 or Top 30 of best volley players some years ago. Will it come back? I doubt it.

Photo: Henman and Murray, 2013, Getty images

Also read:
Tim Henman disqualified at Wimbledon and follow our Wimbledon coverage.