New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

Category Archives: Tennis

Serena Williams

(Tennis. Born, Saginaw, MI, Sept. 26 1981.)  Arguably both the greatest player in the history of women’s tennis and one-half of the most accomplished sibling combination in sports history,  Serena Jameka Williams – 15 months younger than sister Venus – began playing tennis at the age of three and professional tennis by 14. As a sixteen-year-old in 1998, Williams made her US Open debut in New York, reaching the third round.  The next year, she defeated 1997 Open champion Martina Hingis in the final, surprising many, who had expected older sister Venus to be the first in the family to win a major championship.  Through the beginning of 2017, Serena won 22 more major championships, twice holding all four major championships at the same time (the so-called “Serena Slam”).  A player with an overpowering serve and powerful groundstrokes, she was ranked number one for the first time on July 8, 2002.  She set the record of 186 consecutive weeks as the world’s number one ranked women’s singles player.  Through early 2017, Serena had also won 14  major doubles titles, two major mixed doubles championships, and four Olympic gold medals, three in doubles. – By Jackson Lu

Patricia Canning Todd

Patricia Canning Todd (Tennis.  Born, Alameda, CA, July 22, 1922.)  Though never the best of the women’s players of the 1940s, Patricia Canning Todd was always among the top challengers, particularly adept on clay.  Mrs. Todd was ranked in the world’s Top 10 seven times from 1946-52, rated fourth in 1950.  Among U.S. women, she achieved a Top 10 ranking 10 times in 11 years (1942-52), rated No. 4 in both 1947 and 1949.  Mrs. Todd was a U.S. national finalist in 1946 (losing to Pauline Betz, later Mrs. Addie (q.v.), 11-9, 6-3).  Their first set was the longest ever (20 games) in a U.S. women’s final up to that time.  She twice won the U.S. Indoor singles in New York (1942, ’48) and the doubles in 1952, partnering with Nancy Chaffee Kiner, then wife of baseball slugger Ralph Kiner (q.v.).  She was the U.S. Clay Court champion in doubles (1947) and was a leading American contender in the French championships, winning singles (1947), doubles (1948), and mixed doubles (also 1948) there.  Mrs. Todd played Wightman Cup for the U.S. (1947-51) in doubles, winning four of her five matches.

Bill Tilden

Bill Tilden (Tennis.  Born, Germantown, PA, Feb. 10, 1893; died, Los Angeles, CA, June 5, 1953.)  During the “Golden Age of Sports,” Bill Tilden was one of the great names of the age, ranking with Babe Ruth (q.v.), Jack Dempsey (q.v.), and Bobby Jones (q.v.).  Known as “Big Bill,” Tilden in comparison to his smaller Davis Cup teammate “Little Bill” Johnston, Tilden would sweep virtually all before him in the 1920s.  In the U.S. nationals, Tilden won 71 of the 78 singles matches he played and won a record-equalling seven singles titles from 1920-29, including six in a row (1920-25).  He was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. every year from 1920 through 1929 and was the world’s No. 1 for six straight years from 1920-25.  He won his first U.S. singles in 1920 at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills.  He amassed a total of 16 national titles, winning five men’s doubles (mostly with Vinny Richards) and four mixed doubles titles.  William Tatem Tilden, II, first appeared on the national scene in 1913, but was less than a top player due to the weakness of his backhand.  He then dedicated himself to improving that weakness through one entire winter and emerged as the world’s finest all-around performer.  Tilden also won three Wimbledon singles crowns (1920, 1921 and 1930) and led the U.S. to victory in the Davis Cup seven years in a row from 1920 through 1926 before an upset loss to France in 1927.

Billy Talbert

Billy Talbert (Tennis.  Born, Cincinnati, OH, Sept. 4, 1918; died, New York, NY, Feb. 28, 1999.)  William F. Talbert was a man of many parts. A tireless campaigner for a diabetes cure, a former U.S. Davis Cup captain, one of the leading doubles players in American tennis history, twice a national singles finalist and the chairman of the U.S. Open for many years are all roles he played with skill and distinction.  Talbert played on 19 U.S. national doubles championship teams, including four men’s at the U.S. nationals at Forest Hills (1942, 1945, 1946, 1948), and four mixed there as well (1943, 1944, 1945, 1946). Gardnar Mulloy was his partner in the men’s victories and Margaret Osborne duPont in the mixed.  He was also a finalist in men’s doubles five other times (1943, 1944, 1947, 1950 and 1952) with a variety of partners. In addition, he won four Clay Court titles with three different partners, five indoors (four with Don McNeill and one with Tony Trabert) and two Indoor mixed (both with Doris Hart). Talbert captained the U.S. Davis team in its 1954 championship season after having played in several rounds in prior years.  In both 1944 and 1945, he was a national singles finalist at Forest Hills. But, in 1970, he returned to that venerable ground as the chairman and tournament director of the U.S. Open, an event then only two years old. Tennis went Open in 1968, allowing all players both professional and amateur to compete in all major tournaments. Under Talbert’s guidance, the U.S. Open grew into one of the great sports events in America.  His “sudden death” nine-point tie-breaker at the 1970 Open introduced the concept of tie-break sets to major tournament tennis.

Ken Rosewall

Ken Rosewall (Tennis.  Born, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, Nov. 2, 1934.)  One of the most popular men’s singles triumphs in the long history of national championship tennis on the lawns of the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills came in 1970.  That was the year when Kenneth R. Rosewall won his second title.  Rosewall had won for the first time in 1956 and his 14-year gap is the longest span of years between titles in the history of the competition, which began in 1881.  Rosewall had won in 1956 before turning pro which, in the years before Open tennis, disqualified him from the major international events.  That year, Rosewall upset Lew Hoad, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3, despite Hoad’s powerhouse service game. Rosewall’s style was made for the grass surfaces then used in three of the four major events (except the French nationals, played on clay).  He was patient and tenacious.  With the coming of Open tennis in 1968, Rosewall (as well as the other pros) was welcomed back to the international scene. From 1968-78, he won 32 tournaments and some $1.6 million in prize money. But his biggest win came in 1970 when he defeated fellow Australian Tony Roche in the Forest Hills final, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6, 6-3.  Rosewall was also a solid doubles player, winning the U.S. doubles in 1956 (with Hoad as his partner) and 1969 (with Fred Stolle) and the U.S. mixed doubles in 1956 (with Margaret Osborne duPont).  As a singles player, he won the Australian championship in 1953 and 1955 and the French in 1953 and 1968.  During his years on the pro tour, he was behind Pancho Gonzales and Hoad in the 1950s but Hoad retired (due to back problems) and Rosewall passed Gonzales by the early 1960s to become the leading winner amongst the professional vagabonds who existed at that time mostly on one-night stands around the country.

Bobby Riggs

Bobby Riggs (Tennis.  Born, Los Angeles, CA, Feb. 25, 1918; died, Leucadi, CA, Oct. 25, 1995.)  At age 12, Robert Larimore Riggs began taking tennis lessons and, within six years, was the fourth-ranked player in the U.S.  In 1938, Riggs made the U.S. Davis Cup team.  The next year, he won the U.S. singles title at Forest Hills after sweeping Wimbledon, winning the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles.  He was the world’s No. 1-ranked player.  Riggs won another U.S. title in 1941 and then turned pro.  Before leaving the pro circuit in 1951, he was a three-time singles champion (1946, 1947, 1949) and twice won the pro doubles with Don Budge (1942, 1947).  At age 55, Riggs emerged for “Battle of the Sexes” matches against Margaret Smith Court (a win) and Billie Jean King (a straight-sets loss) in 1973.  These promotions were typical of Riggs, a natural-born hustler.  He supported himself for decades by playing “handicap” matches in golf and tennis against wealthy club-level players.  Riggs played golf against them with just three or four clubs in his bag and tennis wearing galoshes or other odd gear.  He won invariably and collected handsomely.  Prior to the 1939 Wimbledon tournament, he got long odds against himself from London’s legal bookmakers that he would win all three events he entered.  Riggs won them all and cashed in major wagers.

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King (Tennis.  Born, Long Beach, CA, Nov. 22, 1943.)  Long in the forefront of women’s tennis, Billie Jean King was a pioneer among women pro players and accomplished many significant breakthroughs for women in the sport.  She was the finest player of her day, being ranked as the U.S. No. 1 woman in 1965, 1966, 1967, 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1973.  She was the Associated Press Athlete of the Year in 1967 and 1973.  In 1973, she became the first woman in any sport to win $100,000 in prize money.  At Forest Hills, both as Billie Jean Moffitt and later as Billie Jean King, she won the singles in 1967, 1971, 1973 and 1974.  She won five doubles titles from 1964 through 1980 with three different partners and also won four mixed doubles titles from 1967 to 1976.  She was active in the formation of the first women’s pro circuit, the Women’s Tennis Association, in 1970, and played in virtually all of the Philip Morris-sponsored Virginia Slims events in the Garden during her career.  She was later active in World Team Tennis.  But Billie Jean King is remembered as much for her accomplishments on behalf of women’s tennis off the court as she is for the achievements on it.

Jack Kramer

Jack Kramer (Tennis. Born, Monticello, CA, Aug. 1, 1921; died, Bel Air, CA, Sept. 12, 2009.) Rated as the brightest star in men’s tennis in the years immediately following World War II, John Albert Kramer later became a successful promoter of the professional sport. Kramer might have had an even more dominant career as a major world player except that his career was interrupted by military service in the Second World War. As it was, he was the losing finalist in the U.S. nationals at Forest Hills to Joe Hunt in 1943 (as a Seaman in the U.S. Navy), 6-3, 6-8, 10-8, 6-0. In 1946, Kramer returned to civilian life and breezed to his first national championship at Forest Hills, losing only one set through the draw and defeating Tom Brown, 9-7, 6-3, 6-0, in the final. Kramer was an aggressive and athletic player who often seemed above the level of most of his opponents. He possessed a strong twist serve that he followed to the net. After improving a weakness in his backhand, he became a complete player. He struggled against two-time champion Frank Parker (his sometimes doubles partner) in the 1947 final but prevailed, 4-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-0, 6-3. Kramer then turned pro, removing him at the time from the world scene. He had been ranked No. 1 in the world two straight years. But the drawing power of his name was amply illustrated in Dec. 1947, when a capacity crowd turned out at Madison Square Garden to watch a pro match between Kramer and Bobby Riggs despite a record-setting blizzard that blanketed the city.

Bill Johnston

Bill Johnston (Tennis.  Born, San Francisco, CA, Nov. 21, 1894; died, San Francisco, CA, May 1, 1946.)  When the U.S. national tennis championship moved to New York in 1915, William M. Johnston was the first to win the men’s singles title at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills.  Johnston was later to become a significant part of U.S. tennis for more than a decade, making the singles final seven more times by 1925.  Soon known as “Little Bill” in contrast to “Big Bill” Tilden, he was to win only in 1919 (over Tilden, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3), but teamed with Tilden on the 1920 U.S. Davis Cup team that returned the trophy to the U.S.  Johnston lost five U.S. finals to Tilden (1920, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925).  A seven-time Pacific Coast champion, Johnston was ranked in the U.S. Top 10 12 times in 14 years (1913-26).  He missed in 1917 and 1918 only due to military service in World War I.  With Clarence Griffin, Johnston won three U.S. doubles titles (1915, 1916, 1920) and was the 1919 U.S. Clay Court champion.  Internationally, he was the 1923 Wimbledon winner and was 18-3 in Davis Cup play, 14-3 in singles and 4-0 in doubles.

Helen Hull Jacobs

Helen Hull Jacobs (Tennis.  Born, Globe, AZ, Aug. 6, 1908; died, East Hampton, NY, June 2, 1997.)  A dominating force in women’s tennis for 15 years leading up to World War II, Helen Hull Jacobs was a four-time U.S. singles champion.  Jacobs made the singles final at Forest Hills eight times in 13 years (1928-40), winning the title in 1932, 1933, 1934, and 1935.  She lost once in the final to Helen Wills in 1928 and three times to Alice Marble in 1936, 1939, and 1940.  Her most famous victory was the 1933 final, still shrouded in mystery and controversy, when Wills left the court with an apparent injury, trailing 8-6, 3-6, 3-0.  Jacobs won each of the next two years by beating her doubles partner, Sarah Palfrey, in identical 6-1, 6-4 matches.  She made six Wimbledon finals but lost five times, four of them to Wills, winning only in 1936.  In the U.S., Jacobs was ranked in the Top 10 13 times from 1927-41, making No. 1 four straight years (1932-35) and was the world No. 1 in 1936.  She was the national girls champion twice (1924, ’25) and won the U.S. women’s doubles (with Palfrey) in 1932, 1933, and 1935.  She also won the U.S. mixed doubles title in 1934, partnering with George Lott.  Jacobs introduced Bermuda shorts to international tennis, first at Wimbledon in 1932 and then at Forest Hills the following year.

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The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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About Bill Shannon

A prolific author, wire service sports reporter, long time Major League Baseball official scorer, football statistician, sports museum founder, theatrical agency owner and public ... read more

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