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July 07, 1958
Wimbledon Begins
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July 07, 1958

Events & Discoveries

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Wimbledon Begins

Just after Wimbledon got under way, the London Daily Sketch ran this headline blast: KEEP AWAY FROM OUR KIDS, KRAMER. WE DIDN'T GROOM THEM FOR YOU.

The story beneath it explained that Jack Kramer, the wealthy promoter of professional tennis from the U.S.A., was at Wimbledon to shop around for talent among the amateurs. It warned him off the six British players who "are on the fringe of world class," and in passing it denounced him as "Public Enemy No. 1 to amateur lawn tennis."

For the U.S., the sharpest point of the Daily Sketch's story was that Jack Kramer had to go abroad to do his shopping. He couldn't find anyone worth offering his money to at home, because the United States is now in its worst tennis slump in 30 years. U.S. men haven't won the Davis Cup since 1954. A few days ago, U.S. women lost the Wightman Cup to the British for the first time since 1930. The American men's singles champion is an Australian rancher named Mal Anderson. And the only seeding an American could achieve in the men's singles ranks at Wimbledon this year was Barry MacKay's eighth—behind four Australians, a Chilean, a Dane and a Swede. Even MacKay's No. 8 was described by one blunt Britisher as "a kindness to the United States."

There were a few bright spots. Althea Gibson of New York, who was top-seeded among the women, reached the quarter-finals without losing a set. And tiny, spunky Mimi Arnold of Redwood City, Calif. did a brisk job on Saturday of upsetting Britain's six-foot, second-seeded Christine Truman 10-8, 6-3. But after Althea what? The most promising youngsters in women's tennis were not turning up in the U.S., but in places like England and Brazil.

Actually, the Daily Sketch was wrong to label Jack Kramer the Public Enemy No. 1 of amateur tennis. From the British or Australian point of view, Kramer is a benefactor whose good works began more than a decade ago and haven't stopped yet. By taking 1) himself and 2) Pancho Gonzales out of the amateur ranks Kramer removed from contention two American players who, over the years, could have handled with ease anybody the other tennis nations have come up with. (Both men have demonstrated this by defeating former amateur champions on the pro tour as fast as they could be bought up.)

Still, there is no use crying over spilt money, especially Jack Kramer's. The lamentable fact is, the U.S. ought to be producing enough good tennis players to stock both the pro ranks and the amateurs—and the U.S. isn't.

Why not? And when will the boom days return? Well, the United States Lawn Tennis Association is glad you asked them that. They point to their Junior Development Program, which is aiming to build up tennis counterparts of Little League baseball wherever tennis courts can be found—or built. They point to their plan to give free tournament tickets to junior groups so that they can get some idea of what big league tennis is. And they point to an enlarged program for the Junior Davis Cup Squad which will give promising 18-year-olds a longer season of tournament play. All this, the USLTA hopes, will pay off in the future—the happy result of giving U.S. tennis a broader grass-roots base than it has ever had before.

Meanwhile, at Wimbledon, the over-aged and the under-seasoned, like the faculty and cadets of some besieged military school, were holding out as best they could. Gardnar Mulloy, 44; Budge Patty, 35; and Barry MacKay, 22, won their thirdround matches on Saturday, and a well-earned sabbatical rest. (Of the 12 other Americans who entered the men's singles championship, four were eliminated in the first round, seven in the second and one in the third.) What remained of the troops still faced the toughest part of the battle, but reinforcements were on the way. The trouble was, it would take them several years to get there.

Departure in Cleveland

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