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.
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.