Tennis player Don Budge was recalling the other day some of his memorable matches of the mid-30s when the name of one of his old opponents came up. "He could be dying, flopping on the court, skidding on his elbows, toddling on his last legs and fainting all over the place—but he would keep trying his heart out," said Budge. "It wasn't that his style was confusing. It was just damned aggravating. Here was this little fellow who can hardly look over the net. You would put a shot away, thinking you had the best of him. But when you turned away—plop! The damned ball was back in your court!"
Budge was referring—with perfect accuracy—to a 5-foot 4-inch Georgian who campaigned around the world's tennis centers for over two decades, picking up as he went such nicknames as Mighty Mite, Mighty Atom, Atlanta Mite, Lionhearted, Giant Killer, Possum, Retriever and even Tumble-bug. His real name is Bryan Morel Grant Jr., now an Atlanta insurance broker with the same deadly serious look little Bitsy Grant used to wear when knocking off big boys like Budge (whom he defeated in three of 10 meetings), Ellsworth Vines, Frank Shields, Wilmer Allison, Jack Bromwich and Jack Crawford.
Grant has reason to be serious in 1955. He is starting a new tennis career in the senior division, which is a sort of tennis playground for ambitious buffs who like to keep in the tournament swing after reaching the age of 45. Grant won't be 45 until next Christmas Day, but the USLTA takes a lenient view of minor technicalities and allows prospective seniors to start playing in senior events any time during the year in which their 45th birthday is on the horizon. This is just fine with Bitsy. Nine days after the start of the new year he won his first senior title—in the Dixie tournament at Tampa—with a three-set win over Jack Staton, last year's National Senior Clay Courts Champion.
"I feel," says Grant (who is working on getting his present 142 pounds back down to a trim 130), "that I can take my game more seriously again. For the last few years I've been the oldest man in all the tournaments I've been in. Against a man in his 20s, about all I could do was play for fun and laughs and I got some awful beatings." (Not always, however. In 1952 Bitsy won his 11th Southern championship at the age of 41—just 25 years after winning his first.)
Today Grant is full of fond memories of the old days, and, like other athletes of his age, he may be slightly inclined to belittle the modern stars. "I've seen Tony Trabert play, but not Seixas. Trabert is good, but he isn't in the same league with Budge, Perry or Vines. I've never seen the Australians play—except on television—but they don't look too impressive."
Bitsy has been missing from Forest Hills since 1947, but this September he may be back—in quest of the Senior Championship. "As a matter of fact, I'm not in bad shape right now. My reflexes have slowed down so's I can't play the nets as I used to, and my serve isn't much—but I can still hit 'em hard with my backhand."
The old Bitsy Grant philosophy is still there: "Why knock the cover off the ball? You can win the point if you get the ball back once more than the other fellow. If I get serious again I think I should beat 'em all."
The decision of the Southern Pacific AAU in the Reverend Robert Richards case was worthy of Solomon. Richards, a minister in the Church of the Brethren and the world's greatest pole vaulter, had appeared on This Is Your Life, a television program that appeals for the most part to the surprise-party set, who obtain some sort of eerie gratification from watching an unsuspecting victim—in this case, Richards—thrust into a place of prominence where he had no intention of going and where he might not necessarily want to be. At any rate, there was Richards having his life re-enacted before his eyes. After it was over (but before the show was over) he was rewarded publicly for his pain. Among his rewards were an automobile, a motion-picture camera and a projector. As an added fillip, a $1,000 donation was made to the U.S. Olympic Fund.
Now, an amateur Richards is and an amateur he intends to stay. An athlete who accepts rewards of substantial monetary value for athletic accomplishments is, ipso facto, a professional. The first thing Richards did after the program was ask if his amateur status was endangered by the gifts. If so, he said, thank you very much but take them back. In New York Dan Ferris, the AAU's watchdog of amateurism, said almost frantically that Richards could not keep the car and wired the Southern Pacific AAU to look into the matter.