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A HEAD TO HEED
Frank Deford
July 09, 1984
Since the days when peach ice cream tasted like peach ice cream, Teddy Tinling's grace and sense of history have meant as much to tennis as his dress designs
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July 09, 1984

A Head To Heed

Since the days when peach ice cream tasted like peach ice cream, Teddy Tinling's grace and sense of history have meant as much to tennis as his dress designs

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Elizabeth could never beat Suzanne, but she was a superb doubles player and she achieved a Wimbledon record of 19 titles—12 in women's doubles and seven in mixed—that stood for 45 years, until Billie Jean King broke it in 1979. Elizabeth simply would have none of that. Out of the blue, she dropped dead the day before Billie Jean won No. 20. "I can still remember being with Elizabeth in a tea room in Cannes after she had lost a match, and her screaming, 'I have just been beaten, and I must be taken care of,' " Teddy recalls. "Oh, that was my upbringing."

Tinling has a sweet tooth, and he and Elizabeth used to go from ice cream parlor to ice cream parlor, rather like pub crawling, ordering peach ice cream at every stop. "Now, of course, peach ice cream doesn't taste like peach ice cream anymore," he says. "So what's the point? But then...."

Elizabeth liked to throw the peach ice cream down, so it would get her nose all cold inside. You know the way eating ice cream too quickly can do that to you? On this particular day, she ate a huge spoonful like that, and was catching her breath when a horrified woman said, "If you wouldn't eat so much so fast it wouldn't do that to you."

Elizabeth sneered and said, "Oh, and why do you think I eat peach ice cream?"

The Tennis Tyro thought that may be Teddy's best story because it catches everything so perfectly. With that anecdote it's easier to understand how the people stood around then, differently.

Teddy has known all the great players since Lenglen, which helps, he says, because, "People don't know how to handle stars anymore," as he does. After Lenglen came Helen Wills Moody: "Absolutely beautiful." Alice Marble: "The first real jock, carefree." Maureen Connolly: "The first whiz kid; the ideal body for a woman tennis player—a mosquito torso on piano legs." Althea Gibson: "I would always hand it to a pioneer, especially because I was a pioneer myself." Maria Bueno: "Dazzling; the closest to Suzanne in her grace." Margaret Smith Court: "As magnificent as she was, she never played her best at Wimbledon, but saved her finest for Forest Hills." Virginia Wade: "What luminous eyes; it's very important, I think, to have luminous eyes." King: "Madame Superstar." Evonne Goolagong: "Nature's sprite." Evert Lloyd: "The most gracious of all our champions."

Teddy felt no need to say anything more about Navratilova, for last year he said of her, "Finally, I have seen someone who can play better than Suzanne." Those words didn't come easily. "But I have no regret," Teddy told the Tyro, "because I'm quite sure that if Suzanne were here, she would say, 'Teddy, dear, that's perfectly all right of you, so long as I have the opportunity to play her and prove you wrong,' which Suzanne might very well do."

Unlike many old people who revere the past, Teddy doesn't carry it about with him. The reason may be that he has so much tennis jammed into his satchels, and sport, unlike so much else, can never stay in the past. Games never stop, as wars and lives and empires do. "Tennis is the ongoing thread in my life," says Teddy. "One absorbs the tone of life"—and here he gestures toward his heart, which today is beneath a gold chain under a checked suit—"and with that, one accommodates to what has now become appropriate. The peripherals. Some things are immortal, so then it's all a matter of updating the peripherals. Why, any moment now, it's actually going to be fashionable again to say that you like Wimbledon."

I never understand people analytically until I dress them. After all, at cocktail parties, doctors don't go round taking pulses.

The Tennis Tyro wanted to hear about clothes. Actually, only after the war did Teddy turn to tennis fashions. He had made just one tennis dress—for Suzanne, of course, but she died of pernicious anemia in 1938 without ever wearing it. When the war was over, in a country where it was hard to come by ties and scarves, there was precious little demand for ball gowns. So it was logical for a designer who loved tennis to begin to design tennis dresses. Logical, except—remarkable as this may sound to a suburban generation that has grown up wearing tennis clothes to the supermarket and for periodontal surgery (or giving same)—at the time there simply was no such thing as tennis fashion. Most of the women players wore boyish and utilitarian outfits, while the men favored baggy Navy surplus shorts and T shirts. "The most knowledgeable tennis audience ever was that at Wimbledon in the 1930s," Teddy says. "Those people wanted nothing of frills, nothing on the periphery."

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