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Be that as it may, Althea Gibson made her curtsy well. By that time she was the winner of 16 tournaments over the winter and spring, from Rangoon to Egypt to London. The State Department can never thank her enough. Moreover, the hard-hitting Negro girl from Manhattan was a much improved tennis player from the shy, lanky girl Wimbledon saw in 1951. She brought to the center court the most powerful service in women's tennis and a smashing overhead game. Britain's able Ann Shilcock, who lost to her, said: "Althea is the toughest player I've ever met." Shilcock added: "She is brilliant but not steady." The same has been said about Lew Hoad.
In her quarter-final match on center court with Shirley Fry, Althea took the first set and appeared to be going strong. Even in the third set it was either girl's match—and the way led open to the championship. But Shirley Fry has been aiming at Wimbledon for a long time too—at least since 1951, when she lost to Doris Hart in the finals. And in her match with Althea it was Shirley who proved the stronger. She kept hitting the returns back, mostly to Gibson's unreliable back-hand, and in the final games even Althea's service failed her.
This year's Wimbledon brought other episodes that will be remembered. Vic Seixas lost a hard-fought match to Ken Rosewall and, in the course of it, expressed his displeasure at some line calls. By the next day or so, Vic had received about 200 letters from the British public, many pro Vic but more of them con. I thought myself that this match had more than its share of questionable calls; even so it will be remembered as one of the best of all the engagements at Wimbledon this year, and one in which Seixas came extremely close to beating his old rival.
Ham Richardson was a favorite with the crowd. His volleying was better than he has ever exhibited before and, as a Yank at Oxford (thanks to his Rhodes Scholarship), he cheered a host of old (dark) Blues. It has been a good while, it seems, since an Oxford Blue has made the semifinals at Wimbledon. I went back to see Ham in the dressing room after his defeat by Hoad and found him happy as a clam—a clam in love, that is. He was already on the phone to Pan American, hunting for an immediate flight to New Orleans and his bride-to-be, Ann Kennington, who has promised to marry him next week.
It should be remembered, too, that the Russians sent observers to Wimbledon for the third straight year. For the first time, they even brought along some players—four men and four women, who did a bit of practice stroking on nearby grass courts but did not enter the All England competition. All of them showed signs of having studied Fred Perry's tennis movies (they all use continental forehands and backhands), and the men and women (see below) seemed to be wearing the same kind of smart stuff Perry prescribes for his pupils at Boca Raton in the wintertime. The Russians are applying for admittance to the International Lawn Tennis Federation, and it looks as though they'll make it. Perhaps in time for the 1957 Wimbledon.
But between then and now there are a fair number of questions to be answered in the world of tennis.
Hoad and Rosewall now straddle the men's amateur tennis world like two colossi. Hoad indisputably is the world's best, Rosewall just a breath behind. They no longer are timid little boys tied to Harry Hopman's apron strings. They don't panic easily any more. They are now on their fifth trip around the world. They have gained independence and with it a poise and confidence which turns stroke-making excellence, which they have always had, into an instrument of destruction.
It isn't a comforting picture for us Yankees who took one of the largest squads in history to Wimbledon, hoping to produce a single spark of hope for our coming Davis Cup battles. The spark never materialized.
If Wimbledon proves anything to us, it is that at this moment we simply are not good enough. It's a hard and chilling fact, but we might as well face it. Our best players are veterans, either at or over their peaks. Our youngsters aren't seasoned enough for the tough international grind.