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20 Days That Rocked the Tennis World

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 1874

Walter Clopton Wingfield patents a form of the game he calls “sphairistike,” which eventually gives way to modern lawn tennis.  Sets of Major Wingfield’s game sell for five guineas, replete with plain rubber balls, four pear-shaped rackets and a triangular net.  The original court is hourglass-shaped.

TUESDAY, MAY 25, 1875

The first official codebook is published by London’s Marylebone Cricket Club, forever transforming tennis from a pastime into a sport.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 1889

The U.S. Lawn Tennis Association officially recognizes the women’s game.

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 1900

Dwight Filley Davis donates a sterling punch bowl (sometimes called Davis’ pot, but initially entitled the International Lawn Tennis Challenge Trophy) for the Davis Cup competition.  Purchased at Boston’s renowned jeweler Shreve, Crump & Low, the cup weighs 217 troy ounces and is 13 inches in length.

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 1926

Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills meet in what one writer calls “the most important event in modern times exclusively in the hands of the fair sex.”  More than 3,000 frenzied fans cram into the Carlton Club in Cannes, France as Lenglen tops Wills 6-3, 8-6 in one hour, three minutes.

MONDAY, AUGUST 2, 1926

Suzanne Lenglen accepts more than $50,000 from American promoter Charles Pyle for a series of professional matches in North America, marking the start of pro tennis as a career.  Lenglen is joined by Mary K. Browne, Vincent Richards, Bill Tilden, Howard Kinsey, Harvey Snodgrass and Paul Feret on the circuit, which kicks off at New York’s Madison Square Garden on October 9, 1926 in front of 13,000 spectators.  Over the next four months, Lenglen builds a flawless 38-0 mark against Browne.

TUESDAY, JULY 20, 1937

Don Budge, 22, rallies from a 4-1 fifth-set deficit to defeat Baron Gottfried von Cramm 6-8, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 8-6 in the deciding match of the Davis Cup Interzone Final between the U.S. and the Bill Tilden-coached Germans — a win that had implications far beyond the tennis court.  “As Cramm and I were leaving the locker room, the telephone rang and Cramm was called back, and it was Hitler calling him to wish him good luck, in this particular match.  Of course, it was quite exciting because the fellow who had charge of getting players out on the court on time [Ted Tinling, no less] had both of us by the arm.  He wouldn’t let Cramm go, and Cramm was saying, ‘Yes, mein Fuehrer,’ this and that, and it got quite to be a tense moment,” Budge later recalled.

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 1938

Don Budge puts the finishing touches on the first-ever Grand Slam with a 6-3, 6-8, 6-2, 6-1 victory over Gene Mako in the final of the U.S. Nationals, adding the title to triumphs at the Australian, French and Wimbledon.

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 1954

The National Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame (today known as the International Tennis Hall of Fame) in Newport, Rhode Island, is established by the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association.  The first Hall of Famers — Richard Sears, James Dwight, Henry Slocum, Oliver Campbell, Robert Wrenn, Malcom Whitman and Joseph Clark — are inducted the following year.

SATURDAY, MAY 26, 1956

After breaking the color barrier of the American Lawn Tennis League, Althea Gibson defeats Angela Mortimer 6-0, 12-10 in the French Open final to become the first black player ever to win a major.

SATURDAY, MARCH 30, 1968

The International Lawn Tennis Federation officially ushers in the Open era during a Paris conference.

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 1970

Jimmy Van Alen‘s vision of a tiebreaker is given its first widespread exposure at the U.S. Open.  The tiebreaker shortens and enlivens matches and reforms tennis’ scoring system.  A total of 26 tiebreaks are played on this opening day of the tournament with Bob McKinley and Ray Ruffles both winning matches in fifth-set tiebreaks.

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 1970

The Virginia Slims of Houston is played, offering $7,500 in prize money.  The event marks the beginning of Gladys Heldman‘s breakaway women’s tour, showcasing the talents of Billie Jean King, Rosemary Casals, Nancy Richey, Peaches Bartkowicz, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Julie Heldman, Kristy Pigeon, Judy Dalton and Kerry Melville — known as “The Original Nine.”  The revolt leads to the formation of the Virginia Slims Tour and the WTA.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 1973

Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King face off in the Battle of the Sexes in Houston.  Some 30,472 fans watch the match at the Houston Astrodome, and another 48 million Americans tune in to ABC to watch the telecast.

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 28, 1976

Howard Head is issued U.S. patent #3,999,756 for the technology used in the Prince Classic oversized racket.  At 110 square inches, its revolutionary design changes the game forever.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 6, 1977

The first shovel-full of dirt is overturned at a groundbreaking ceremony in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, N.Y., marking the home of the USTA National Tennis Center.  The 46.5-acre site becomes home of the U.S. Open, formerly played at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills.

SATURDAY, JULY 5, 1980

In the Wimbledon men’s final, Bjorn Borg outlasts John McEnroe in what many still consider the greatest match of all time: a three-hour, 53-minute 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7(16), 8-6 affair.

FRIDAY, APRIL 30, 1993

World No. 1 Monica Seles is stabbed in the back during a quarterfinal match against Maggie Maleeva in Hamburg.  The 19-year-old star is rushed to a hospital with a wound half and inch deep in her upper back.  There is initial speculation that the attack is politically motivated because of Seles’ Serbian roots, but police later describe her attacker — Gunter Parche, a 39-year-old unemployed lathe operator from East Germany — as mentally disturbed; a loner whose obsession with seeing Steffi Graf regain the world No. 1 ranking prompted the incident.  Seles doesn’t return to competition for more than two years.

MONDAY, JUNE 10, 2002

Serena Williams officially ascends to No. 2 in the world behind her No. 1 sister, Venus, making papa Richard Williams look like Nostradamus.

SUNDAY, JUNE 7, 2009

Roger Federer breaks Pete Sampras‘ record of 14 Grand Slam singles titles by defeating Swede Robin Soderling 6-1, 7-6(1), 6-4 in the Roland Garros final.

20 Days That Didn’t Exactly Rock the Tennis World

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 11, 1940

Germany drops five 500-pound bombs on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, resulting in the loss of 1,200 seats.  Fortunately, no one is in the seats at the time.

SUNDAY, MAY 13, 1973

Bobby Riggs defeats Margaret Smith Court in California in what would become known as the Mother’s Day Massacre.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 1977

Renee Richards (formerly Richard H. Raskind) makes her women’s singles debut against Virginia Wade at the U.S. Open — 17 years after making her debut in men’s singles.  Two years earlier, Richards had undergone a sex-change operation.  She loses the first-round match in straight sets.

THURSDAY, JUNE 28, 1979

During a first-round match against Billie Jean King at Wimbledon, Linda Siegel all but falls out of her low-cut dress in a moment that gave her more exposure than she had bargained for.  Writes Budd Collins, “The coming out party of the 19-year-old Linda Siegel was not on the Wimbledon schedule as such, but it has developed into the most celebrated sporting affair of that nature since the jockey named Lady Godiva won the hearts and eyes of the crowd long ago.”

THURSDAY, AUGUST 30, 1979

In perhaps the wildest U.S. Open match ever played, John McEnroe defeats Ilie Nastase 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in a battle that sees Nasty defaulted by umpire Frank Hammond for abusing officials then reinstated by referee Mike Blanchard.

MONDAY, JUNE 22, 1981

John McEnroe comes close to being tossed out of Wimbledon when, during a first-round flare-up against Tom Gullikson, he famously labels umpire Ted James the “pits of the world.”

THURSDAY, MAY 15, 1986

Ilie Nastase makes his debut as a suspense/mystery novelist with the debut of his book “Tiebreak.”

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 1993

Jim Courier reads Armistead Maupin‘s “Maybe the Moon” during a changeover in his match against Andrei Medvedev at the ATP Championships in Frankfurt, Germany.  Says Courier, “I just felt like doing it.  It is an interesting book.  I felt like reading.”

MONDAY, MAY 9, 1994

The cover of Sports Illustrated asks, “Is Tennis Dying?”

MONDAY, JULY 3, 1995

Jeff Tarango is fined a Wimbledon record $15,500 and banned from the tournament for a year after he clashes with French umpire Bruno Rebeuh, and his wife, Benedicte, slaps Rebeuh.

SUNDAY, JUNE 2, 1996

Ilie Nastase loses to Democratic Convention of Romania opponent Victor Ciorbea in the race for Mayor of Bucharest.  Ciorbea receives 56.7 percent of the vote, while Nastase receives 43.2 percent.

SUNDAY, JULY 7, 1996

A 23-year-old student from London — later identified as Melissa Johnson —climbs over a barrier on Centre Court at Wimbledon and dashes the length of its periphery, passing in front of finalists Richard Krajicek and MaliVai Washington as they pose for photos at the net.  Johnson, who has been working as a catering assistant at Wimbledon, is topless and wears only a maid’s apron (which she lifts up).

MONDAY, JULY 28, 1997

Steffi Graf‘s father, Peter, enters a German jail for tax evasion.

SATURDAY, JUNE 5, 1999

A tearful Martina Hingis melts down during her 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 loss to Steffi Graf in the French Open final.

THURSDAY, JUNE 29, 2000

After smashing a journalist’s cell phone and shouting, “The queen is on the side of democracy, the rest of the country is fascist,” Jelena Dokic‘s troubled father, Damir, is escorted out of the All England Club grounds by officers.

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2000

Goran Ivanisevic makes history in the second round of the Samsung Open in Brighton, England, when he becomes the first player ever to retire because he had smashed all his rackets.  Says Goran, “Next time I’m going to bring 15 rackets with me.”

THURSDAY, MAY 10, 2001

Marcelo Rios is thrown into jail after an altercation with a taxi driver and police officers in Rome.  The incident occurs after Rios, who had been eliminated by J.C. Ferrero from the Tennis Masters Series Rome, was drowning his sorrows in the trendy Trastevere district with friends.

FRIDAY, MAY 28, 2004

Doing his best Jeff Tarango impersonation, Marat Safin is penalized a point at the French Open for dropping his shorts in the fifth set of his 6-4, 2-6, 6-7(4), 11-9 win over Felix Mantilla.  “I felt like pulling my pants down,” says Safin.  “What’s bad about it?”

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 30, 2004

Gussy Moran‘s Ted Tinling-designed white lace panties (sorry, replicas, not the originals) fetch more than $3,000 on eBay.  Moran shocked the tennis world when she wore the undergarment at Wimbledon in 1949.  Cameramen lay on the ground to shoot photos of her underwear that appeared in publications across the globe.  Overnight, “Gorgeous Gussy” was an international celeb.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 7, 2004

Johnny Mac’s talk show, “McEnroe,” debuts on CNBC to a 0.3 rating.