Jack Kramer: excerpts from The Game: My 40 Years in Tennis


Excerpts from The Game: My 40 Years in Tennis by Jack Kramer with Frank Deford
1979, G.P. Putnam's Sons, NY
Out of print, but still readily obtainable used from Amazon.com via the link above.

    The Game is an indispensible reference to pro tennis before the open era. It is packed with amusing anecdotes, factual history, comparative descriptions of various players' skills, and good tennis advice. The only drawback is that the book is rather loosely organized, and at times it is difficult to figure out in which year the events being related occurred.
    However, the book remains pleasure to read. It also includes an index, which is helpful for historical research and reference.

Photo from the book:
Pancho Segura, Pauline Betz, Gussy Moran, & Jack Kramer
at Madison Square Garden on the opening night of their tour.

Female players & the 1950-51 Pauline Betz-Gussy Moran tour (pages 89-95)

    The best female player I've ever seen [up to 1979] was Helen Wills Moody. I never saw Suzanne Lenglen play at all, but Helen is clearly the best of the past 50 years. Second would be Pauline Betz Addie, who is terribly underrated, almost forgotten because the U.S.L.T.A. bounced her out of the game, and next would be Maureen Connolly. That's the top three, far and away, with Alice Marble following them [in her book Courting Danger, Alice Marble said that Martina Navratilova "would have wiped me out"]. Marble played the same kind of offensive game as Billie Jean, only she had a much better serve.
    The top three--the top four counting Lenglen--all played a backcourt game, but I feel confident that any of them could beat Chris Evert on clay because all of them had more mobility than Chrissie does, and all of them could attack now and then. Tracy Austin, at fifteen, has a better forehand crosscourt than Chrissie, and it was always obvious that she could serve and move in naturally to volley--which is something Chrissie just can't do. Chrissie is so steady, of course, that even an aggressive player like Martina Navratilova must play well to beat her, even on a fast surface, but Chrissie doesn't have enough variety in her game to have been able to handle the really great players. Assuming Tracy keeps maturing, I would think that she would start handling Chrissie pretty soon, even on clay...
    ...whatever they may be like off the court, when they go out to play [the top women] are killers. You watch Chrissie, say, when she's receiving serve. She's a cutthroat, her eyes are like slits. And all that stuff about adorable little Tracy, with her pigtails and her braces. Watch her face, she's ready to go for the jugular.
Moody was the toughest...
    ...the first time I played with Helen, I played singles against her. It was the Riggs-King thing in reverse. She was champion of the world at the time--she won seven Forest Hills and eight Wimbledons--and I was the national boy's champion, fifteen years old. I beat her, but Helen played a good game. She would have run today's women into the ground. She played a backcourt game, like Chrissie, hitting topspin off both wings. She had a great forehand, and she could also hit a lob off her backhand that was so well controlled and so well disguised that it made her almost as tough on that side. I also played Helen Will's great rival, Helen Jacobs, when I was a kid. She was good too, but she wasn't even in Helen Will's league.

    Pauline Betz, who later married Bob Addie, who was a sports columnist for the Washington Post, is the closest thing the ladies have to a Segura figure. Like Pancho, Pauline's best was always played a the wrong times and the wrong places. She won three straight Forest Hills, but they came during the war. She also won the first Wimbledon and another Forest Hills right after the war, so she was hardly unknown as an amateur. But just as she was reaching her peak in the 1940s, the USLTA banned her. It was the closest thing to what the Olympic committee did to Jim Thorpe. It was a crime. Pauline had not signed a professional contract, but the USLTA came across a letter from Elwood Cooke, Sarah Palfrey Cooke's husband, suggesting that Pauline might play as a pro, and so she was ruled out as an amateur on the basis of intent.
    The problem for Pauline was that she had no reigning pro champion to campaign against. All she could do was make a country club circuit, playing against Sarah Cooke.
    So Pauline is pretty much forgotten, which is a damned shame, because because not only was she a good player, but she was also the best company of all the tennis women. I can remember Pauline playing pick-up basketball against men at Rollins College when we both were there. At another extreme, she was a master's bridge champion. She was a terrific golfer, great at ping-pong. On the court she was the best athlete I ever saw in women's tennis. They say Lenglen was a great runner, and I'm sure she was, but I can't believe any woman who ever lived could keep up with Pauline Betz. But more important, she was a terrific competitor.     In fact, Pauline was so good she almost broke the [pro] tour one time...

    ...we needed another attraction. And luckily Bobby [Riggs] and I had just what we needed: Gorgeous Gussy* Moran.
    She had just gotten all that publicity at Wimbledon [in 1949] about her lace panties. People who didn't know Pancho Segura from Pancho Villa had heard of Gorgeous Gussy, so Bobby rushed in and signed her for a hefty guarantee of $35,000 against 25 percent--such a nice chunk that I had to agree to let Bobby cut me back to 25 percent too (with no guarantee). We gave Segoo [Pancho Segura] $1,000 a week plus five percent, and now we were set . . . except for the detail of getting somebody to play Gussy.
    Now here was where we went wrong. Pauline was available, she was a great player, and she was in no position to demand a big contract so we grabbed her at a straight salary...
    Pauline was too good for Gussy, but Gussy was still the name. But that won't work in sports. The headline star has also got to be the playing star...
    The trouble with Gussy is that she had become an attraction with lace panties before she had become a champion. She had never been ranked higher than 4 in the U.S.--and was only Number 7 when we signed her. A couple more years and she would have been tough, but at this point in her career she just wasn't any fair match for Pauline.
    Then on top of everything else, Gorgeous Gussy just wasn't as gorgeous as people were expecting. She was pretty... and she has an absolutely beautiful figure. There was no doubt that she was far more beautiful than the rest of the dames in tennis. Unfortunately, after all the publicity, people would settle for nothing less than Rita Hayworth in tennis shoes. And Gussy wasn't looking to be a sexpot; she wanted to be a tennis champion. If anything, she wanted to play down all the lace-panty stuff. I knew we were really in for a lot of trouble when Pauline not only clobbered Gussy opening night in the Garden (6-0, 6-3 in all of thirty-three minutes) but also completely outdressed her...
    We had gotten fantastic publicity too. In fact, in every city we hit, Gussy would be all over the papers. Only nobody would pay to see her play. In {Madison Square] Garden we drew 6,526 (a $16,960 gate)--much the smallest of any tour opener we did... The lace-panty publicity was worthless. All that mattered was that I was clobbering Segoo and Pauline was routing Gussy. And it hadn't taken Riggs long to figure out the situation...
    Our solution was to try and get rid of Pauline... Bobby and I went to her room, and Bobby said: "Kid, isn't there something we can do to get you to sprain an ankle?" Pauline looked at us bewildered. So Riggs, the hustler himself, figured she must be negotiating. "All right, Kid, we'll give you a car if you'll sprain an ankle," he said. In response to this Pauline broke down and cried.
    At this point Bobby caught on that his direct tack was not working exactly as he had hoped, and so he apologized for being so blunt and told Pauline to forget everything he had just said. But as we left, Bobby couldn't help but addding: "But look, Kid, at least try and make it close." Which Pauline was nice enough to try and do. But in doing so, all she really succeeded at was steadying her game. Before, Gussy might have had a good shot at Pauline on one of her bad nights, when she was going all out shooting for the lines. Now Pauline was concentrating and was damn near unbeatable. Poor Gussy, who was not that much of a drinker, started taking a slug of bourbon to relax herself before she went on the court. Plus Pauline was furious at Bobby and me. When Gussy finally did beat her in Milwaukee, Pauline left the court in tears screaming at Riggs "Well, I guess you're satisfied now."
    It was a disaster. Most of the time we cut the women to one set, and then after Segoo and I played, Gussy and Pauline came back and we played mixed doubles for the finale. I could have saved all those World Team Tennis owners a lot of money, because I learned a quarter of a century ago that you just can't make it when your main attraction is mixed doubles.

*Everybody always spells Gertrude Moran's nickname with an ie--Gussie--except for Gussy Moran herself.

more about Pauline Betz and Gussy Moran from 1946 TIME articles

Percentage tennis, and Forest Hills, 1946 (pages 36-38)

    [Cliff] Roche's first rule of percentage tennis was to hold your serve... It didn't make any sense to go running all over the court trying to break the other guy's serve, if this left you too tired to hold your own serve. Priorities. Percentages.
    So what Roche taught me was to play it easy against the other player's serve until he fell behind love-30... Statistics show that on a fast court, a good server will hold serve more than 50 percent of the time even after he is down love-40. So early in a set I let a guy have his serve unless he got behind love-30 or love-40 off his own mistakes. I would just try and keep him honest--go for winners off his serve, try something different--whatever I could do with the least loss of energy. Then when it got to 4-all, I played every point all out (except possibly if he got ahead 30-love or 40-love on his serve.
    ...Roche taught me to play it even safer if you were serving the odd games. The guy who serves the even games serves after the break when he is rested and has had a chance to dry his hands.
    When I won my first Forest Hills [US National Championships] against Tom Brown in 1946, Roche was in the marquee. The first set was a toughie. I won 9-7. Then I went up 5-2 in the next set. Here was a perfect time for a kid to lose his head and go for the break. You're so close to 6-2, two sets to love, you can taste it. But for what purpose: you fail to break him; he's 5-3, you're tired, your hands are sweaty, he's got a good chance to break you, and then he's got a rest and dry hands before his serve. Boom, like that: 5-5.
    I let Brown have the game for 5-3 without a struggle. Then I looked up and saluted Roche, and he nodded back. It was as if I were saying: "I lost that one for you." And my energy spared, I served out the set at 6-3 and then closed out the match at love.

The Racket (pages 134-136)

    While I was getting ready to start [pro] touring, I made my first endorsement deal, which remains the best business arrangement I ever made. This is, of course, my long association with the Wilson Sporting Goods Company.
    At that time I used Wilson's top seller, the Don Budge Autograph. It sounds like I'm just plugging Wilson, but believe me it really was a great racket and I wanted to sign with Wilson, so on the way back from Forest Hills to the coast in 1947 I stopped by Wilson headquarters in Chicago. There I met with L.B. Iceley, the president of the company, and with Bill King, the executive vice president in charge of sales.
    ...they wanted to give me the same sort of deal that Budge and Riggs had. The only substantial difference was that Wilson was proposing to give me only 2 percent on each racket that they sold, and I knew that Don and Bobby (and Elly Vines, too) had all signed for 3 percent royalties. So I complained to Mr. King.
    He replied: ..."I'm usually involved in selling to the large sporting goods dealers, and when it comes time to place a big order, which racket do you think I'll be pushing: a racket that carries a royalty of three percent or one that's only going to cost me two-and-a-half percent?"
    I said, "Mr. King, the more I think about it, the more I think two-and-a-half percent is very fair."
    And it sure was... the Jack Kramer model has never left the shelf in more than thirty years and it's always been a top seller.
    ...I could tell you the extent of the tennis boom from one year to the next just by reading my royalty statements. While I was pro champion, I never netted more than $13,000 in any year [from the racket royalties]... By the time open tennis came in I was up to $50,000 a year, and from there it just soared. By 1975, my 2 percent amounted to close to $160,000.
    ...Tennis is the only sport where a champion can go on forever being a piece of equipment. There's a lot of kids around who probably think I'm some kind of brand name, who don't have any idea that a kid named Jack Kramer carried a racket before he became one.

"Short arms and deep pockets" (page 216)

    The general attitude of the Aussies toward spending cash was best summed up once by Segoo [Francisco "Pancho" Segura] when an Australian radio reporter asked him to name his single biggest thrill in tennis. "The night Frank Segdman bought dinner," Segoo replied.

Schroed (page 181)

    ...at Alan King's Hall of Fame tournament in Las Vegas, [Ted] Schroeder and [Dick] Savitt were playing each other in a doubles match. On match point, Schroed serving, he missed his first serve and then aced Savitt with his second serve. Then he screamed: "And that's why I was a champion, and you never were!"
    [Schroeder won the US Nationals at Forest Hills in 1942, and the Championships at Wimbledon in 1949-- Savitt, however, won both the Wimbledon and Australian titles in 1951.]

1951, Kirkcaldy, Scotland, Jack Kramer, Don Budge,
    Pancho Gonzales, Pancho Segura
(page 56-57)

    When I went to settle with the promoter, he was ecstatic. The sixty pounds advance sale had been only the start. We had drawn so well at the gate that our cut was ninety-two pounds--about $400 in those days. "But laddie," he said as he gave me the money, "you and the boys played so well, we want to give you this." And he slipped me eight more pounds, bringing it to an even hundred. Three figures!
    I went out to the car where the other three were waiting. "How'd we do, Jack?" Budge asked.
    "Great," I said. "We got a tip." And we all laughed ourselves silly and sat there like a bunch of two-bit hoods who had just robbed a gas station, divvying up a hundred pounds--minus the gas money and other general expenses that had to come off the top. Wouldn't you like to see Borg and Connnors and Gerulitis and Vilas splitting up a few hundred bucks in the middle of nowhere, which they just drove a hundred miles to reach?

The best players (page 295-296)

    ...if Borg gains acceptance as a great player for all time, he will surely not be remembered for any one particular shot but for his topspin. Some of the best players are known primarily for a style--[Henri] Cochet hit everything "on the rise," I had the "big game"--but most players are remembered specifically for their one outstanding shot. In nearly a half-century of watching and playing the best, here is how I would rank the best shots:

    FIRST SERVE-- [Ellsworth] Vines had the finest serve I ever saw, but [Pancho] Gonzales, the great competitor, was more consistent with his in the tightest spots. [Bill] Tilden, too, must be ranked, for speed and deception.

    SECOND SERVE-- [John] Newcombe by far. Then Vines, [Baron Gottfried] von Cramm and Gonzales.

    BACKHAND-- [Don] Budge was best, with [Frankie] Kovacs, [Ken] Rosewall and [Jimmy] Connors in the next rank (although, as I've said, Connors' "backhand" is really a two-handed forehand)...

    RETURNS OF SERVE-- Budge first, then Connors; [John] Bromwich for doubles.

    FOREHAND VOLLEY-- Wilmer Allison of Texas, who won the 1935 Forest Hills, had the best I ever saw as a kid, and I've never seen anyone since hit one better. Budge Patty came closest, then Newcombe.

    BACKHAND VOLLEY-- Close among Budge, [Frank] Sedgman and Rosewall, with Sedgman getting the edge probably because of his quickness. [Ted] Schroeder and [Tony] Trabert were almost as outstanding.

    OVERHEAD-- Schroeder just tops here, ahead of Vines, Rosewall and Newcombe.

    LOB-- [Bobby] Riggs, of course. But [Francisco "Pancho"] Segura, Bitsy Grant and Rosewall were almost as effective. Connors is coming on strong.

    HALF-VOLLEY-- Gonzales and Rosewall. Kenny had to learn to hit a half-volley because his serve was so weak that he had to pick up shots at his feet as he came to the net. With his great serve, I don't know why Gorgo [Pancho Gonzales] had to hit so many half-volleys, but he sure learned how.

    Jack Kramer was born in Las Vegas, Nevada, on August 1, 1921. He grew up in a house on 4th Street (5th Street is what became Las Vegas Boulevard, "The Strip", after gambling was legalized in Nevada in 1931). Although he grew up playing tennis recreationally along with other sports, Kramer was in the 7th grade before he ever saw a good tennis player. After that, he says, "I never again considered concentrating on any sport but tennis." Fortunately, his family had moved to Los Angeles, and Kramer got training and competition at the L.A. Tennis Club, at the time, he says, "the one place to play in this country."
    Jack's father paid L.A. pro Dick Skeen $5 a month for Jack's lessons. "Skeen changed my grip, and he taught me to control the ball with spin." In 1936 Jack won both the singles and doubles at the 15-and-under National Championships in Culver, Indiana. After that, L.A. club player Cliff Roche taught Jack to play percentage tennis.

    Kramer missed Forest Hills in 1942 with appendicitis, and was suffering from food poisoning when he lost in the 1943 final. In 1944 and '45 he was fighting the war in the Pacific. Kramer won the US National title at Forest Hills in 1946 and he won at Wimbledon and Forest Hills in '47. He also won 4 US and 2 Wimbledon doubles titles during his amateur career. In late 1947 he turned pro, touring in a series of 1-night stands against Bobby Riggs.
    There were very few pro tournaments in those days. For all practical purposes, this tour of (usually) 4 well-known players was pro tennis. The tour usually pitted the pro champ--the player who had won the most matches on the previous year's tour--against a newly signed famous amateur champ, hopefully the winner at Forest Hills and Wimbledon. That would be the marquee act. In addition, there was usually an opening "animal act" match between two lesser-known pros, and after the main attraction all 4 players would play a doubles match.
    The first pro "tour" of this kind was in 1926-27, when Suzanne Lenglen and Vinnie Richards played a series of exhibitions against lesser opponents for promoter "Cash-and-Carry" Pyle. Lenglen and Richards played only the one tour, and there wasn't another high-caliber tour until several years later when Bill Tilden turned pro and played against Karel Kozelhuh. After that, most amateur men's champions eventually turned pro and toured, including Henri Cochet (against Tilden), Ellsworth Vines, Fred Perry, Don Budge, and Bobby Riggs, who first toured against Frankie Kovacs, and then Jack Kramer.
    Kramer lost to Riggs on the night of his pro debut, December 26, 1947, in New York. Although it was the day of the largest snowstorm in NY history, 15,114 people showed up at Madison Square Garden to see them play. By the time their 5-month North American tour was finished, Kramer had won 69 matches to Riggs 20. 332,977 fans attended the 89 matches. The tour grossed $503,047, of which the local promoters usually kept 45%. Kramer's cut (35%) of the remainder came to $89,000. Riggs had signed for 17%.
    This tour was first run by promoter Jack Harris, then by Riggs, and then was taken over by Kramer himself. After Kramer played against Frank Sedgman in the 1953 tour, he retired from regular play (although he still filled in occasionally until the late '50s) and concentrated on running the tour.

    On March 1, 1958, the pro tour run by Jack Kramer came to an end in Palm Springs, California. 10 years remained before "open" tennis would end "shamateurism", and that decade was in some ways the dark ages of tennis.
    Kramer remained active in pro tennis, however. During Wimbledon in 1966, Kramer was doing radio commentary for the BBC when Wimbledon's working chairman Herman David came to the broadcast booth and talked to Kramer and BBC tennis exec Bryan Cowgill to discuss the possibility of making the tournament "open" to both amateurs and pros. The topic had been raised on and off for years. In the summer of 1960 the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF) had met in Paris and voted on open tennis, but the motion, which required 139 out of 209 votes to pass, got only 134 votes, 5 short. By 1966 public interest in tennis had been at a long-sustained low. Cowgill suggested a trial pro tourney at Wimbledon for the following year, and in late August, 1967, the tourney was held at Wimbledon with total prize money of $35,000 for singles and $10,000 for doubles, making it the largest prize-money event in tennis history at that time.
    The Wimbledon pro tourney was very successful. There was an 8 player draw, consisting of Pancho Gonzales, Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Pancho Segura, Andres Gimeno, Butch Bucholz, Frank Sedgman, and Lew Hoad.
    On March 30, 1968, at the Automobile Club at the Place de la Concorde in Paris, the ILTF met and unanimously approved 12 open tournaments for 1968 and 30 open tourneys for 1969. Kramer helped the BBC organize the first open tournament, which was held at the West Hunts Club in Bournemouth, beginning on April 22, 1968. Kramer later served as Executive Director of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) in its early years.

    Kramer died in September, 2009, at the age of 88. Jack Kramer Obituary by Joel Drucker

Jack Kramer page at the International Tennis Hall of Fame

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