Allen Fox: The Ph.D Candidate Who Played In The First Grand Slam Of The Open Era - UBITENNIS
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Allen Fox: The Ph.D Candidate Who Played In The First Grand Slam Of The Open Era

On the 50th anniversary of the Open Era in grand slam tennis, one former player speaks about his experience at the 1968 French Open.

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The entire month of May, in Paris, fifty-years ago was a memorable and perplexing time. The local civil disturbance led by university students and workers eventually enveloped the entire country and nearly brought France to a virtual standstill. The police used heavy handed tactics in an attempt to clear the Paris streets of all of those who were seeking “individual rights”. (In truth, the reasons for the uproar were much more complex.) French President Charles de Gaulle stood strong and refused to resign. He finally decided to disband the National Assembly and hold elections on June 23rd. Though the voting made his Gaullist Party even stronger as it earned 353 of the 486 legislative seats that were available, de Gaulle lost. The French people made it clear that they believed the World War II hero had grown too old, too ego-centric and much too out of touch with the times to continue as their leader.

 

While the riots were raging, tennis history was being made. Roland Garros, contested from May 27 until June 9, 1968, was equally revolutionary. It was the first Grand Championship of the Open Era. Allen Fox took a break from completing his Ph.D. in psychology at UCLA in Westwood, California to play the tournament. (It is ironic that the tumult in the work places provided the people of Paris with free time and looking for a diversion, they came in record numbers to Stade Roland Garros.)

The recollections of Fox, a regular U.S. Top 10 performer, offer “looking back” insight on a period when the game, much as the world as a whole, dramatically changed its course.

In his first-round match at Roland Garros, Fox routed Alfredo Acuna of Peru 6-2, 6-1, 6-0. “Alfredo was a great guy and became a good friend of mine”, he remembered. “He actually became the best player in Peru, but he was young then, and I was especially tough on young, inexperienced players. I don’t think I realized how good he was, so I was loose and confident. I always played matches at 100%, so I wasn’t about to ease up on him in a major championship.” 

John Alexander was Fox’s next opponent. Soon to be 17, he was an Australian star in the making. “He was young and talented, and though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was slightly over the hill by 1968. But, I thought I would beat him anyway because the clay slowed his attacking game down.

As a UCLA undergraduate, Fox was a three-time All-American, between 1959 and ‘61. He won the NCAA doubles title with UCLA teammate Larry Nagler in 1960 and was the singles champion in 1961. While these are impressive tennis statistics, he was more fulfilled by his academic accomplishments. As a senior, he earned All-UCLA and All-University of California Athlete of the Year honors, which were presented to the Best Scholar-Athlete in the University of California system.

With all his “educational smarts”, Fox made a critically bad choice the night prior to his match with Alexander. He recalled, “I had never played him before. But, I went out the night before the match and ate sausages and sauerkraut for dinner. Then I was up all night with diarrhea and vomiting. It was a hot day, and by the fifth set I was starting to cramp. I played ‘within myself’ to avoid the cramps, but when I got an easy volley and put it away for double match point, I got excited and really cramped. I was up 40-15 on my serve and laying on the court with cramps all over my body. Alexander was kind enough to give me five minutes to work them out, which I barely did. When I was finally able to serve, I ‘pushed’ it in. He returned it and came to net, and I choked on a backhand passing shot. On the next point, I came to net and he lobbed. I couldn’t jump, so I just stood there as the low lob simply went over my head. At 6-6, I finally had to retire”.

The score that went into the Roland Garros record book was 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 11-9, 6-6, Retired. Fox added, “I was lucky I didn’t end up in the hospital. I was so dehydrated.”

He made his Roland Garros debut in 1965, and explained, “That was the year I traveled with Donald (Dell, who would go on to found ProServ, the agency that represented players like Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith and Jimmy Connors to name just a few of his clients). We spent six months in Europe and six months in Africa.”

In his first match, Fox played Billy Knight of Great Britain in the second round, (because both players had first round byes). After winning the first set 6-0, Knight took control and closed things out, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. “I don’t remember all the details, but I do remember that he had a big topspin forehand, flaming red hair, and moved fast around the court. As an aside, I generally liked playing lefties (as Knight was) because they served into my backhand which was my best side, and they tended to slice their backhands (which Knight did) and I could get to the net attacking that side. Clearly, it didn’t do me much good against him.”

In 1966, a year later, Fox accomplished a never to be equaled triumph. Having just begun graduate school at UCLA, he rode his motorcycle each day from the university to the Los Angeles Tennis Club, in West Los Angeles, to participate in the Pacific Southwest. Eight of the world’s top 10 players were in the draw, and he scored a “personal Grand Slam” defeating Wimbledon champion Manuel Santana, Roland Garros titlist Tony Roche, U.S. National winner Fred Stolle and Australian titleholder, Roy Emerson. (The tournament was held annually the week following the U.S. National Championships in Forest Hills, New York, and Los Angeles served a stop-over for Australian and other international players who had played at Forest Hills and were on their way home.)

“In the round of 16, I played Santana,” Fox said. “It was a hot and smoggy day. I had grown up in Los Angeles, so I had ‘leather lungs’. I won a close first set, and Manuel didn’t have much left in the second. I look on it as a ‘cheap victory’.”

Roche was next up. “I started very well and began feeling I could play with these guys,” Fox noted. “I won the first set and was up 4-1 in the second and serving, when ‘the incident’ took place.  On the first point, I hit the best backhand passing shot I had ever hit. On the next point, he hit a return and I scraped a backhand volley off my shoestrings. I hit it up the line and it was just in. Roche got to the ball and hit it two yards wide. In those days, the linesmen called the line through the length of the court. The guy making the call went into some sort of ‘psychic trance’ and signaled my shot was good. He forgot to call Roche’s out. The umpire, thinking the lineman had called Roche’s shot good, said the score was 15 – 15. I went crazy. I started jumping up and down in protest.  Roche, who is one of the classiest guys you will ever meet, walked up to me and said, ‘I’ll throw you the next point’. I said, ‘next point, I want the next two, I should be up 30 – 0’. I really wanted to win the match because the semifinal was going to be on television and it would be seen in Los Angeles.”

After downing Roche in straight sets. Fox, who was half way through his own Grand Slam, faced Stolle in the semifinals. He remembered, “For whatever reason, I used to beat him regularly. Though the public considered me the underdog, I was confident. I had defeated him the year before at the Southwest, and felt I was the favorite. Because I was so confident, I didn’t play well. I played safe. It was a ‘hold on’ win.”

With another straight set victory in hand, Emerson was his final round opponent. “Prior to the start of the match, I would have bet a lot of money he would beat me,” Fox admitted. “He won the toss and elected to receive, figuring I would be tight. I won the game at love. In a short time, I realized I was playing very well. He had a tough serve, yet I would hold mine at 15 and would take him to deuce or have ads. The ball seemed to be coming ‘so slow’ I could do whatever I wanted. Years later I realized I was in what people have called ‘the zone’.”

Fox won the first set 6-3 and was up 5-3 with Emerson serving in the second.  “I did get a bit nervous in this game,” he recalled. “I got the score to deuce and he served wide. I was outside the doubles alley and bunted back a chest high return that he volleyed into the open court. Ordinarily with Emerson, on a shot like that, the point was over, and you just moved to the other side to receive his next serve. But, I ran it down, my legs were moving with lightning speed, and threw up a very high lob. He was on the sunny side [of the court] and missed it.

“On my first match point, he ran a serve off the line and I hit the return into the net. On the second deuce, he served wide again, I just got my racquet on it, ran his volley down, tossed up another very high lob and he missed the overhead again. After missing his first serve, he played it safe spinning the second one in. It was short, and I really hit it. He ran wide, just got to the ball and floated a ‘duck’ back to me at mid-court. I remember running to the ball thinking I will never, in my life, have an easier shot to win the Pacific Southwest. I also remember not being able to feel my arm. I was so tight, but I hit the ball as hard as I could with as much top spin as possible. Thank God it went in.”

Fox remembered, “The crowd went wild. I got a standing ovation because I was such an underdog.”

After he completed his education, Fox became a widely recognized sports psychologist, and has worked with a host of players on the tour. He authored a number of highly respected books including “Think to Win: The Strategic Dimension of Tennis”, “If I’m The Better Player, Why Can’t I Win?”, and “The Winner’s Mind: A Competitor’s Guide to Sports and Business Success.” He also served as the men’s tennis coach at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, for 17 years. Among the performers he guided were Brad Gilbert, Kelly Jones and Martin Laurendeau, former Canadian Davis Cup team captain and current coach of Denis Shapovalov.

“Looking back for players like (Rod) Laver, (Ken) Rosewall and (Richard “Pancho”) Gonzalez, Roland Garros in 1968 was very important,” Fox concluded. “It was significant because they had been excluded for so long. Now, all the good players could compete. The reaction of the amateurs was simple. With Open Tennis, there were more good players to worry about.”

Fifty years may seem like a very long time when one is young and hopeful. Looking back on those years is a curious mix of eye opening reminders of a life well lived and every step that it took to arrive at today. The Terre Battue of Roland Garros was the red carpet that opened the door to countless players who spent years perfecting their skills and now, today’s players are able to take full advantage for their labors. Open Tennis provided that platform, and it all began fifty years ago.

Grand Slam

French Open 2021: ‘Philanthropic’ Prize Money, Hour Of Freedom For Players And Murray’s Possible Wildcard

Details about the upcoming Grand Slam event have been revealed.

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The French Open has vowed to support those who have been the most severely affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic after publishing details of their plans.

 

A ‘Philanthropic’ prize money fund has been set out by the French Tennis Federation (FFT) which has been designed to help lower ranked players on the Tour participating. The money pot for this year’s event will be 34m euros which is a fall of roughly 4m euros compared to 2020. However, there will be no changes made to the winnings on offer during qualifying and the first two rounds of the singles tournaments.

In light of the current situation, we are proud to have once again opted for a philanthropic prize fund, which allows us to support the players who have been severely affected by the health crisis, financially-speaking,” tournament director Guy Forget said.

After delaying the start date of the tournament by a week earlier this year, the French Open will welcome fans to their event. Under an agreement with the government, 5388 spectators will be allowed to attend each day between 30th May to 8th June. Then from the 9th June they will welcome 5000 spectators with a ‘health passport’ to the Philippe Chatrier Court and the number allowed inside the stadium will increase to 13,146. However, only one out of the 10 night sessions will be opened to the public this year due to the 9pm curfew. The only exception will be on June 9th when the curfew is extended to 11pm.

As for the players, they will have to abide by a strict health and safety protocol which has been ‘inspired by the one adapted by the WTA and the ATP.’ Upon arrival at their hotels, they will be required to have a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their first match. They will only be granted permission to attend Roland Garros if that test is negative. From then on, they will be tested every four days.

However, players will be allowed one hour each day to spend time ‘outside their social distance bubble.’ The idea being that they can go out for a jog or enjoy some ‘fresh air.’

“Our goal is not to put them in a necklace and attach them to their hotel or to the Roland Garros stadium,” Forget stated.

Forget says players will have access to restaurants and fitness facilities in their hotels but will not be allowed to train at Roland Garros on the day they don’t have matches.

Murray a wildcard contender

Former world No.1 Andy Murray faces a wait to see if he is eligible for a wildcard this year but Forget says he does ‘deserve’ one given his credentials. The Brit has fallen down to 123rd in the world and as it currently stands will have to take part in the qualifying tournament if he wishes to play at the Grand Slam.

“I know that Andy entered the qualifying (rounds), I know he’s practising right now in Rome, I saw him play some games and sets with Novak Djokovic,” Forget said.
“Andy is a great player, he sure deserves one (a wildcard). It is a discussion we have to have with him and our team. We want to see him in good shape, I hope he feels well.
“He hasn’t played any matches yet, which is obviously what any player wants to do before committing to a big tournament, especially when you are going to play the best-of-five sets.”

Murray is yet to play a singles match on the clay this season but is taking part in the doubles tournament at the Italian Open this week after receiving a last-minute entry. He is paired up with Liam Broady.

“It’s the French Open’s decision what they want to do – I’d love the opportunity to play there but I also respect they have lots of good players, lots of players ranked between 120 and 160, and I haven’t been fit for the last three or four months,” Murray told BBC Sport.
“I appreciate for them they would want to see me play matches. I’ve done all the training and physically I’m fit but it is different playing matches and that’s where I obviously need to prove myself.”

The French Open qualifying tournament will start on May 24th followed by the main draw a week later. Officials are yet to reveal which players they will issue wildcards to.

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Outlook Positive For French Open But Rules Could Change Again, Warns Government

There is growing hope that a significant number of spectators could be allowed to attend but it can’t be guaranteed.

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A recent announcement concerning the number of spectators allowed to attend this year’s French Open should be met with caution, according to a senior government official.

 

Recently the French government outlined their plan for lifting the national lockdown which includes allowing fans back to sporting events. Under their current guidelines, the Grand Slam is set to welcome 1000 spectators per day initially with that number increasing to 5000 in the last five days. The reason for the increase is because the tournament takes place during the same time the country enters ‘phrase three’ of their plans which allows bigger public events providing attendees have been vaccinated or can provide a negative COVID-19 test.

The decision has brought delight to the French Tennis Federation (FFT) who delayed the start of the tournament by a week in hope they would be able to welcome more fans. Furthermore, L’Equipe has reported that up to 12,500 people could be allowed to attend the tournament should it get a ‘test event’ status.

“I am delighted that the discussions with the public authorities, the governing bodies of international tennis, our partners and broadcasters, and the ongoing work with the WTA and ATP, have made it possible for us to postpone the 2021 Roland-Garros tournament by a week. I thank them for this,” Gilles Moretton, president of the FFT said in a statement on the Roland-Garros website.

However, the FFT are not celebrating just yet amid a warning that it is still possible that rules relating to spectators could still change in the coming weeks depending on the COVID-19 pandemic. Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu has told Reuters it is possible that the latest roadmap out of lockdown could be adjusted.

“Something that may be decided today may change a week before the event, or two days before the event, depending on the evolution of the health crisis,she said.
“If we offer this visibility to the participants and organizers today, they know that this visibility can be modified according to the evolution of the transmission of the virus.”
I hope that there are no last-minute changes (in the health situation) and that we can work on these protocols sufficiently in advance to know where we stand,” Maracineanu added.

As for players attending the Grand Slam they have been ‘strongly advised’ not to visit any ‘Bright Red’ countries leading up to the event. In a recent email sent to players from the ATP, anybody arriving from India, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and South Africa will be required to go into a 10-day quarantine.

France’s daily Covid infection fell to an almost two-month low on average on Monday but hospitalizations increased by 132.

The French Open will start on 30 May and run until 13 June.

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Ash Barty Ready To Embrace Wimbledon Bubble But Konta Hopes For Rule Change

The two top 20 players speak out about the rules that will be enforced at the grass-court major this year.

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MUTUA MADRID OPEN DE TENIS 2021 FOTO: A.NEVADO/MMO

Women’s world No.1 Ash Barty says the new restrictions being implemented at this year’s Wimbledon Championships are worth it if she gets to play at the Grand Slam again.

 

The grass-court major is set to take place this year with players facing the strictest rules in the tournament’s history due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All participants will be required to stay within a biosecure bubble at approved hotels. Private housing will not be allowed and even those who may have a house in the city will not be allowed to stay there during their time at Wimbledon. Anybody who breaks the rules faced being disqualified from the event, as well as a fine of up to £14,000.

“It will be strange, without a doubt. But to be a little bit strange, to still be able to play Wimbledon, is certainly my preference,” Barty said following her first round win at the Madrid Open on Wednesday. “It would be a shame to not be able to play that incredible tournament.”

Last year’s Wimbledon Championships got cancelled for the first time in the Open Era due to the pandemic. Unlike the other majors it had the luxury of a pandemic insurance which helped cover the costs. Chairman Ian Hewitt said the total insurance payout amounted to £180 million.

This year there is no pandemic insurance available and officials are planning for a 25% capacity. The tournament is set to start a week after the UK is scheduled to end all of their national restrictions related to the pandemic. Although the timeline could change in the coming weeks depending on case numbers.

“We’re still a couple months away yet. Hopefully in the UK things can settle down, and some sort of normality outside would be brilliant for everyone,” Barty commented.

Konta holding on to hope

MUTUA MADRID OPEN DE TENIS 2021. FOTO: A.MARTINEZ/MMO

Britain’s top player Johanna Konta is less enthusiastic about the prospect of entering another bubble at her home Grand Slam. The world No.18 reached the semi-finals back in 2017 when she became the first British woman to do so since 1978.

“I’m still very hopeful that that might shift and change. As of now I’m just holding onto that hope,” she said about the prospect of having to stay in a hotel instead of her home.

Another blow to the grass season this year is the fact it’s duration has been cut by a week due to the French Open. The French Tennis Federation announced a seven-day delay in a move to maximise their chances of opening their event up to the public. France is currently in a national lockdown.

“I definitely don’t think it’s ideal for the build-up. Wimbledon has obviously lost that week, hopefully just for this year,” Konta admits. “However, I think everyone is just trying to do what’s best for themselves but overall best for the events being put on.”

Earlier this week Wimbledon conducted their annual spring press conference where they revealed plans to introduce play on the middle Sunday. AELTC chief executive Sally Bolton also played down the chances of their bubble plans being changed.

The minimised risk environment we created for the players is a requirement from the government to bring athletes without them going into quarantine upon entry into the UK,” Bolton told reporters.

The Wimbledon Championships will start on June 28th.

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