Angela Buxton: “Successes & Slights” - UBITENNIS
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Angela Buxton: “Successes & Slights”

Angela Buxton was a special tennis player whose real substance exceeded her performance on the court. Not only did she team with Althea Gibson to win Roland Garros and Wimbledon, she did her utmost to make right social injustices. She was an incredible individual. Mark Winters discusses the career of his dear friend who passed away on August 14th.

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They were the game’s most unique pairing. One was from America’s south, the other from northwest England. They were outcasts who had faced racism and anti-Semitism. As an African-American and an ethnic Jew – Althea Gibson and Angela Buxton had often seen doors closed to them. They were definitely an “Odd Couple”, who could count themselves among the best players in the world. They actually may have been the best doubles team in the women’s game in the mid-1950s.

 

Gibson passed away on September 23, 2003 at the age of 76. Buxton joined her legendary partner on August 14th, just two days before her 86th birthday. She died at her home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Her departure left a huge a chasm in the game’s collective social consciousness .

Buxton was born in Liverpool, England in 1934. It was thirty years before the four boys with those shaggy hairdos and the even more distinctive music made their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. That appearance made the city a hotbed of the emerging music scene. Harry Buxton (formerly Bakstansky), her father, made a fortune as a cinema owner. His wealth enabled Violet, his wife, along with Angela and her brother, to flee Liverpool, the most heavily bombed city in Great Britain during the World War II Blitz. They found safety in South Africa. The family, sans Harry who remained in England, spent seven years living in cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg. A bright and eternally-feisty individual, Buxton delighted in looking back on those days, explaining that she had attended a convent school, with other Jews, and was taught by nuns. During her stay in South Africa, she was able to begin developing her tennis skills.

Her parents divorced when she was 13, but her penchant for the game became even more evident while she was attending a boarding school in North Wales. Fortunately, Harry’s wealth enabled her to spend time with the best tennis coaches. As a result, she became a national star in the 14, 15 and 18 age categories. At 17, anxious to improve, she and Violet moved to Hampstead, in north London. She began taking lessons at the Cumberland Lawn Tennis Club, one of the elite places to play in the country. Eventually, she attempted to become a member and was told, “You’re Jewish. We don’t take Jews…”

Naturally, the reaction was disturbing, but not in the least surprising. Jews were outcasts. For this reason, they had to “go it alone”. In the 1880s, Samuel Montagu, a Jewish banker in Liverpool, was an avid player. His appreciation inspired his family to play tennis on Saturdays rather than traditional weekend escape – croquet. Because of Great Britain’s rigid social structure, the Jewish Tennis Club was founded in Liverpool in 1922. Shortly thereafter, clubs were formed in Newcastle and Tottenham. Chandos in Golders Green was also founded in 1922. The Drive in Edgware began in 1925. Both clubs had significant Jewish membership and were established in north-west London.

I first met Buxton in the early 1990s while covering The Championships. Back then, she was living a portion of the year in Florida and also spent time near London. We became friendly because of our many tennis commonalities. Being a Southern Californian, I started playing on the courts at public parks and eventually had the ability to spend time hitting, (if I had cared to), at the Los Angeles Tennis Club. It was a spectacular facility, literally the Vatican of the sport, in the Southland. More important, it was where Perry T. Jones, the secretary of the Southern California Tennis Association, (in essence, the “Supreme Ruler”), had his office.

Angela Buxton was a skillful volleyer. Photo Thelner Hoover

In 1952, Buxton and her mother came to Los Angeles so she could train with elite players. They rented an apartment that overlooked the Los Angeles Tennis Club courts. But, after her club membership had been accepted and she began regularly playing there, Jones told her she could no longer use the courts, and her membership was simultaneously revoked. If that wasn’t enough, the Buxton’s lease was terminated. (However, their money was returned.) Though Jones didn’t tell her directly, Buxton later discovered the rejection was due to the fact she was Jewish.

Angela and Violet, had made lifestyle adjustments in South Africa during World War II, and now they had to adapt again. They found another place to live and Buxton learned that there were hundreds of tennis courts open to the public throughout Southern California. The good players knew where top level competition could be found. (It was almost as if “Tennis Whispers” passed the word along.)

Buxton discovered that La Cienega Park, in Beverly Hills was the best place to find “a great game.” She took advantage of the situation and even got a job working at the legendary Arzy’s Tennis Shop, a box-like structure, that was a half a block from park.

(In the “Oral History of Justice Richard Mosk”, November 2011, Mosk, a very capable junior, regularly played at La Cienega and went on to become an intercollegiate competitor at Stanford University, revealed, “Tennis in Southern California was ruled by Perry T. Jones, the “head” of tennis there. He was nice to me; he always said, ‘How’s your father?’ I remember he did not care much for Pancho Gonzales. He was reputed not to be very open-minded. I was told he wrote a letter on behalf of Ron Schoenberg and Tom Freiberg, ranked players, who were going up north to play in tournaments, so they could get housing; he wrote ‘They’re nice boys, even though they are Jewish.’ He was at the L.A. Tennis Club, which did not allow any Jews or other minorities to become members.”)

Being true to herself, Buxton kept her chin up and used her “public parks” tennis experience to become a better competitor. She reached the fourth round of The 1953 Championships. That fall, she made an international impression at the Maccabiah Games in Ramat Gan, Israel, defeating Anita Kanter, a Southern Californian who was No. 8 in the world rankings, in the final.

In 1954, after training in the off-season in London and again in Los Angeles, Buxton continued to score eye-opening results. She was a Roland Garros quarterfinalist and later matched the fourth round appearance she made the year before at Wimbledon. The success was a preview of what was to come in 1955. At Roland Garros, she played her way to the third round. In London, she was a quarterfinalist and in her only career appearance, she reached the third round at the US National Championships at Forest Hills, New York.

In our chats, over the years, Buxton made it clear that she and Gibson were a different “one of a kind” partnership. They met while doing a “goodwill tour” in India in December 1955. Gibson, along with Karol Fageros, was spreading “love of the game” for the US State Department. Buxton was doing the same for Great Britain.

CM (Clarence Medlycott) “Jimmy” Jones was a formidable player having won the Queen’s doubles, with American, Wilmer Allison, in 1935. A year later, he reached the Wimbledon fourth round where Allison defeated him. After Jones completed his playing career, he began coaching and writing about the game. Buxton was his foremost pupil. He approached her about teaming up with Gibson and she asked him if he could find out if Althea was interested in forming a partnership.

Color on one hand and ethnicity on the other made Gibson and Buxton loners on the circuit. It wasn’t in the least surprising that after consistently battling for their rights in life, they were formidable competitors on the court. Initially, their partnership was not a marriage made in heaven. Gibson could be expressive. She, as the saying goes today, had “attitude”. She had a penetrating glare that would, from time to time, appear when an easy volley went wide of the doubles alley.

Jones understood the game and picked up on the “bad vibes” she could transmit. More importantly, he realized that “her ‘tude” effected Buxton’s play, so he spoke up. He told them what he had observed and how successful they could become if, and this is a 1960’s phrase, “there is love all around.”

In 1956, they were the “story” both on the court and off it. They won Roland Garros, 6-8, 8-6, 6-1 over the American tandem, Darlene Hard and Dorothy Head Knode. At Wimbledon, they sidelined Fay Muller and Daphne Seeney, an Australian duo, 6-1, 8-6.

Angela Buxton had a solid backhand. Photo Thelner Hoover

Impressive stuff, but there is more to the extraordinary tale. Buxton became the first British woman to reach The Championships singles final since Kay Stammers in 1939. Shirley Fry of the United States was 6-3, 6-1 better in the title round. Nonetheless, Buxton made a monumental impact. She became the first British Jewish woman to win a title and reach a final at the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) in the tournament’s history. With Gibson, she set a much more significant standard – an African-American and an ethnic Jew won at Wimbledon.

Buxton could be brutally witty and never shied away from being direct. I remember talking with her about the triumphs. She got a twinkle in her eye and explained that after the doubles victory a British newspaper’s headline read “Minorities Win” but it was in very small print. At first I thought she was joking…then sadly I realized she wasn’t.

But, for Buxton and Gibson the exclusion didn’t end there. Ordinarily champions are automatically invited to become members of the exclusive AELTC. Not surprisingly, racism and anti-Semitism formed another team in London. Time and again, Buxton applied and her membership got a cold shoulder. She brought out, wearily shaking her head, that at the end of the 1980’s she had been told that “she was the one who had refused membership” and at that point was “sent to the back of the queue”. (Her supposed refusal was untrue.)

It is important to note that the first Jewish member was admitted to the “Church Road Club” in 1952, four years before Buxton’s momentous performance. Thirty-years later John McEnroe, who is snarky and profane, became a member. Yet, Buxton and Gibson are not listed among the elite. The former champions have never been allowed to take advantage of the position they earned as tournament winners.

It was hardly shocking that a spokesperson from the All England Lawn Tennis Club, when asked about the slight, righteously explained that membership at the club is a private matter and “we strongly refute any suggestion that race or religion plays a factor.”

Knowing a wide group of people who are “Members” and having lunched many times in the hallowed sanctuary, I am truly disappointed that the All England Lawn Tennis Club never saw fit to sidestep prejudice and honor Buxton, one of their country’s own, and Gibson, whose contribution to the game will never fully be recognized. Still, the AELTC seems to have followed a stringent policy in regard to these two.

In the early 2000s, Buxton said, “The mere fact that I’m not a member is a full sentence that speaks for itself.” (What was even stranger – Buxton represented Great Britain in Wightman Cup play from 1954 through 1956…and she hadn’t changed a bit, she was still Jewish.)

Sadly, 1956 marked the end of Buxton’s career on the big stage. She had been having problems with her right hand and wrist. In a way, it was appropriate that the 1957 Maccabiah Games was the last tournament she played. She won the singles title and, at the end of the year, retired at the age of twenty-two.

Though she left the court, she was still involved in the game. In 1958, she wrote “Tackle Lawn Tennis This Way”. In 1975, she authored “Starting Tennis”. Five years later (1980) she and her former coach Jimmy Jones produced “Winning Tennis Doubles Tactics”. She was one of the six founders of the Israel Tennis Center in 1976. (There are now 14 facilities across that country.)

The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame formerly began in 1981 and Buxton was one of the inaugural inductees. In 2014, she became a member of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. A year later, (2015), the Black Tennis Hall of Fame honored Buxton for both teaming with and helping Gibson in the later years of her life.

Gibson suffered a stroke in 1992 and from that point on had issues with her health and finances. She contacted Buxton in 1995 and explained her dire situation. Still having status in the game, Buxton reached out to Gene Scott, a former United States Top 10 player who owned Tennis Week Magazine. Scott, who had also been a member of the USTA Board of Directors, made sure his magazine brought out that Gibson was having serious problems. The response was unprecedented. The tennis community stepped up offering assistance and made financial donations.

Buxton never sought credit. She, in effect, followed her soul and the belief that “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” Simply put, she was a “chaver lid’agah”, a Jewish saying about a friend who is there in good times and in bad, and sincerely cares about a person and her life.

Angela Buxton, far right, at Easter Bowl founder Seena Hamilton’s annual US Open party in 2007. Photo Cheryl Jones

What she did was pure and simple – it was the real Angela Buxton. She was a rare tennis talent and more than that – a rare individual. Her love of the sport, along with her faith, made her a perfect partner for Althea Gibson. The African-American knocked down racial barriers while Buxton put fissures in what has often been a long established practice of anti-Semitism. They were both extraordinary in so many overlooked ways.

Rest In Peace – Angela Buxton. You made a difference where and when it counted.

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Internazionali d’Italia Daily Preview: Friday Delivers Several Blockbuster Quarterfinals

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Seeing fans back in the stands was a welcome sight on Thursday in Rome (twitter.com/InteBNLdItalia)

But will we be able to see those quarterfinals on Friday?  The forecast in Rome looks rather rainy, especially later in the day, so it may be challenging to complete play.

 

In men’s singles, two of the quarterfinals feature four of the top six players in the world.  Only one day after a three-and-a-half-hour epic against Denis Shapovalov, nine-time champion Rafael Nadal must face Madrid champion Sascha Zverev, who defeated him in the quarters just last week.  And five-time Novak Djokovic takes on Monte-Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has claimed 17 of his last 20 matches on clay.

In women’s singles, two-time champion Elina Svitolina plays a Roland Garros champion for the second consecutive day.  On Thursday, Svitolina took out Muguruza in straight sets.  On Friday, she’ll do battle with Iga Swiatek, who has won 12 of her last 13 on clay.  Another French open champ, Ash Barty, will play 17-year-old Coco Gauff for the first time, as Coco looks to upset a seeded player for the third round in a row.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s two most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Friday’s play begins at 10:00am local time.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Sascha Zverev (6) – Not Before 12:00pm on Center Court

What will Nadal have left after Shapovalov took him to the limit on Thursday?  Zverev will certainly be the fresher player, and will walk onto court with plenty of confidence.  While Rafa claimed their first five meetings, Sascha has now grabbed their last three, and all in straight sets.  That includes his victory just seven days ago in Madrid, which is part of Zverev’s current seven-match win streak.  And during that span, he’s dropped only two sets.  

In recent years, the quarterfinals of this event have been a stumbling block for Nadal.  He’s lost in the quarters four out of the last six years.  It’s difficult to ever refer to Rafa as an underdog on clay, even when he’s behind in a match.  However, he just might be the underdog on this day.

Elina Svitolina (5) vs. Iga Swiatek (15) – Not Before 6:00pm on Center Court

Svitolina has been solid yet unspectacular in 2021.  She’s accumulated a 19-8 record, though she hasn’t reached a final since last September in Strasbourg.  As of today, Swiatek has compiled a record of 16-5, which exactly matches her record from 2020.  The reigning French Open champ also won the title in Adelaide this past February.  This will be their first career meeting, and it will be interesting to see how the defense skills of Svitolina match up with the more offensive style of Swiatek. 

Elina won this tournament in 2017 and 2018, so this may be the best venue for her to elevate her season.  And despite Iga’s great successes early in her career, this is the farthest she’s ever been at a WTA 1000 event.   Notably, this is scheduled to be the last match of the evening session on Center Court.  If the match gets onto court, it will likely be played in slow, wet conditions.  Even though Swiatek thrived in cooler weather last fall at Roland Garros, those conditions should favor the game of Svitolina.  And Elina has a huge edge in experience at this level, as she looks to reach her 12th WTA 1000 semifinal.

Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) – Djokovic leads their head-to-head 4-2, and 2-0 on clay.  That includes their most recent clash last October at Roland Garros, when Tsitsipas came back from two sets down, only to lose in five.

Ash Barty (1) vs. Coco Gauff – Barty is now 27-4 on the year, and is vying for her fifth semifinal.  Gauff is yet to reach a semifinal this season, but this week she’s played her best tennis in quite some time, taking out both Maria Sakkari and Aryna Sabalenka.

Karolina Pliskova (9) vs. Jelena Ostapenko – Pliskova has advanced to the championship match in Rome each of the last two years.  This is Ostapenko’s second quarterfinal here, and her first in three years.  Pliskova is 4-3 against Ostapenko, and prevailed when they met last month on clay in Stuttgart.

Andrey Rublev (7) vs. Lorenzo Sonego – Rublev is already playing for his 30th win of the year.  Sonego survived an over-three-hour battle with Dominic Thiem, which ended at 11:00pm local time on Thursday night.  Last October in the final of Vienna, Rublev took out Sonego 6-4, 6-4.

Petra Martic vs. Jessica Pegula – Prior to this week, Martic hadn’t won three consecutive matches since last year’s US Open.  Pegula continues to take her career to new heights, as she’s set to debut in the top 30 next week.  The 27-year-old American upset Naomi Osaka two rounds ago.  When they played on clay two years ago in Charleston, the match went to Martic in three sets.

Reilly Opelka vs. Federico Delbonis (Q) – Opelka defeated Aslan Karatsev on Thursday to reach his second Masters 1000 quarterfinal.  For 30-year-old Delbonis, this is his first-ever quarterfinal at this level.  Opelka and Delbonis have never played before, but whoever wins will make their Masters semifinal debut.

Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Nadal survives three-set marathon with Shapovalov in Rome

Rafael Nadal saved match points to edge out Denis Shapovalov in Rome.

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Rafael Nadal (@atptour - Twitter)

The King of Clay needed three sets and over three hours to claim the win and avoid an upset.

 

Rafael Nadal needed three hours and 27 minutes to beat the Canadian Denis Shapovalov 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 at the Italian Open in Rome hitting 29 winners while his counterpart hit 46 unforced errors in the loss.

To everyone’s surprise it was the world number 14 who came out with the faster start earning two breakpoints in the first service game of the match with a stunning forehand winner.

He would break to take an early 1-0 lead and continued to have momentum earning another break and the Spaniard found himself staring at 3-0 defecit.

At 4-1 the world number three would get one of the breaks back but it wasn’t enough as the Toronto native would break one more time at 5-3 on his fourth breakpoint of the game to take the first set.

Once again we saw some really strong play from the Canadian in the beginning of the second set we saw history repeat itself when the world number 14 held serve and get the early break this time with his powerful forehand.

Nadal was fighting to stay in the set and the match and managed to earn a breakpoint but it was quickly saved with a big ace from Shapovalov. The very next game the Canadian had a chance to get another break but this time the Spaniard would deny him the opportunity.

After the world number three held serve he went on the attack looking to go back on serve and after three chances would get the break back. He would end up winning five games in a row and would take the second set to send it to a decider.

The third set remained on serve until 2-1 when the Canadian had a chance to break and he would take to jump out to a 3-1 lead. The break didn’t hold as Nadal came storming back the very next game breaking the world number 14 to love and equaling the set at 3-3.

The set and the match would ultimately be decided by a tiebreaker and in that breaker is when the Spaniard would take over winning it 7-3 to book his spot in the quarterfinals.

He will next face either Alexander Zverev or Kei Nishikori on Friday for a spot in the semifinals.

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Iga Swiatek Saves Two Match Points To Edge Out Krejcikova In Rome

Iga Swiatek survived a 2 hour and 50 minute clash to advance to the Rome Quarter-Finals.

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Iga Swiatek (@TickTockTennis - Twitter)

Iga Swiatek saved two match points to defeat Barbora Krejcikova 3-6 7-6(5) 7-5 to reach the last eight in Rome.

 

The defending Roland Garros champion battled and clawed to victory in 2 hours and 52 minutes after saving two match points.

Swiatek will now play the winner of the match between Garbine Muguruza and Elina Svitolina in the quarter-finals tomorrow.

A summary of the match would be a lot of errors and tentative play throughout as the Pole was too aggressive in the opening set allowing a lot of unforced errors into her game.

Meanwhile Krejcikova was solid but was aggressive with the right angles in the right moments.

This proved crucial for the Czech Republican as she took advantage of Iga’s inability to produce first serves.

A crucial hold at 4-2 was enough for Krejcikova as there were six breaks of serve in the opening set. A long ninth game ended with the Czech taking the set 6-3.

In the second set it was more of the same with Swiatek as she was not able to produce her best tennis.

After going down an early break, Swiatek knew she had to build the points up slowly and gain her confidence. This is what occurred as she got the break back immediately and started to hold serve more comfortably.

Even though the world number 15 looked more confident with her shots and started to construct points better she could not successfully get into Krejcikova’s service games.

Towards the end of the set Swiatek saved two match points as this dramatic contest went to a second set tiebreak.

Swiatek’s mini-break lead was reduced but her fighting spirit was not as Krejcikova felt the pressure and a double fault from her gave the Pole a lifeline as she forced a deciding set.

After spending the change of ends being emotional, Swiatek regained similar form in the final set with her drop-shots being effective.

Krejcikova held nerve of her own as she continued to force the Pole to make unforced errors and just be as solid as she could be.

Swiatek saved three break points in the seventh game to lead 4-3 and then pounced in the 12th game with some heavy returns to take the match and move into the last eight.

Next for the Pole after a mammoth clash will be Garbine Muguruza or Elina Svitolina as she climbs into a new career ranking of 14 in the world.

In other results today Coco Gauff knocked out Madrid Champion Aryna Sabalenka 7-5 6-3 for one of the best wins of her career.

The vibrant American faces world number one Ash Barty who continued her amazing season with with a 6-3 6-3 win over Veronika Kudermetova.

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