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.
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.
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.
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.
Internazionali d’Italia Day 4 Preview: The Men’s & Women’s Match of the Day
On Thursday in Rome, the prevailing theme will be established veterans taking on the new generation.
A trio of two-time Major champions will face three of the WTA’s most impressive young talents: an American teenager who was tennis’ breakout star last summer, a 24-year-old who already has 23 wins in this abbreviated season, and a 21-year-old who was the shocking winner of this year’s Australian Open. On the men’s side, 30-somethings Kei Nishikori, Gael Monfils, and Fabio Fognini will all battle opposition approximately a decade their junior. What will win out on Thursday: experience, or youth?
Sofia Kenin (3) vs. Victoria Azarenka (SE)
In their only prior encounter, youth prevailed. 18 months ago in Acapulco, Kenin pulled out one of the most significant wins of her burgeoning career, 7-5 in the third. But this is a very different Azarenka that Kenin faces today. After years of injuries, personal setbacks, and tough draws, Vika is back in a big way. Following four consecutive losses prior to last month’s Western & Southern Open, Azarenka is now on a 12-1 run. Once she got a few wins under her sails, the floodgates have opened. While Kenin is rarely an easy out, she also doesn’t possess any significant weapons to contain a reborn Azarenka, who remains one of the game’s best returners. The two-time Australian Open champion should be favored to overcome Melbourne’s most recent victor.
Kei Nishikori vs. Lorenzo Musetti (Q)
Musetti has a lot of the tennis world talking after his startling upset of Stan Wawrinka on Tuesday night. Lorenzo, the 249th-ranked player in the world, was the junior champion of the Australian in 2019. Two evenings ago, he dominantly took the first set from Wawrinka 6-0. But even more impressively, he did not fold after donating a second-set lead, persevering to complete the win in straights. His one-handed backhand is a thing of beauty, and his composure is noteworthy. Is Italy’s new star ready to dismiss another top name? Kei Nishikori missed a year of action due to an elbow injury and the pandemic, and is 1-1 since returning. Nishikori certainly has a solid clay resume, but he’s currently far from his best. In a week where Italian men have exceled, another Roman conquering is not out of the question.
Other Notable Matches on Day 4:
Garbine Muguruza (9) vs. Coco Gauff. Coco routed an in-form One Jabeur in the last round, while Muguruza comfortably excused another American, Sloane Stephens.
Anett Kontaveit (14) vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova. Their only previous meeting occurred in Rome two years ago, with Kontaveit winning after two tight sets.
In his first match since February, Gael Monfils (5) vs. Dominik Koepfer (Q), who upset Alex de Minaur in a third set tiebreak on Tuesday.
Fabio Fognini (7) vs. Ugo Humbert. The 22-year-old Frenchman won his first ATP title earlier this year in Auckland. Fognini has only once reached the quarterfinals in twelve past appearances at his country’s biggest tournament.
In a rematch of a dramatic fourth round match from 11 days ago at the US Open, Petra Martic (8) vs. Yulia Putintseva.
And in a battle between two rising ATP prospects, Andrey Rublev (9) vs. Hubert Hurkacz.
Full order of play is here.
Internazionali d’Italia Day 3 Preview: The Men’s & Women’s Match of the Day
The favorites to win this event will play their first singles matches on a busy Wednesday in Rome.
For defending champion Rafael Nadal, this will be his first match in over six months, against a fellow Spaniard who reached the semifinals of last week’s US Open. And this is the first time we see Novak Djokovic on court since he was defaulted two Sundays ago for hitting a lineswoman in the throat with the tennis ball. On the women’s side, top seed Simona Halep arrives on a nine-match winning streak. She was the champion in Dubai back in February and in Prague last month. Simona is joined today by recent Rome champions Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina. But the day’s most marquee women’s matchup features the US Open runner-up against the last player to beat her prior to that run in New York.
Victoria Azarenka (SE) vs. Venus Williams (WC)
Last month in Lexington, Williams comfortably defeated Azarenka 6-3, 6-2. It was right after that loss Vika went on her 11-match win streak, becoming the champion of the Western & Southern Open and a US Open finalist. By contrast, Venus is 0-3 since beating Azarenka, though her three losses have come against top 30 players. Neither woman would describe clay as their favorite surface, but Vika reached the quarterfinals here last year, with impressive victories over Elina Svitolina and Garbine Muguruza. By contrast, Williams is just 2-5 on clay over the last three years. However, Venus has the 6-2 edge in their head-to-head. That includes their two most recent meetings, though Azarenka claimed their only match on clay. Even though it was only four days ago she played her first Major final in seven years, Vika’s confidence level should be enough to get her through this tough opening round.
Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Pablo Carreno Busta
There has been much speculation regarding Rafael Nadal leading into his first match since the 29th of February. He and his team have spoken openly of how affected he has been by the pandemic, which caused him to opt out of traveling to New York to defend his US Open title. And in his return to professional tennis, Nadal faces a man who just five days ago reached his second Major semifinal. But this is a matchup that significantly favors Nadal. He is 5-0 against Carreno Busta, with Pablo securing only one of 11 sets completed. Rafa also has a history of dominating his fellow Spaniards. And Pablo is not your typical Spaniard who excels on the red clay. He actually went just 7-9 on this surface last season. But it will be intriguing to see how Nadal performs today coming off such a long layoff. It’s been a challenging six months for everyone, with Rafa seemingly more impacted than other players. And while Nadal is easily the best clay court player of all-time, he’s also a player who is at his best when he’s match tough. He will be eager to gain some significant court time over the next week in Rome.
Other Notable Matches on Day 3:
Four-time champion Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Salvatore Caruso (WC), a 27-year-old Italian who came back to defeat Tennys Sandgren yesterday in a final set tiebreak.
In a match between the two most recent ATP Next Gen Finals champions, Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) vs. Jannick Sinner (WC). This is Tsitsipas’ first match since his epic loss to Borna Coric in New York. Sinner survived the soap opera that was his opening round against Benoit Paire two days ago.
Two-time champion Elina Svitolina (4) vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Anastasia leads their head-to-head 3-1, though they’ve never played on clay.
Two-time finalist Simona Halep (1) vs. Jasmine Paolini (WC), who upset Anastasija Sevastova in the first round.
Defending champion Karolina Pliskova (2) vs. Barbora Strycova. Pliskova is 4-1 against her fellow Czech.
David Goffin (6) vs. Marin Cilic. Goffin is 4-3 lifetime against Cilic, though Marin prevailed when they met in Rome three years ago.
Italian No.1 Matteo Berrettini (4) vs. Federico Coria (Q), an 18-year-old Argentine who came through qualifying and already has four match wins this past week.
Full order of play is here.
Does Finishing A Match Require The ‘Big Three’?
Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier columnist James Beck reflects on the US Open.
Dominic Thiem has finally arrived at 27 years old.
He’s been good enough for several years to have arrived earlier, but there was always the “Big Three” of Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic standing in his way, along with a list of others waiting to “arrive.”
Alexander Zverev is still waiting with the “others” after being a part of Thiem’s historic rally from two sets down to win Sunday’s U.S. Open men’s final despite both players winning an equal number of games in Thiem’s 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (6) victory.
THIEM TOOK ADVANTAGE OF THE SITUATION
Of course, if Thiem had been playing any of the game’s “Big Three” on Monday, it’s highly unlikely that Thiem would have rallied from two sets down to capture his first Grand Slam title.
Superstars Federer, Nadal and Djokovic obviously know how to finish matches since they are the top three all-time leaders in Grand Slam titles, Federer leading the way with 20 titles, followed by Nadal’s 19 and Djokovic’s 17.
Federer and Nadal skipped New York, and Federer also is not entered in Paris where the red clay event will start in less than two weeks.
But you’ve got to hand it to Thiem. Those forehand passing shots by Thiem against Zverev in critical situations near the end were a thing of beauty, the kind of shots Federer, Nadal and Djokovic might hit in pressure situations.
NADAL MAY BE TOO GOOD IN PARIS
It should be all Nadal in Paris as he chases Federer’s record-setting 20th Grand Slam title, but Djokovic will be there to keep Nadal in check.
But what about Thiem?
The amazing Austrian should be more relaxed this time in Paris — if he is fully recovered from Sunday night’s ordeal in New York. And, of course, Daniil Medvedev and Zverev both are fully capable of winning their first Grand Slam title.
WHAT HAPPENED TO MEDVEDEV AND ZVEREV?
But what happened to Medvedev and Zverev in New York may haunt them for awhile, Zverev especially after blowing a two-set lead against Thiem.
Zverev is a real puzzle after coming back from two sets down to defeat Carreno Busta in the semifinals and then dominating Thiem in the first two sets on Sunday, only to lose.
Maybe Thiem just lucked up this time, hot having Federer, Nadal or Djokovic on the other side of the net in the U.S. Open final. Someone else had to win.
THE AZARENKA PUZZLE
That’s as puzzling as Victoria Azarenka’s last two rounds in New York, not showing up in a first-set rout by Serena’s Williams before taking the last two sets. Azarenka had the exact opposite result in her loss in Saturday’s women’s final to Naomi Osaka, with Azarenka winning, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, over Serena and then Osaka beating Azarenka by the same score.
So, what’s going on in tennis? It’s almost as unpredictable as the coronavirus.
But “tennis things” may return a little closer to normal in the French Open. It’s highly unlikely that Djokovic will hit another lines person with a ball as he did at the U.S. Open, which led to his ejection. And Nadal is virtually money in the bank in Paris.
James Beck is the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at http://www.postandcourier.com/search/?l=25&sd=desc&s=start_time&f=html&t=article%2Cvideo%2Cyoutube%2Ccollection&app=editorial&q=james+beck&nsa=eedition
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