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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Emma Raducanu Draws Inspiration From Andy Murray Ahead Of 2023

Emma Raducanu spoke about Andy Murray’s influence on her career.

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Emma Raducanu has spoke about Andy Murray’s influence on her career and is optimistic about turning her form in 2023.

 

The former US Open hasn’t had too bad of an off-season after receiving her MBE for her services to sport.

Raducanu made history in 2021 as she won the US Open as a qualifier at 18 years of age.

However the Brit has yet to back that up with Raducanu changing coach on a number of occasions as she looks for some stability in 2023.

Speaking in a recent interview with Grazia Raducanu said that she believes that momentum can change quickly in tennis and that confidence is the key to success, “[In tennis] it could look like it’s all going down, down, down and just not getting any better,” Raducanu was quoted by tennishead as saying.

“Just one match can have a big influence on your confidence and once you have confidence and the momentum comes, you feel like you can’t lose. It’s a very individual sport – people are friendly but it’s difficult to be really close with those you’re competing with.”

One player that can relate to what Raducanu is saying is Andy Murray with confidence being a key theme of the highs and lows of Murray’s career.

Raducanu said that she talks to Murray regularly about the highs and lows of tennis, “Andy Murray is so good to talk to because he’s been through pretty much what I’ve been going through,” Raducanu said.

“I have always looked up to him and watched him winning his first Wimbledon and the Olympics.”

Raducanu will hope that she can use Murray’s words as inspiration for next season as she currently sits at 75 in the world.

The Brit will start her season in 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand on the 2nd of January.

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Fernando Verdasco Given Two Month Doping Ban

Fernando Verdasco has been banned from tennis until the 8th of January.

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Fernando Verdasco will miss the first week of the 2023 season after being provisionally suspended for two months after testing positive for the drug methylphenidate.

 

The former world number seven tested positive for the drug at the Challenger event in Rio De Janeiro and has accepted a voluntary ban until the 8th of January.

As well as testing positive for the drug methylphenidate, Verdasco had also forgot to renew his Therapeutic Use Exemption despite the Spaniard admitting that he was diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

In a statement published today the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA), explained why his ban has been shortened from two years to two months, “The ITIA accepts that the player did not intend to cheat, that his violation was inadvertent and unintentional, and that he bears no significant fault or negligence for it,” they said in a statement on his website.

“In the specific circumstances of this case, based on the player’s degree of fault the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme allows for the applicable period of ineligibility to be reduced from two years to two months.”

The 39 year-old will as a result miss the first week of the new season with the Spaniard being currently ranked at world number 125.

In 2022, Verdasco’s best results on the ATP tour were quarter-final performances in Buenos Aires and Estoril while he also won a challenger title in Monterrey in March.

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Canada Thumps Australia To Win Historic Davis Cup Title 

The dream of the North American team has finally become a reality.

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MALAGA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 27: Davis Cup by Rakuten Finals 2022 at Palacio de Deportes Jose Maria Martin Carpena on November 27, 2022 in Malaga, Spain. (Photo by Silvestre Szpylma / Quality Sport Images / Kosmos Tennis)

109 years after making their Davis Cup debut, Canada has finally claimed the trophy after producing two clinical wins over Australia in the final on Sunday. 

 

The duo of Denis Shapovalov and Felix-Auger Aliassime both shined in their matches to give the North American nation an unassible 2-0 lead in the three-match tie. It is the first time Canada has won the title with 2022 being only the second time they have reached the final. Three years ago they missed out on the title to Spain. 

“The emotions are tough to describe,” said Auger-Aliassime. “All of us here, we’ve dreamt of this. All of these guys grew up together dreaming of this moment, dreaming of winning the Davis Cup. It’s a great moment for me and my country…. I am happy we were able to get our first Davis Cup with this group.”

Shapovalov kicked-off the final with a 90-minute 6-2, 6-4, win over Thanasi Kokkinakis who also lost his semi-final match against Borna Coric. The world No.18 blasted 28 winners past his opponent and broke him four times in the match. Besides handing Canada the crucial lead, it was a much-needed confidence boost for Shapovalov who earlier in the week lost to Lorenzo Sonego and Jan-Lennard Struff. 

“I’m very happy with my performance today,” said Shapovalov. “I had a long one against Sonego yesterday and was struggling with my back a little bit. So huge credit to the medical staff for putting me back in shape. There were a lot of doubts if I’d be ready to play today. It was amazing to play pain-free today.”

Closing in on the title, Felix Auger-Aliassime secured victory for his country with a 6-3, 6-4, triumph over world No.24 Alex de Minaur. Producing a total of six aces and saving all eight break points he faced. 

https://twitter.com/DavisCup/status/1596895388077674497

Canada’s run to their first title occurred with a bit of luck on their side. Originally they were eliminated from the finals after losing to the Netherlands at the start of this year. However, they received a wildcard to play in the group stages following the removal of Russia from the competition. Russia and Belarus are currently suspended from team events due to the war in Ukraine. 

In Group B they scored wins over South Korea and Spain to secure a place in the finale this week. Before dismissing Australia, they beat Italy 2-1 in the semi-finals and Germany 2-1 in the quarter-finals. 

“From juniors it was our dream, growing up watching Vasek (Pospisil), Milos (Raonic), and [Daniel Nestor] taking Canada to new [heights],” Shapovalov said. “We wanted to grow up and help the country win the first title. It’s so surreal right now. After we lost in the final in 2019, we really wanted this bad. It’s such a team effort; everyone was putting in 120 percent every day.”

Canada’s team captain is former player Frank Dancevic who has held the role since 2017. 

 “This is a historic moment,” Dancevic commented on the achievement. “We’ve never won this title in the past. It’s the first time for us. It’s an incredible feeling.”

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