I found “On The Decline Of American (And Australian) Men’s Tennis” fascinating. Both Ubaldo and Steve Flink are long-time tennis friends of mine and because they are I feel comfortable offering some interesting food for thought.
The question that was posed concerning the US and Australian decline in men’s tennis is tremendously complex and there are no “set” answers as to what brought about this demise. What’s more, the numbers don’t tell the full story about what has taken place.
I sent the article to a long-time Australian friend, who has a playing background but more important, has been involved in the game “Down Under” for ages. He understands the Tennis Australia system thoroughly. He provided some insights and I will offer mine based on my experiences with the USTA. (As background, I was a “hack” of a player; served as a Boys’ National Team Coach and as a clinician; and have been a tennis journalist for fifty years.)
In both the US and Australia, the national tennis federations have done a horrific job. They continually change course with regard to plans and direction which results in more than mixed messaging – more like a GPS offering “re-routing” or “make a U-turn”. Politics and egos regularly add to the situation’s befuddlement. While this is a conundrum seen in most sports organizations, in tennis it is worse because those in leadership roles, for the most part, share one distinction – They were players. Broadly speaking, just because an individual reached elite status on the court doesn’t mean they have the wide-ranging vision that is necessary (essential is probably a better word) to establish meaningful, building block, step by step development programs. As administrators (and often the same holds when former players try to establish new careers as coaches), it is difficult for them to move beyond the linear focus that served them so well as competitors. For them the future was…the next match, the next tournament and little beyond.
More to the point, federations “do not a player make…” They should offer opportunities to travel and most importantly, financial support, but overall these organizations have yet to take a youngster from the beginning stages of his/her career to a world ranking. This is why, and I realize this is so logical it is often ignored, local coaches, who are much more than teachers but more importantly, communicators, are so essential. If they are able to establish solid working relationships with those responsible for player oversight on the national level, a win-win result…but this rarely happens for a plethora of reasons highlighted by personality differences.
As my friend noted, “It is also amazing how gullible people can be. Coaches get a hold of a viable prospect, and many years pass, until it’s too late.” It is like a seesaw, actually a metronome, always ticking away. Some coaches receive kudos and in time develop a cult-like following. Others who are not dynamic self-promoters, receive little recognition, yet they may actually be better coaches. But, as the saying goes, “BS sells…”
My friend added, “Australia is behind the ‘eight ball’ in the global game because of distance…” There is also the fact, “…Europeans are less prone to thinking of themselves as troops of a national sporting campaign, though an exception is France. Their country’s players see themselves as competitors, not tomorrow’s ‘our world number one’ as Ash Barty kept being referred to during all of last year. That is, until she didn’t make our (Australian Open) final as everyone had hoped.”
In the US, different words can be used but the problem is the same. Youngsters as soon as they evidence almost any repeated success are baptized “The Next”. The “blessing”, as it were, results in microscopic – “Is he/she really…” – analysis, (in both countries), after a couple of good tournament performances. Those caught in this dance try to keep up but the music is constantly changing so their dance moves become muddled. More and more today, there is an added problem. The coach of “the phenomenon” is a parent. Having failed in some competitive sport, they try to have “a new career” as a coach but have little real tennis expertise. Further, parenting a child doesn’t guarantee that the individual is aware of the emotional balancing act that is an intricate part of being a coach/dad or coach/mom. Nonetheless, parents/coaches regularly discuss the sensitive juggling that is required when they have, in truth, been learning tennis as a “father” or “mother” observer.
Tennis is a complex sport. Not only must an individual have some athletic ability, but the skill must be supported by someone (often the family) and bolstered by an individual’s self-confidence, along with either boldness or stubbornness (or both). Perhaps even more important is having the ability to deal with defeat and still make progress. Because of these and other requirements, tennis in the US and Australia doesn’t get extraordinary athletes. It, and I am speaking broadly, gets the “mechanics” not the “creative architects” for the most part. (Yes, I know that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are “creators” but someone like Schwartzman is, and this is not to be demeaning, a very good “mechanic”.)
Another major issue is appeal. With all the sports offerings in the US and Australia why would tennis be especially captivating? True, it is a family game so it regularly becomes part of family members DNA. Still, there needs to be more to spur interest in the sport and as I pointed out above, both federations have failed almost completely in messaging.
Unfortunately, working with “social media attention spans”, which are notoriously short, efforts to call attention to players have become quick to mention “blips”. The article talked about prospects such as Brandon Nakashima and Rinky Hijikata and their position as “up and comers” yet neither governing body has made a novel effort to call attention to the game’s future. It is still selling Lleyton Hewitts …
My friend pointed out, “The European tennis ‘boom’ coincided with the lifting of the Iron Curtain that created a greater freedom for a true competitive mix…” Tennis had been viewed as a bourgeoisie activity that now was open to the “striving masses”. Cheryl Jones, my wife who was a very reputable player in her younger days, has written about the game for years (often for Ubitennis). She interviewed and wrote about Jennifer Capriati numerous times. One of Capriati’s most telling comments was about “having fire in her belly to succeed…”
With many US players this is missing. Oh, they talk about commitment, about how hard they work, but, more often than not, it is all talk. They simply don’t “burn with desire” because there is really no need or inspiration to become a forest fire. A few “ember” wins here and there is enough to maintain, so these people think, status as a tennis player. Not to go “overboard philosophically”, tennis doesn’t consume their souls. They play it, enjoy it and are rewarded by their results, but when asked to reach within and respond to what it means to be a player, it is quantified in wins and losses…not an “I can touch it, taste it” expression of feeling.
These are, in my view, the most relevant aspects of this multi-faceted problem. I thank you once more for bringing this debate to my attention, and I hope I have been able to give “some interesting food for thought” myself.
Ubaldo Scanagatta’s 2021 Predictions To “Strike” Everyone: Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, Thiem, Sinner, and Serena Williams
More than half of the predictions made a year ago came true. The future of Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev, Rublev, Murray, ATP Cup, Davis Cup, Osaka, Barty, Azarenka. Who is going to retire? The ATP finals in Turin and the Italian who will participate.
Dear friends of Ubitennis, this 2020, a rueful year that has finally gone without even apologising for its own existence, was about to give you the latest bad news! What could be worse than the sudden and unexpected disappearing of the Crystal Bald, the only magician who really understands the game of tennis?
The stress caused by this horrible 2020 was hard on him too. It will be said that “misery loves company” because no magician – absolutely no one and not even the legendary Nostradamus – had foreseen the pandemic, no horoscope had mentioned it, but nonetheless it was too hard a blow to absorb for his immeasurable pride to realise that he had made predictions also for the six months of hiatus – he couldn’t act as if nothing had happened.
It is also true, as a partial excuse, that the Crystal Bald reads the future in a rickety silver salad bowl which for over a century has been called, for some reason, the Davis Cup. Anyone can guess how much more difficult it is to see through it, after that a year ago it was suddenly and incredibly muddled by a Spanish gentleman, a certain Piquè, so señor, who moves with cleats under his shoes and works with his feet rather than his hands and a racquet, and who is probably more adept to padel than tennis.
However, in the end, despite breathing hard, his oxygenation at 92, the Bald did not want to miss the appointment. Many colleagues of his have become famous by:
- interpreting the past on the basis of clues caught with ruthless cunning
- committing as little as possible and with the greatest possible vagueness (Nostradamus)
- giving sibylline answers (just like the Cumaean Sibyl) that allow for a thousand loopholes in the event that the foretold does not occur
- eluding any confrontation with the one’s previous prophecies in order not to lose credibility in cases of blatantly wrong predictions.
But the Crystal Bald is unique among all wizards because he is intellectually honest, and he is not influenced by those behaviours that his fraudulent and unscrupulous colleagues have instead adopted.
Let’s start from the comparison with the 40 prophecies of last year. Those that were spot on, entirely or at least partially, if within the same prophecy there were more predictions, were N.1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 32, 33, 34, 37, 38, 40. If I’m not mistaken, it’s a 25 out of 40 ratio. Since the Crystal Bald is not a cowardly magician who shies away from great risks, having guessed right over half of his predictions, and having missed some others just because of the pandemic that cancelled some tournaments, it is a positive result – forgive me for the poor word choice in the current climate; let’s stick with “good result”.
Of course, Covid helped him in guessing the first one (“Federer will never lose matches with matchpoints in his favour,” well, he only played six times…) or the fifth (“Nadal will no longer answer badly to Scanagatta who will be much more careful in asking his questions so that he will not be misunderstood” – we saw each other so little and I was only able to ask him questions via Zoom when I was allowed to!), or the seventh (“Scanagatta will do his best to make Djokovic answer another ‘not too bad'” because the one who actually likes that phrase is him!). In short, it was too easy! Oh well, let him guess some more. But I count on your innate and malevolent perfidy, on your malignant curiosity to go and check out the wrong prophecies and catch the Bald in the act. So, I think you will click on that link anyway.
But let’s be honest. The Bald wrote that Sinner would rise to number 16 in the world, just as Djokovic did the year after his first big leap, and, well, he claims the bragging rights for it! As a matter of fact, Sinner would have actually entered the Top 20 if the ATP hadn’t frozen the rankings, allowing underperforming 2020 players to retain their points from the previous year.
Then there are those multiple predictions like “The ATP Top 5 will be Djokovic, Tsitsipas, Medvedev, Nadal, Thiem” and “The WTA Top 5 will be: Andreescu, Osaka, Barty, Halep, Bencic.” Having rightly predicted four men out of five (with Tsitsipas at N.6 instead of N.5, trailing Federer who only played in Melbourne!) and the first three women out of five qualify them as successful prophecies. Oh well, you know that I’m biased. The first three, Barty, Halep, Osaka were all there, with only Kenin and Svitolina amiss.
The Bald does not do well with viruses and injuries: he was betrayed by Andreescu always getting injured as well as by Bencic. The Magician remains proud of having prophesied the following at the end of 2019: “Berrettini will struggle to retain the eighth spot in the rankings. The odds, after no Italian had made it to qualify for the ATP finals for 41 years, are against him. But we won’t have to wait another 41 years. And then it’s more important that Matteo succeeds in 2021, the year when the tournament will move to Turin and Federer will be unlikely to still be in the race, and who knows if Nadal will be. Years pass for everyone. Staying in the Top 10 would already be a great success.” In the end, things went well for him. Okay, at the US open he lost in the round of 16 instead of in the semi-finals like the year before, but it’s not his fault that he ran so early into Rublev, who is the player to have made the biggest leap when compared to 2019.
Here’s another correct prediction: “Serena Williams won’t be able to win a Grand Slam and tie Margaret Court’s record tally. The Crystal Bald held a grudge for having been betrayed by her in the course of two Grand Slam finals after he had predicted her to be victorious in at least one of them.” Well, it was uncool to conjure such bad luck on Serena, just to avenge a previous mistake, but still.
Now (after 8233 characters already written!) comes the difficult part, however, with the prophecies for 2021. The Crystal Bald sent them to me immediately after Christmas. I’ll just copy and paste, extrapolating only the first one – because it has already happened! “Roger Federer does not even dream of going to lock himself up for two weeks in a Melbourne hotel, without Mirka, his double twins, the babysitter and the cook, risking an injury to his knee only to find himself on a sunburnt court the next day. He’s almost 40, and not crazy! “
Here are the other 44 predictions:
1. Novak Djokovic, if Medvedev will not be in his way, will win his ninth Australian Open: he already suffers from ill-concealed envy in enduring Nadal’s 13 victories at the same Slam, and he would not survive Federer winning Wimbledon for the ninth time. Nole would feel okay only by winning in Melbourne. He will be more determined than ever and super careful not to hit random balls in any direction. Extrovert as he is, he will suffer more in the early rounds than at the end: at first, the solitary confinement in a hotel will weigh heavily on him.
2. Rafa Nadal will not win his 14th Roland Garros. He could be stopped by Jannik Sinner… but Dominic Thiem will win the tournament.
3. Federer and Schwartzman will drop out of the Top 10.
4. Federer will not reach the 109 titles attributed (improperly) to Jimbo Connors.
5. However, Federer will manage to win at least one tournament, perhaps two, albeit minor (Basel?).
6. Shapovalov and an Italian will (again) break into the top ten. Aliassime will continue to struggle.
7. Thiem, at least for a while, will reach N.2.
8. There will be two italians into the top ten at the end of the year.
9. … but in the ATP finals in Turin only one Italian will play – the other one will be a reserve.
10. Jannik Sinner will reach at least one Grand Slam semi-final.
11. Medvedev will always be ahead of Tsitsipas.
12. Rafa Nadal will not win any tournaments outside of clay.
13. Sasha Zverev will fail to leave his second serve struggles behind him.
14. Of Sinner’s opponents at the Next Gen 2019 edition, the one who will make the most progress will be the Frenchman Humbert.
15. Andy Murray will return to the Top 100 but, realizing that he is not as competitive as he used to be, he will announce his retirement (at least in singles).
16. Two or three of these eight other players will announce their retirement during 2021: Tsonga, Lopez, Federer, Karlovic, Verdasco, Simon, Gasquet, Monfils.
17. Seppi, on the other hand, has no desire to hang up his racket: at the Australian Open, he will play his 62nd Slam in a row since Roland Garros 2005. Lopez with 74 is out of reach, Verdasco with 68 too. To match Federer, who boasts a streak of 65, Andreas is expected to play all of them this year. Very, very difficult.
18. Canada will win a fairly successful ATP Cup. A 12-nation edition is better than a 24 one.
19. Naomi Osaka will become N.1 in the world, dethroning Barty.
20. Sofia Kenin will not win her second Australian Open.
21. Iga Swiatek will break into the Top 10, perhaps even into the Top 5.
22. Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens will drop out of the top ten.
23. Among the top ten players there will be at least one former n.1: Vika Azarenka, Garbine Muguruza?
24. Serena Williams will not win more than one tournament and she won’t be in the Top 10.
25. Martina Trevisan will reach the Top 50 in the world (now she is 85) and in any case she will overtake Camila Giorgi (N.76), currently more willing to perform as a Gio-Mila model (underwear influencer?) than as a tennis player.
26. Clara Tauson, a Danish eighteen-year-old and currently N.152, will leap up by 80-100 spots.
27. Kamilla Rakhimova, a 19-year-old Russian player, currently N.155, will enter the top 100 with some style.
28. Fiona Ferro, victorious in Palermo in 2020, will break into the Top 25.
29. Venus Williams will bid farewell to tennis at the next US Open.
30. Lorenzo Musetti will enter the top 80 at full speed, but without reaching Sinner’s best ranking in 2020.
31. The Italian tennis players in the top 100 will still be 8, with a better average than the current one (10-17-33-37-74-76-80-100: the total is 427, the average is 53.375), but they will not be the same eight.
32. The Italian female tennis players in the top 100 will be three and not four. One is Trevisan. In the ballot are to be found Giorgi 76, Paolini 96, Errani 131, Cocciaretto 132.
33. Giulio Zeppieri will gain about 200 spots.
34. Lorenzo Sonego will reach at least the Top 20, neck-and-neck with Fabio Fognini, but he will not overtake Matteo Berrettini.
35. Jannik Sinner will beat the record number of sponsors for an Italian tennis player.
36. Riccardo Piatti will become rich like Cresus, but he will have to choose: either manage Sinner or the Piatti Center.
37. The second edition of the Davis Cup in Madrid will be more successful than the first one and it will no longer force anyone to stay up until 4a.m.
38. Italy will do better in the Davis Cup than in the ATP Cup.
39. Sonego and Berrettini will play some tournaments in doubles and they will do well, but not as much as Cecchinato and Caruso in singles.
40. Monte Carlo and Rome will not be allowed to have more than 1,000 spectators in the stands, the French Open will have 2,000.
41. Tennis will return to Wimbledon, because the All England Club doesn’t hold the insurance card anymore.
42. The numbers of Ubitennis will grow, despite the fact for the first 6 months of 2021 the virus will not have been eradicated yet. The record of 2019 (5 million unique users, 22 million visits, 41 million page views) will be beaten, the sponsors will reappear but not Barilla; the contract with Master Pasta Federer is all but a dead end. Not Federer, just the contract. On Instagram, after crossing the wall of 10,000 followers, it will exceed the 15,000 one. And the newsletter will at least get close to 10,000 subscribers.
43. The ATP finals in Turin, the first post-vaccine tournament in Italy, will be a great success. RAI (the public television company) will try to slip between SKY and Supertennis.
44. Angelo Binaghi will make the most of it. He will be on TV for hours on end. Supertennis was also founded to ensure appropriate catwalks for executives and their pals.
Happy New Year to everyone, to Italian tennis in particular, from the Crystal Bald, the most reliable tennis clairvoyant in the world.
P.S: As director of Ubitennis, I, Ubaldo Scanagatta, despite having had excellent relations with the Crystal Bald for thirty years, warn you not to take his prophecies seriously. The Bald himself smiled and winked at me while relating them to me, magnified out of all proportion by the reflections of the Davis Cup that he kept rubbing during our conversation.
EXCLUSIVE: How To Survive A Pandemic If You Work In Professional Tennis
Amid the heavy financial implications caused by COVID-19, UbiTennis looks at how two leading sports businesses have managed to survive over the past year.
At the start of 2020 it was business as usual for Sports communications agency The Emilia Group and their partnership with tennis. January saw them collaborate with one of the sports biggest events, the Australian Open, followed by the Thailand Open a month later. It was all going to plan until the COVID-19 pandemic not only slowed down their business but forced them to find a new direction.
Tennis has been one of the heaviest affected sports due to the virus with all professional tournaments being cancelled for months during 2020. Victims included Wimbledon, which hasn’t been cancelled since the Second World War. Across the globe, players were left without any earning opportunities and businesses working in the sport faced a bleak outlook.
“We lost eleven events, most of which were cancelled or postponed in the space of a few weeks in March and April, including major events like the Olympic Games and Wimbledon,” Emilia Group director Eleanor Preston said during an interview.
“We’re a small business and in a matter of a month or so we went from being on course to having one of our most successful years since we started the company ten years ago to having our most challenging year by far.”
Over the past decade, Preston and co-director Faye Andrews have managed to establish The Emilia Group as one of the prominent businesses within the sports directory, the International Tennis Federation, two Grand Slam tournaments and an array of events in Asia have been just some of their clients in recent time. Still, their resume was not enough to shield them from COVID-19 with the company losing an estimated £110,000 in potential or confirmed business last year due to the pandemic.
On the other hand, other companies have had a different experience. LiveWire Sport is a BAFTA-winning content agency who have constructed some of Wimbledon’s most popular videos such as the ‘we cheer for them’ video which was narrated by Roger Federer.
“Working in the digital space meant that actually our ability to do our work was not affected hugely, and demand for the kind of services we offer was still high – albeit many of our clients had to balance up the decrease in revenue from live events with the desire to find a way to still engage with sports fans on a global scale and of course to deliver value for their commercial partners, often via social and digital,” Livewire Director and Co-Founder, Caroline Cheese, said.
“We worked with our existing clients to build campaigns to maintain fan engagement, whether that be via esports and gaming, or maximising archive.”
A change in tactics
Like other industries, diversification was the key for survival. Joining most of the population, The Emilia Group got on board with the use of online video chat platforms by launching their own ‘media lounge’ via Zoom. Their goal was to keep the tennis community together while there was no sport happening. Not only was the idea a success with the Tiebreak Tens group backing them, it is now something they intend to do for the foreseeable future.
“They proved to be really popular because people were really missing the informal interaction that you get at events – the chats in the coffee or the sandwich queue, the laughs and the gossip. We wanted to recreate some of that, albeit virtually,” Preston explains.
“It’s something that we plan to keep doing because we could see journalists having to cover events remotely for a while to come.
“I was a tennis journalist on the Tour before doing this job so I’ve spent a lot of the last twenty years travelling and packing or unpacking a suitcase. Tennis is a travelling circus and I love it but it’s also been nice to slow down and step away from it for a while and remember that tennis isn’t everything.”
For LiveWire the timing of the pandemic was ironically advantageous for the launch of a brand new app they have been developing. Its aim is to try and generate content from athletes quicker than before which plays into the hands of the COVID-19 restrictions with those taking part being encouraged to do so from home.
“The LiveWire Studio app is designed to get high quality video from athletes, ambassadors and fans to video editors as quickly as possible. Its launch proved timely, with many sports organisations looking for a way to film content remotely and to harness the power of user-generated content,” Cheese explained about the project.
Adapting was another key element for their survival with The Emilia Group receiving a reprieve from the Lawn Tennis Association. With professional events halted last summer, the LTA launched their own series of events for British players.
Their task was to help with the promotion of The Progress Tour which featured a female-only line-up.
“Faye was on-site for that and the tournament itself was very successful. Those early events were so important for showing how tennis could adapt to the pandemic and still host competitions in a safe way,” Preston points out.
Undoubtedly there is light at the end of the tunnel after what has been a turbulent year. Although the clouds of uncertainty are not going away just yet, Tennis’ return date in 2021 was thrown into chaos due to a plan allowing players to enter Australia in December being ruled against by the government. They will now be arriving from January 14th onwards. Besides questions being raised over the Australian Open, there are also fears even more of the smaller events could be chopped as a consequence in the coming months.
Preston is refusing to reach the point of despair as she aims to recover some of the revenue her company lost, like many around the world she hopes the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines will help aid the recovery more rapidly when it officially comes into effect.
“There’s reason to be optimistic beyond that because even if the vaccines are rolled out more slowly than we are all hoping, the industry and the Tours have done a great job of adapting and showing that tennis can carry on in a safe and manageable way,” she said.
“I think we’ve all learned that there are different ways of doing things and that can be a good thing because it’s our job to make sure that we keep improving the service we deliver.”
Cheese is also optimistic but admits to having concerns about the long-term impact the pandemic could have on the foundations of sports such as tennis.
“The fact that we have weathered the storm so far means I think we remain confident about the future. My main concern is for the smaller sports, events, leagues and clubs, as well as for the long-term impact of the pause in grassroots sport,” she said.
The financial impact of COVID-19 on tennis has been widespread. In Britain, the LTA has seen an estimated 40% fall in income which is roughly £30 million. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic this year’s US Open took place despite a 80% drop in revenue compared to 12 months prior.
Alex Olmedo Was More Than Charming…
Alejandro “Alex” Olmedo Rodríguez, the man who came from so little and made so much from being able to play extraordinary tennis, has left many with cherished memories, as Mark Winters’ story brings out…
He was born in Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru. It is 678 kilometers from the country’s largest city and its capital, Lima. His hometown is known for its spicy cuisine and the volcanic white stone that is used in the construction of the eye-catching buildings and houses that line the streets. He was the son of the man who took care of the clay tennis courts at the Club Internacional Arequipa. He taught himself to play and spent time working as a ball boy at the club. As a teenager, he made his way to the US and went on to become one of the game’s greats.
Though the story of Alejandro “Alex” Olmedo Rodríguez, who passed away on December 9th due to brain cancer at the age of 84 at his home in Encino, California, reads like a fairytale, it is actually a good deal more dramatic than “Once upon a time”…
He first came to the country that would eventually become his home in 1951 to play in the US National Championship at Forest Hills, New York. In a prelude to threads that would be woven throughout his life, Olmedo lost 6-0, 6-4, 6-1 to Jacque Grigry, who was from Alhambra, California and was a three-time All-American at USC. Being the best player in Peru, at the beginning of 1954, the seventeen-year-old became an adventurer. In effect he played a role in the yet-to-be-made John Hughes movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”. Thanks to money raised in Arequipa, Olmedo, who didn’t speak English at the time, journeyed from Peru to Havana by ship, then to Miami by plane, and came to California on a bus.
He ended up at Modesto Junior College, in the town of the same name, in Central California. He took English and other classes and played on the school’s tennis team which was one of the best in the state at the time. The 1954 squad included Olmedo, who lost to Pancho Contreras in the State Junior College Singles final, and Joaquin Reyes, who lost to Contreras in the state singles title round the year before. The trio, who were members of the third Modesto Junior College Hall of Fame induction class, moved on to USC. (In the mid-1950s, Modesto’s tennis program was a conduit to USC tennis and their acclaimed coach, George Toley. Players would finish their two-years at Modesto, then move south to become Trojan competitors.)
Their “good” on the JC level became even better in NCAA competition. Contreras and Reyes won the NCAA Doubles in 1955. The next year, Olmedo doubled, taking the singles title and then the doubles with Contreras. In 1958, he doubled again earning the singles champion and teamed with Ed Atkinson for the doubles trophy.
At five feet, ten inches tall, Olmedo wasn’t physically imposing. But, he had a formidable serve produced from a free-flowing motion that featured ballerina-like tip-toe balance as he tossed the ball up. That was merely a prelude to an exacting forehand and deft volleying. He was extremely quick and athletic. He had flair, along with a feel that combined to make him a solid competitor. Yet, the thing that made him a standout was his approach. In a 1959 story in Sports Illustrated, he revealed that from playing, not the advice of coaches, he learned how to play…
Perry T. Jones, the fabled leader of tennis in Southern California from 1930 until his death in 1970, was unrivaled when it came to controlling the game locally, nationally and for that matter, internationally. Aware that Olmedo had lived in the country for more than three years, along with the fact that Peru did not have a Davis Cup team, at the time, Jones recruited the twenty-two year-old to play for the US. And it just so happened that Jones was the US Davis Cup captain in 1958 and would be again in ’59.
Olmedo, who had made an impression in NCAA play, added to his accomplishments playing Davis Cup for Jones, as a non-US citizen, in the US’s 3-2 victory over Australia. The 1958 Challenge Round was played on the luxurious grass at the Milton Courts in Brisbane, December 29th through the 31st. The “Chief”, as he had been nicknamed because of his cultural background, was responsible for each one of the winner’s points. He defeated Mal Anderson and Ashley Cooper both in four sets and teamed with Ham Richardson to outlast Anderson and Neale Fraser in an epic five set doubles contest. (Barry MacKay, who lost both his singles matches, was the other US team member; and Jones was the non-playing captain.)
In the semifinals, the US defeated Italy 5-0 on the grass at Royal King’s Park Tennis Club, in Perth, December 19th through the 21st. In the last match of the tie, Olmedo downed Orlando Sirola, the six foot-seven inch competitor who began playing the game at the age of 22 (in 1950), 20-18, 6-1, 6-4. The thirty-eight games played in the first set established the record for most games in a singles set. (As the holder of the title, Australia was not required to compete in the preliminary rounds of the Davis Cup.)
Olmedo’s trophy collecting continued at even more brisk pace in 1959. At the Australian National Championship at Memorial Drive in Adelaide, January 16th through the 26th, he defeated Fraser, 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in the final. On the lawns at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in London, Olmedo methodically vanquished Rod Laver, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 in the Wimbledon title round. It was strangely fitting that the match was played on Saturday, July 4th, a holiday celebrated in his adopted country. Looking to join – Jack Crawford of Australia (1933); Fred Perry of Great Britain (1934); Tony Trabert of the US (1955); Lew Hoad of Australia (1956) – as one of the few players to win three of the four majors in a signal season, Fraser gained revenge for his loss in Australia, confounding Olmedo in the US National Championship Singles final, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4.
(The incomparable, J. Donald Budge set the standard winning all four of the Grand Slam singles titles in 1938.)
Former stars of the men’s Los Angeles tournament – Ted Schroeder, Alex Olmedo, Ellsworth Vines, Fred Perry, Arthur Ashe and Jack Kramer Photo Mark Winters
In 1960, Olmedo joined the professional ranks. He enjoyed moderate success on the Jack Kramer Tour winning the 1960 US Pro title, reaching the semifinals at the Wembley Pro events in 1960 and ’63, as well as being a quarterfinalist at the French Pro tournaments in 1962 and ’64. His competitive pro career came to an end in 1965 when he retired.
Shortly after his playing career came to an end, he began another as a teaching professional. Being personable and never too busy to chat made him an institution at the Beverly Hill Hotel. As the Director of Tennis at the legendary spa, he held court for close to forty years. During that time, he taught (and cajoled in a friendly manner) the likes of Katharine Hepburn and the irrepressible Charlton Heston, who played the game as if he were still Ben-Hur (the role that took him to movie stardom in 1959).
During the early 1970s before he became US Davis Cup captain, International Tennis Hall of Famer, Tony Trabert worked with Kathy May regularly at her father’s house in Beverly Hills. It was a mere three blocks from Olmedo’s teaching court at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I was fortunate to be able to take part in Trabert’s workouts with May, who is Taylor Fritz’s mother. On a number of occasions, prior to the afternoon’s at David May’s or after they had taken place, I would drop-in on Olmedo. He treated me like a long-lost friend, often telling me “we had to find time to have a hit …”, or inviting me to come back and have lunch with him. Even more meaningful, whenever I needed quotes for a story I was putting together, he found a way to always be available for a chat. He would not only answer my questions, he would regularly add insights that varied from meaningful, to amusing, to scandalous. He had a magic personality.
Olmedo’s on court success was recognized in 1983 when he became an inaugural member of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Men’s Hall of Fame. The USC Athletics Hall of Fame enshrined him in 1997. He was inducted into the Southern California Tennis Association Hall of Fame in 2000. The ultimate accolade came in 1987 when Olmedo became a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. (And as mentioned above, he was in Modesto Junior College third Hall of Fame class.)
“The Chief” passed away at his Encino, California home. He is survived by Alejandro Jr., his son, along with Amy and Angela, his daughters, as well as four grandchildren.
The man who came from so little and made so much from being able to play extraordinarily well will be remember for much more. The foremost was for giving so many the opportunity to develop a friendship with Alejandro “Alex” Olmedo Rodríguez.
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