Alex Olmedo Was More Than Charming… - UBITENNIS
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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…

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Alex Olmedo - Photo USC Athletics

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. 

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Alex Olmedo Photo Modesto Junior College

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.) 

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Description automatically generatedFormer stars of the men’s Los Angeles tournament – Ted Schroeder, Alex Olmedo, Ellsworth Vines, Fred Perry, Arthur Ashe and Jack Kramer Photo Mark Winters

Jack Kramer, Joseph Bixler, men’s Los Angeles Tournament Honoree Richard “Pancho” Gonzalez, Honorable Robert Kelleher, Alex Olmedo, Pancho Segura and Bobby Riggs. Cynthia Lum Photo

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.

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Alex Olmedo at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1969 with Edda Speisser, a childhood friend from Peru who used to date his younger brother, Jaime.

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).

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2011 Southern California Tennis Association Hall of Fame inductee, Kathy May with 2000 SCTA Hall of Famer, Alex Olmedo Photo Cheryl Jones

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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UBITennis Has An Instagram Page!

UBITennis has it’s own Instagram page here are the details on how you can follow our content!

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UBITennis.net has its own Instagram page with 243 followers already in the last year!

 

This is where you can follow the growing page:

https://www.instagram.com/ubitennis_eng/

The page creates content to do with all the latest news such as stories such as Novak Djokovic’s recent visa saga and any tournament withdrawals.

There are also match results from the grand slams as well all of the major tournaments.

There are also quotes pieces and engaging pieces of content to attract the audience and gain engagement.

So if you want all the latest news, match reports and quotes pieces than the UBITennis Instagram Page is all that you need, here are some examples:

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Emma Raducanu Needs Less Hype And More Consistency To Be Among The World’s Best

COMMENT: Raducanu is a sensation of tennis, but she has a way to go to become a great.

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Emma Raducanu reacts after winning a Women's Singles semifinal match at the 2021 US Open, Thursday, Sep. 9, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Darren Carroll/USTA)

Three months have passed since the world of tennis was stunned by the run of a British teenager at one of its most prestigious events.

 

Emma Raducanu entered the US Open surrounded by hype following her performances earlier in the year. In June she made her WTA main draw debut at the Nottingham Open before going to to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon as a wild card. Becoming the youngest British woman in the Open Era to do so. Unfortunately, her fairytale journey at The All England Club didn’t have a happy ending as she was forced to retire from her last 16 match due to illness which was worsened by high anxiety.

Now in the limelight for the first time, Raducanu continue plucking away on the Tour in North America where she was runner-up at a WTA 125 event in Chicago. This would however be the precursor to the biggest achievement of her career to date. Entering the US Open qualifying draw, the teenager stormed to her first major title without dropping a set in 10 matches played. Those she defeated included Olympic champion Belinda Bencic and Maria Sakkri. In the final she downed Leylah Fernandez, who at the time was also on a sensational run after beating a series of top 20 players.

“For me, I don’t feel absolutely any pressure. I’m still only 18 years old,” Raducanu said shortly after her US Open triumph. “I’m just having a free swing at anything that comes my way. That’s how I faced every match here in the States. It got me this trophy, so I don’t think I should change anything.”

After her New York triumph, Raducanu’s wealth rocketed thanks to a surge of endorsements from the likes of Dior, Tiffany & Co., Evian and British Airways. In the UK she was a household name after being on the front pages of every major newspaper. In December she won the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year award which is ultimately decided by a public vote. It is also widely reported that she is in line to receive an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list.

2021 has been the year of Raducanu but what about the future?

There is no doubt that the 19-year-old has what it takes and she has proven this. Tennis great Martina Navratilova has described her as the ‘whole package’ and Billie Jean King says the youngster is ‘the real deal.’ But is the world of tennis getting carried away?

The WTA Tour has a reputation for its unpredictability with numerous players excelling at the very top and then there is a lull. Since 2015 eight women have won their maiden major title without going on to claim a second. Not counting Raducanu’s win at the latest major. Sloane Stephens was tipped to become the next Serena Williams following her 2017 triumph in New York and Bianca Andreescu looked destined to be the best in the world before injury struck.

Perhaps the most appropriate way to describe Raducanu is as a potential star in the making and not a sporting heavyweight. This isn’t to criticise or to devalue her extraordinary achievements but it brings things into perspective.

Only March the 18th was my first session on court in 2021,” Raducanu reflected prior to the start of the Linz Open in October. “And so January, February, March I was literally just sat on my desk staring at a wall for nine hours a day. So I feel like where I am now I just need to really take it all in and enjoy because looking back at how far I’ve come it’s pretty surreal. I just really need to enjoy it because when I was in the beginning of the year I would have never thought this was possible. I’m kind of just really living in the moment right now I feel.”

In 2017 Jelena Ostapenko became the first unseeded woman in the Open Era to win the French Open. It remains her biggest achievement to date and since then the Latvian has failed to shine in any other Grand Slam. In fact, she has only managed to progress beyond the third round in two out of 13 attempts.

When players don’t know you and you’re the underdog in every match, you have nothing to lose against the top players and that can help you to play really well,” Ostapenko told The Independent. “My opponents didn’t know me that well, because I was still new to the tour. But after I won in Paris, everyone knew me and they knew how I played. They knew how to prepare to play against me, so that was way harder for me.”
”The situation turns around when you’re the Grand Slam champion. You’re the favourite and it’s your opponents who have nothing to lose against you. That’s the hardest part of it all.”

Sometimes it is very easy to get caught up in the moment and not look at things from a wider perspective. Raducanu has proven that she has the ability to win the biggest tournaments in the world and produces tennis that millions around the world only dream of having. But she is still young and is yet to spend a full year on the Tour.

As 2022 beckons Raducanu will be guided by Torben Beltz who is known for his work with Angelique Kerber. Many will be talking up her chances of winning the Australian Open but is it the right thing to do?

Historically many players have become media sensations overnight if you look at the performances of Stephens and Ostapenko when they won their maiden Grand Slams. However, those who are referred to as greats of the games are the ones who are able to replicate this on multiple occasions and consistently.

Only time will tell if Raducanu will be known as a sensation or as a great. The important thing for Raducanu in 2022 isn’t how she fares at the Australian Open, it is how she performs at every Grand Slam throughout the year.

As former world No.1 King once said – “Champions keep playing until they get it right.”

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1st December 2021: The Day Women’s Tennis Held China Accountable For Their Actions

With millions at stake, the WTA stands firmly behind their players.

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WTA CEO Steve Simon

Even with the threats coming from the WTA few were convinced that the governing body of women’s tennis would conduct one of the most significant moves in its history.

 

In a statement published on Wednesday, WTA CEO Steve Simon announced that all tournaments in China and neighbouring Hong Kong will be suspended with immediate effect. The remarkable decision is a show of solidarity with Peng Shuai who many fear is being censored by Chinese officials for accusing a former vice-premier of sexual assult. Something the country denies with state-backed media publishing videos and photos of the player. Even a recent video call between Shuai and the International Olympic Committee failed to ease the concerns of the WTA.

“Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way. While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation. The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation.” Simon said in a press release.

The bold move has been hailed by many across social media ranging from tennis players to celebrities. Billie Jean King, who is the WTA’s founder, said the organisation remains ‘on the right side of history in supporting our players.’ Meanwhile, former world No.1 Andy Roddick tweeted ‘there are a lot of organisations who can afford to do something a lot more than the WTA Can.’ It is this point by Roddick that speaks volumes to the significance of their announcement.

Over the past 15 years China has injected millions into developing tennis within the country. It began during 1988 when tennis was brought back into the Olympics before Li Na’s mainstream breakthrough triggered a huge surge in interest. Various cities such as Wuhan, Li Na’s birthplace, started to invest millions in facilities in order to stage major events. As the years went by China wasn’t just a fixture in the calendar, it was instrumental for the entire WTA.

In 2019 China hosted nine WTA events which had a combined prize money pool of $30.4M. To put that into perspective the figure works out to be roughly 17% of the entire prize money offerings on the WTA Tour that year. It was also during 2019 when the WTA Finals started in Shenzhen as part of a lucrative 10-year deal which was valued at $1bn at the time of the announcement by The Sports Business Journal. However, the country has been unable to host another edition due to the COVID-19 pandemic and it was instead held in Mexico this year.

Perhaps from a cynical perspective, the pandemic showed to the WTA that they can still hold a highly successful Tour without relying on a single country during one period of their calendar. Would this influence their decision to withdraw from China in support of Shuai? Probably but they are unlikely to admit it. Not that the WTA doesn’t deserve widespread praise for their decisive action which put other governing bodies to shame.

There is also the question as to how will China respond? Will a country that has spent so much trying to promote tennis be prepared to make some deal with the WTA in order to get them to change their minds? In an ideal world, yes, but this isn’t an ideal world.

“I don’t think they (the WTA) have been paying much attention to what has been happening in Basketball and football in threatening the Chinese with Economic sanctions. It’s not going to work and part of the proof of the pudding was they were not able to get in touch with her (Shuai) and that’s her sport,” IOC council member Dick Pound told CNN earlier this week.

Pound has been a spokesperson for his organisation in defending their handling of Shuai and has told multiple news outlets that she is safe based on what the IOC interpreted from the video call. Ironically, he hasn’t seen the video himself and the IOC made no mention of the sexual assault allegations in their press release.

However, Pound’s remarks on China’s stubbornness is supported by past incidents. One of which involved Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who made a comment in public supporting the democracy movement in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong. China’s CCTV stopped broadcasting NBA Games and the sporting body later apologised but it was 15 months before another Houston game was shown on TV.

Money and politics aside, there remains serious concerns about Shuai’s welfare. Whilst she had made headlines around the world, China’s state-owned media have not published a single article. Photos and videos of the tennis player have only been published on Twitter which is blocked in her home country. BBC analyst Kerry Allen has confirmed that Shuai’s Weibo account is still under restrictions. Users are banned from quoting, sharing or commenting on her historic posts.

It would have been so easy for the WTA to sidestep the Shuai case and label it as a domestic matter in order to maintain their relationship with the Asian country. Instead, they have backed their player despite the likely consequence of a financial loss should China not back down. Something that is both brave and inspiring.

Will the men’s ATP or the ITF follow suit and suspend business with China? Only time will tell on that front. The most important thing is trying to establish the true welfare of Shuai. Something the WTA is determined to do no matter what the cost may be.

December 1st, 2021 has been a historic day for tennis.

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