Former Mixed Doubles Slam Champion and Author Gordon Forbes Passes Away Due to Covid-19 - UBITENNIS
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Former Mixed Doubles Slam Champion and Author Gordon Forbes Passes Away Due to Covid-19

The South African is the third champion mourned by fans in a few days, following Dennis Ralston and Alex Olmedo. What follows is a tribute written by a close friend and one-time opponent, Joseph B. Stahl.

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Forbes died on December 9, at age 86. He won the 1955 French Open (partnering Darlene Hard) and reached another final at Roland Garros in 1963, this time in the men’s doubles partnering Abe Segal, his long-time on-court companion. After retiring, he wrote several books, including “A handful of summer” and “Too soon too panic”, published in 1979 and 1995, respectively. In 1959, Ubitennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta was on scoreboard duty as a teenager during the Davis Cup tie between Italy and South Africa in which Forbes played both singles and doubles. What follows is a rememberance written by Gordon’s friend Joseph B. Stahl (also the author of the drawing above), whereas here can be found the tributes to Ralston and Olmedo.

 

Gordon L. Forbes of South Africa, an Inadequate Memoir of a Master Raconteur and a Helluva Tennis Player by Joe Stahl

I first met Gordon in August 1962 when we both played in the grasscourt Meadow Club Invitational Tennis Tournament at Southampton, Long Island, N.Y.; it was a lead-in event to the U.S. Nationals at Forest Hills.  I really wasn’t good enough to be in that tournament, but somehow Grenville Walker, who ran it, let me in the draw.  I was paired against Gordon in the first round and really had no idea who he was, although he’d reached the third round at Wimbledon only a few weeks earlier. 

On the morning of the Monday on which the tournament began, I was practicing on the Meadow Club’s grass with Arthur Ashe when Arthur called me to the net and, pointing to a tall fellow three courts down the way, told me, “That’s your first-round opponent.”  Gordon was practicing with a skinny kid who looked like Gordon had taken him out of his pocket and unfolded him; it was Cliff Drysdale. 

Gordon didn’t look like much to me—mind you, I didn’t think I could beat him, but I thought we’d have a reasonably competitive match.  Unfortunately, however, I made the dreadful mistake of practicing so long and so hard with Arthur the whole morning (at one point Arthur told me, “If your forehand were as good as your backhand, you’d be great”—you see, it was the one day a year that I could hit a backhand), that by the time my match with Gordon began that afternoon I was exhausted, and Gordon beat me -love and -love. 

The diminutive but very famous New York Times tennis reporter Allison Danzig was in the stands—he had come all the way out to Southampton from Manhattan to cover the match—, and I remember his withdrawing a small notebook from his pocket when it began, but after only a few games, he put it back into his pocket and never took it out again.  As Gordon and I shook hands at the net at the end of the match, I said to him, “Damn, Gord-o, I thought you were a gentleman.  Don’t you know that a gentleman always lets an overmatched opponent win at least a courtesy game?  It’s like it says in the Bible, never punish a man with more than 40 stripes ‘lest thy brother seem vile in thy sight.’ ”

Gordon thought reflectively for a moment and in one of those great philosophical inspirations he often had, he gently instructed me, “Joseph, that is all very well for religion, but tennis is different:  In tennis it is a law that you should always beat your opponent as badly as you can.”  And that generously imparted wisdom was the beginning of a friendship that lasted for decades.

We corresponded after that, and in 1979 when I read his book A Handful of Summers, I saw that, in it, he claimed he had lost in the first round of that Meadow Club Tournament in 1962 to Roger Werksman—not beaten me!—because he’d just gotten off an international airline flight at JFK Airport and driven all the way out to Southampton and was tired.  So I sat down and wrote Gordon a letter on my legal stationery (I conducted a long masquerade as an attorney at law, 1963-2004) in which I told him I was going to file a wrongful-death lawsuit against him for prematurely canceling me out of existence, and I enclosed a copy of the Meadow Club draw showing that he’d beaten me in the first round, “6-0, 6-0.”  I ended the letter, however, by telling him that all would be forgiven if he would buy me a drink whenever we might meet at Wimbledon, this was agreed between us, and for a long time he would invite me into the Last Eight Club at Wimbledon every year, “Gord-o” would buy me a drink, and we would have a lot of amusing chit-chat with the other characters hanging around in the Last Eight.

At the time I read his book, I was so taken with the comedy, the charm and the sense of it that I decided to buy seven copies of it to distribute to friends as Christmas presents.  At that time, Russell Seymour, who had played on the South African Davis Cup team with Gordon, was the tennis professional at the New Orleans Lawn Tennis Club, and I asked Russell where I could find copies of the book.  He told me that Gordon’s sister Jean, who lived in Texas, had a supply of them, he gave me her phone number and address, and after speaking with her by phone, I sent her a check and she sent me the seven books accompanied by a charmingly reminiscent letter about tennis people we both knew. 

“A handful of summer” by Gordon Forbes (Photo by Ubaldo Scanagatta)

It was so shortly after that, only a day or so, that the news broke that Jean had died, that I thought her letter to me might be the last one she’d ever written, so, after photocopying it, I sent the original to Gordon in South Africa, knowing he would like to have it.  Gordon’s second book, Too Soon to Panic, which of course I also read, was really an extended letter to Jean in her afterlife, and not long after its publication, Radio Wimbledon, the All England Club’s radio station for which I worked as a commentator, interviewer and talk-show participant, asked me to interview Gordon about the book, which I did.  It is one of the best interviews I ever conducted, because I knew Gordon so well from his books and from personal acquaintance, so I knew what cues to give him to enable him to say everything he wanted to air.

Another incident about A Handful of Summers comes to mind.  In, oh I guess, about the mid-1980s, I was visiting a doctor friend in Miami who took me on his hospital rounds with him one day.  As we were navigating the hospital’s halls, a doctor stopped us and told my friend that if he wanted to see the most gorgeous collection of women ever assembled, to go to such-and-such a room, because there was an endless procession of beauties constantly coming there to visit a particular patient.  So we went, and the patient turned out to be the French tennis player Jean-Noël Grinda, who was there for a coronary angioplasty.

None of the fabled women were there, but I asked Jean-Noël if he had read Gordon’s book A Handful of Summers, at which he groaned and said, “Ohhh, I have terrible memories of Gordon Forbes!”  “Why is that?”, I asked him.  “Because,” he said, “Gordon beat me 7-5 in the fifth set at Bournemouth one year after I led him 5-1, 40-15 in that set.”  So I told him, “Listen, I am going to send you this book Gordon has written, and I swear that when you read it, you will actually like Gordon Forbes.” 

The upshot of it was that I sent Jean-Noël the book at the French address he gave me, and Jean-Noël wrote back to me telling me he enjoyed the book and appreciated my sending it to him so much that he was reconciled to Gordon, and Jean-Noël invited me to stay at the Hotel Westminster Concorde on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, which Jean-Noël owned, any time I wanted, for free.  Alas, I never had a chance to take him up on it, but that is a tribute to how good the book is.       

One thing that struck people about Gordon, not least me, was that he never seemed to age.  Decades would go by, yet Gordon still looked exactly the same as he always had.  One day in 1989 I was playing tennis at Lew Hoad’s Campo de Tenis on the Costa del Sol in Spain with Heather Brewer Segal, who had been married to Gordon’s doubles partner Abe Segal.  Gordon at that time was in his mid-50s.  Well, the subject of Gordon came up, and Heather said, “You know something, it just isn’t fair!  Gordon still looks like he’s 28 years old!”  And it was true.  I told Heather, “Maybe he read The Picture of Dorian Gray, and he has a portrait of himself growing old for him in an attic.”

Lew Hoad sold Gordon’s Handful book in the shop at the Campo de Tenis, and Lew used to pontificate that it was, as Lew put it in his Australian lilt, “the grytist book on tinnis evah writtin.” 

Of course the real hero of Gordon’s Handful is Abe Segal, the Abe Segal, that is, that Gordon portrayed him to be, an author of zany antics who was constantly poking fun at the foibles of mankind.  And that portrayal is a testimonial to how creative Gordon could be.  For the “Abie,” as Gordon always referred to him, of that book is more a figment of Gordon’s lively imagination than an authentic representation of the real Abe Segal.  I say that because Abie published a memoir in 2008 called Hey, Big Boy! that destroyed the entire marvelous impression of him Gordon had created in HandfulHey, Big Boy! is so terribly written in such atrociously illiterate English and reveals Abie to be such a clumsy oaf of a character, that I wrote to Gordon telling him this and how disappointed I was in Abie’s book.  Gordon, who at that point did not even know Abie had written a book, wrote back to me lamenting that “He just had to have a book.”  Had Abie not written that book, he would have lived forever as the grand Falstaffian hero Gordon had painted him as.                    

One of Gordon’s greatest bravura performances of wit was the after-dinner speech he gave at the annual pre-Wimbledon International Lawn Tennis Club of Great Britain Ball—“the IC Ball”—at the Dorchester Hotel in London, I guess in about the mid-1990s.  Gordon’s talk was so loaded with his cleverness and hilarious witticisms, tempered by his wry take on the humor of things, and it delighted his audience, including me, so much that when he stopped talking I wanted to cry because I wanted him to continue talking forever.  From the moment he spoke his first sentence he had people laughing in hysterics, he was so funny, and I wished I had said the things he came up with.  It was the champagne and caviar of entertainment. 

But besides being a sage observer of and reporter on life, Gordon was also a helluva tennis player, for he did have wins over Hoad, Laver and Drobny.

I have a bad habit of making pictures of things that strike my fancy, and in 1962 I did a pencil drawing of Gordon from a photo of him that appeared in World Tennis magazine that shows Gordon hitting a backhand.  When I showed the drawing to Russell Seymour, he took one look at it and said, “That’s Forbsey’s backhand alright.”  Here it is:

Joe Stahl, by his own confession, masqueraded as an attorney at law for 41 years, retiring in 2004, since which, he has done three things very badly:  write; paint; and play tennis.  He is hoping to get into the Tennis Hall of Fame as the worst player in the history of the sport.  He and Gordon Forbes were friends for many years, exchanging good-natured insults the whole time.  Joe was a commentator at Wimbledon and an editor and contributor at Tennis Week magazine.

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Steve Flink: “Jannik Sinner Will Be a Top 10 Player by the US Open”

The Hall-of-Famer journalist comments on Hurkacz’s surprise win in Miami and previews the clay season. Who was the biggest letdown, Medvedev or Zverev? Nadal will soon be world N.2 again, while Andreescu is striving to stay healthy.

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The first Masters 1000 event of the season wrapped up on Sunday, but another already looms in wait in Monte Carlo, and on a different surface. To comment on the situation of the two tours, Ubitennis CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta was joined by his colleague Steve Flink: they focused on Hubert Hurkacz’s surprise win as well as on Jannik Sinner’s great run in Florida – Asheigh Barty’s permanence atop the rankings was also discussed. Here’s their chat:

 

00:00 – The man of the hour is Hubert Hurkacz: “He had an amazing run, defeating five players with a better ranking than his!” What was the key strategy in his final win over Sinner?

07:30 – This was the first Masters 1000 event since 2005 not to feature either Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, or Murray – a wasted chance for Daniil Medvedev? He started as the clear favourite, but his attitude against Bautista Agut left something to be desired…

12.50 – What lies ahead for Sinner? Some of the greatest names in the game did well in Miami in the past – a sign of things to come?

16.20 – Hurkacz betrayed some nerves against Rublev and Sinner, but held on to serve those matches out. Sinner, on the other hand, wasted a 6-5 lead in the opening set – what can he do to improve?

22.50 – Whose great champion does Hurkacz’s serve remind Ubaldo and Steve of? A look at the other players who underperformed in Miami, starting with Tsitsipas and Rublev.

32.00 – “Alexander Bublik reminds me of Safin, he’s an entertainer and he is not boring in press conferences!” What about Sebastian Korda – does he have the mettle of a champion?

40.00 – The women’s tournament: “I expected a great final, but Andreescu was clearly spent – I hope she’ll manage to stay healthy.” Was Osaka’s no-show against Sakkari a worrying sign?

45.30 – If the Canadian is healthy, will she join Osaka and Barty as the defining players of the decade? Who else could make a run to the top?

49.30 – This week, 10 Italian players feature in the ATP Top 100 – will at least one of them feature at the ATP Finals in Turin?

Transcript by Antonio Flagiello; translated and edited by Tommaso Villa

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Editorial

Women’s Tennis’ Best Player Wins Again

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It wasn’t long ago that Naomi Osaka appeared to be a talented young tennis player who had lost her way. On a rather warm April day in Charleston, S.C., in the 2018 Volvo Car Open, the then 20-year-old had had enough. As perspiration streamed down her face while she walked to her bench on
the jam-packed smallish outside Althea Gibson Club Court, Osaka looked at her coach and made the remark that she didn’t want to be there. Of course, she was losing. Osaka finished that round of 16 match, eventually losing to Julia Goerges.

 

NO WORRIES ABOUT PURSE
Obviously, Osaka wasn’t worried about the larger purse she missed by losing that day in Charleston. Money wasn’t that big a deal. Just two weeks earlier, Osaka had earned a $1.34 million check for winning the mega tournament at Indian Wells, Calif. The world was her game.
A few months later, Osaka won her first Grand Slam title at the 2018 U.S. Open. And now the powerful 5-11 native of Osaka, Japan, looks unstoppable with four Grand Slam titles in less than three years. Serena Williams probably is more worried about Osaka matching her record than Serena is
about surpassing Margaret Court in the number of Grand Slam titles.
Osaka is that good these days on the court, while making waves with her politeness and well-spoken interviews.

BRADY NO MATCH FOR OSAKA
Jennifer Brady was no match for Osaka in Saturday’s Australian Open final, falling much the same way Serena Williams had been dominated a couple of nights earlier. Osaka just turned the6-3, 6-4 victory she posted over Williams to a 6-4, 6-3 over Brady and a second straight Australian Open title.
Brady tried to out-hit Osaka. That was a mistake as the 24-year-old former UCLA star couldn’t keep her over-hit balls on the court in the face of Osaka’s meticulously placed, yet powerful serves and ground strokes. Brady fell victim to Osaka’s near-perfect cross-court put-aways from both sides on short balls.

OSAKA WAS A SUPERSTAR IN WAITING
The first time I watched Osaka in person was in the 2017 Volvo Car Open when a red-hot Shelby Rogers (she had just beaten long-time friend Madison Keys) scored a straight-set victory as Osaka watched too many of her shots miss their mark. It was rather surprising even then as a 19-year-old that Osaka was often losing matches. Her game was already spectacularly based on power. She was so talented and good that she was a
can’t-miss future superstar. Osaka is a quicker version of Serena. She has the entire package of talent.

No one in women’s tennis probably has better control of her shots and serves in pressure situations than Osaka. She also must have some of the quickest feet in the game, while being able to fight off her opponent’s hardest-hit shots with her upper body strength. It’s not surprising that Chrissie Evert calls Osaka “the best player in the world.” She may be just that by a long ways.


James Beck has been 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 postandcourier.com and search for James Beck.

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Medvedev, Not Tsitsipas, Looks Like A Grand Slam Champion

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Stefanos Tsitsipas looked like he might be a serious contender to win this Australian Open after his startling upset of Rafa Nadal in the quarterfinals.
But then, it wasn’t as much that Tsitsipas won that match as it was that Nadal lost it. Nadal was just out there the last two sets and the third-set tiebreaker after smothering Tsitsipas the first two sets.

 

NADAL WASN’T HIMSELF
Obviously, Nadal wasn’t himself physically after the first two sets. He was completely un-Nadal, even flubbing a pair of overheads in the tiebreaker. Those two overheads told the story for a player who quite possibly has the best overhead in men’s tennis. And then there was the string of miss-hit ground strokes by Nadal while repeatedly not even making a move for the ball at times during the last three sets as he watched Tsitsipas hit winners that normally would have been answered by Nadal.

TSITSIPAS ENJOYED HIS CAKE WHEN HE COULD
Tsitsipas made the last two sets of his 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 7-5 win over Nadal look like eating a piece of cake. It was evident that he faced little resistance from Nadal. Yet, I for one was fooled into thinking that the athletic 22-year-old Greek was a little better than he really is.
Even John McEnroe was predicting that Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev might win 10 Grand Slam titles between them. If that happens, Medvedev likely will have to win all 10 by himself.

A GRAND SLAM CHAMPION?
Tsitsipas just doesn’t look like a Grand Slam champion. At least, not in the Australian Open semifinals in his straight-set rout by Medvedev. Tsitsipas appeared to be following the sameformat against Medvedev that he used against Nadal, following two lackluster sets with an upgrade in his energy and play in a tight third set. Tsitsipas had Medvedev thinking the semifinals could be a repeat of the quarterfinals if the Russian didn’t pull his game together late in the third set to wrap up a 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 victory and a spot opposite Novak Djokovic in the final. Of course, the young Greek might get better with age.

MEDVEDEV COULD COOL DOWN AGAINST NOVAK
Tsitsipas might sneak up and win a major when the other new stars of the game see their games briefly fall apart or the “Great Three” of Nadal, Roger Federer and Djokovic have faded into just legends of the game. Of course, there is a chance that Medvedev could cool down before or during Sunday’s
championship match against the rubber-like Djokovic. But maybe not. I could see Medvedev wearing Djokovic down. This will be Medvedev’s second Grand Slam final. He may be ready this time to pull it off this
time.

THE PHENOMENALLY TALENTED NOVAK
Djokovic is a phenomenal talent, especially in Rod Laver Arena in the middle of the U.S. night. His only weakness has been his physicality. He has shown that weakness throughout his career, although not enough to prevent him from winning 17 Grand Slam titles, just three behind Nadal
and Federer. You might say Djokovic has owned Rod Laver Arena. Eight titles Down Under is almost as amazing as Nadal’s 13 French Open crowns. Nearing his 34th birthday, Djokovic, of course, is a little younger than both Nadal and Federer. But Novak is less than a year younger than Nadal. Federer is 39 and looking a lot like Super Bowl wonder Tom Brady.


James Beck has been 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 postandcourier.com and search for James Beck.

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