Theodore (Ted) Lumpkin Jr. - A Tuskegee Airman And Tennis - UBITENNIS
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Theodore (Ted) Lumpkin Jr. – A Tuskegee Airman And Tennis

Theodore (Ted) Lumpkin Jr. wasn’t a formidable tennis player and he was much more than a Tuskegee Airman as Mark Winters brings out in a tribute to an extraordinary individual who passed away in late December 2020…

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Annually, the third Monday of January, in the US, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The national holiday celebrates the memory of the Baptist minister and Civil Rights activist who was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.

 

Ordinarily on MLK Day, I reflect on the experiences that I have had in life and in tennis. As an example, I think back to the time I spent with Arthur Ashe while attending UCLA. (Interestingly, King sent a letter to Ashe in February of 1968, praising his character, along with his commitment to Civil Rights. He concluded his message by saying that he looked forward to meeting him in person, which did not happen.) This year, included in my thoughts, were a salute to Naomi Osaka, who made a statement at the US Open without saying a word. She did it in a quiet and sincere manner by wearing social justice facemasks that protested a spate of police interactions throughout the United States that had left innocent men and women dead or significantly injured. She knew that turning a blind eye to injustice was wrong. It always has been.

On January 18th, my usual day of introspection was very different.  It changed dramatically after I learned that Theodore Lumpkin Jr. (known to most as Ted) had passed away on December 26, 2020. Word was slow to reach those in the tennis community concerning Lumpkin having lost his battle with COVID-19 just a few days before his 101st birthday. 

Readers are probably asking – What exactly does Theodore (Ted) Lumpkin Jr. have to do with tennis and for that matter, Martin Luther King, Jr.? 

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Here is the story. Actually, an overview of his life which could serve as an outline for the production of a documentary. Lumpkin was born in Los Angeles and while attending UCLA in 1942 he was drafted. As a Second Lieutenant in the US Army Air Force, the 21-year-old became a member of the 100th Fighter Squadron. Because of his poor eyesight, he was unable to qualify as a pilot so he served as an intelligence officer in the all-Black unit that was known as the “Tuskegee Airmen”. The name stuck like glue, because it was based in Tuskegee, Alabama. (They were called the Red Tails because the tails on their planes were painted red.) After World War II, thanks to their exploits and their courage they soon became revered. (As an aside, by the end of WWII, Lumpkin had reached the rank of captain. He remained in the Air Force Reserves until 1979 and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.)

Coincidently, Tuskegee forms part of the foundation of the country’s tennis history. Beginning in the1890s, Howard University and Tuskegee Institute, (both Black schools) were among the first schools in the US to offer their students an opportunity to play tennis. 

On November 30, 1916 in Washington, D.C., players led by the Association Tennis Club of Washington and the Monumental Tennis Club of Baltimore formed the American Tennis Association. The organization came into existence because the United States Lawn Tennis Association had a policy of not allowing African Americans to compete in USLTA tournaments. Due to that exclusion, the ATA’s specific goal was to provide “People of color an opportunity to develop an appreciation for the gentlemen’s game”. 

When it came to tennis, Lumpkin wasn’t a top competitor. He enjoyed the game but for him, the sport offered much more. It provided him with the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships on and off the court. That’s why the people in the Los Angeles tennis community, particularly those who played at Harvard Park, became a part of his extended family. 

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Ronita Elder, Theresa Brown, Ted Lumpkin, Delores Simmons and James Walker

Lumpkin had spirit but it was dignified. Combined with his concern for those around him, these characteristics defined his quiet but captivating presence. It was one that resulted in the respect that he received from his tennis cohorts, though he was only a recreational player. 

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Harvard Park honored “Living Legends In Our Community” including Don Bly, Ted Lumpkin, Earthna Jacquet and Jean Richardson


Lumpkin was humble and rarely talked about the fabled Tuskegee Airmen. In an oral history though, he said that the “Airmen” endeavor was “an experiment…” It was an early version of the proven fallacy that “African Americans” don’t have the intelligence or skill to play quarterback in the National Football League (American football). In this case, it was the intellect or ability to be a combat pilot. The truth has been documented and the bountiful successes African Americans have realized in both endeavors is now a given, and it is backed up by facts.

In 2007, US President, George W. Bush honored the Tuskegee Airmen with the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian recognition. Barack Obama, in 2009, invited the surviving Airmen to attend his first inauguration. In 2012, Lumpkin was inducted into the West Coast African American Hall of Fame. While he was pleased, it was clear that the acknowledgement didn’t defined who he always was.

With Lumpkin’s death, there are only eight Tuskegee Airmen surviving. Theodore (Ted) Lumpkin led an interesting, challenging and rewarding life. The essence of this man was goodness. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year, as always, is a tribute to more than just one man. Ted Lumpkin has passed on, but he will be remembered for the life he lived. Tennis lost a long-standing friend who helped pave the way for every person of color who came after him. May He Rest In Peace. 

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Iga Swiatek double bagels Karolina Pliskova to win Rome

Iga Swiatek dominated Karolina Pliskova for 46 minutes to win the Rome title.

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Iga Swiatek (@InteBNLdItalia - Twitter)

Iga Swiatek is the 2021 BNL D’Italia Open champion after beating Karolina Pliskova, the number ninth seed, in 46 minutes. The Pole thrashed her opponent 6-0, 6-0 with the help of 17 winners as she lost only 13 points the entire match.

 

“I’m really happy, I’m kinda overwhelmed because at the beginning of this tournament I wouldn’t even dream of winning and it was super tough, we have to fight and obviously Karolina (Pliskova) had a great run here,” said Swiatek.

The number 15 seed got off to the best possible start having no issues in her opening service game and in the following game it was visible her Czech opponent was having issues with her serve.

Pliskova would serve a double fault to give the first breakpoint of the match and the Pole took to take an early 2-0 lead and from there it was one way traffic.

The number nine once again would double fault to gift another breakpoint at 3-0 and the 19 year old pounced with her powerful forehand to go up a double break and would break one more time to seal the first set in 19 minutes.

Fans at the Foro Italico were expecting a response in the second set from Pliskova but it was utter dominance from the Pole and again the number nine seed again struggled with her serve double faulting on breakpoint at 1-0 to once again give the early break.

There was a mini fight back from the Czech at 2-0 when she managed to earn two breakpoints to try and get back in the match but the number 15 seed would save both and hold serve.

The next game she continued to attack and play her aggressive game style earning two more breakpoints and breaking one more time to take a 4-0 lead and you could sense this match was going to be over very quickly.

Swiatek would seal the win with another one of her trademark forehand winners to take the match and the title which will boost her on Monday to number nine in the world and her first appearance in the top 10.

After the match Pliskova admitted today was not her day, “You have days like this in where things are not going your way,” Pliskova said in her trophy ceremony speech.

“That was the day today I still tried but it was not working for me. I will just quickly forget about today. I had some great matches here. Final is always a great week, great tournament.”

Both players will now head to Roland Garros with Swiatek looking to successfully defend her title.

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Internazionali d’Italia Daily Preview: Championship Sunday in Rome

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Novak Djokovic expended a lot of energy and emotion on Saturday in Rome (twitter.com/InteBNLdItalia)

On Sunday, it will be the 57th installment of the most prolific men’s rivalry of the Open Era, as Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal play for the men’s championship.  Djokovic is going for his record-extending 37th Masters 1000 title, and his sixth in Rome, while Nadal is looking to tie Djokovic with 36 Masters titles by winning Rome for the 10th time.  After playing for nearly five hours on Saturday, what will Djokovic have left in the championship match?

 

In women’s singles, Karolina Pliskova has reached her third consecutive final in Rome.  She’ll face the reigning Roland Garros champion, Iga Swiatek, who is making her WTA 1000 final debut.  In men’s doubles, Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic are one match away from an astounding sixth title of the season.  And in the women’s doubles, the final is yet to be set, as one semifinal is still to be played.

Karolina Pliskova (9) vs. Iga Swiatek (15) – Not before 2:30pm on Center Court

Each of these players have saved match points to reach this championship match: Pliskova against Ostapenko, and Swiatek against Barbora Krejcikova.  Outside of the match against Krejcikova, Swiatek has not dropped a set this week.  But unlike Pliskova, Swiatek had to play both her quarterfinal and semifinal on Saturday, spending almost twice as long on court.

Iga has now claimed 14 of her last 15 matches on clay, with her only loss coming at the hands of world No.1 Ash Barty.  Meanwhile, Karolina hasn’t reached a final or semifinal at any event held outside of Rome since January of last year.  As much as Pliskova has excelled the last three years in Italy, Swiatek’s recent form makes her the favorite in their first career meeting.  Iga’s more versatile game, and more positive attitude, give her a distinct advantage.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Rafael Nadal (2) – Not before 5:00pm on Center Court

Djokovic leads their overall head-to-head 29-27, but Nadal leads 18-7 on clay, and 5-3 in Rome.  This is their first match since last year’s Roland Garros final, which went decisively to Nadal in straight sets.  On clay, Rafa has now taken their last four encounters, with Novak’s last victory on this surface coming in the final of this event five years ago.

After saving match points and surviving an epic clash with Denis Shapovalov on Thursday, Nadal has won his last four sets by scores of 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.  That includes a straight-set victory over Sascha Zverev, who defeated him just a week prior in Madrid.  Following a few subpar performances this clay court season, Rafa appears to have found his top level, just in time for Roland Garros.  This is a familiar pattern for Nadal, and a big problem for Djokovic, who will certainly be playing on tired legs.  Neither of these men have been a Masters champion this year, but that will change on Sunday, and it will likely be Nadal.

Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic (2) vs. Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury (5) – Mektic and Pavic are a sensational 36-4 in their first season as a team.  Ram and Salisbury won last year’s Australian Open, but lost to Mektic and Pavic earlier this year in Miami.

Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara (4) vs. Sharon Fichman and Giuliana Olmos – the winners of this semifinal will face Kristina Mladenovic and Marketa Vondrousova in the championship match later in the day.

Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Nadal cruises past Opelka to reach 12th final in Rome

Rafael Nadal is into yet another final in Rome after beating Reilly Opelka.

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Rafael Nadal (@atptour - Twitter)

The Spaniard eased his way past his 7ft American opponent to reach another final in the Italian capital.

 

Rafael Nadal is into his 12th final in Rome after beating the American Reilly Opelka in straight sets 6-4, 6-4 in 92 minutes in his 500th match on clay and only needed to hit 13 winners in the victory.

“It’s not an easy and beautiful match to play against a player like Reilly (Opelka) who only gives you a few options on your return and he can also play quite aggressive from the baseline, he has good shots and it was important for me to save those breakpoints at the beginning of the match”.

It was actually the American with the first chance to break in the match at 2-1 when he earned four chances to break but the Spaniard pulled out his big serve and saved all four before holding serve.

The very next game the Manacor, Mallorca native went on the offensive and earned his first breakpoint of the match and managed to convert on it to take the early 3-2 lead.

After consolidating the break the American saved three breakpoints with the Spaniard pushing for the second break but managed to hold serve and the number two seed would serve out the first set.

The second set followed a similar pattern to the first with both players holding their opening service games with ease and this time it was the world number three with the first chance to break.

Nadal would break at the third time of asking to once again take an early 2-1 lead and that one break was enough for him to serve out the match and set up a clash with either Novak Djokovic or Lorenzo Sonego.

In his post match interview Nadal spoke about the prospect of playing another final on Sunday in Rome.

“The work is done, I think I did a lot of things well, I had a good spirit the entire week, there are a lot of positive things I did on court this week and it’s important for my confidence to be back in such an important final, I will have a tough opponent either Djokovic or Sonego but I need to be ready, I need to play my best tennis and that is what I am looking for”.

Djokovic currently leads the head to head with Nadal 29-27 while Sonego has yet to face the Spaniard.

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