ALASTAIR B. MARTIN | By Nancy Gill McShea
In early 1969, a piece by Neil Amdur in The New York Times featured a banner headline: "Martin, New Tennis Chief, Seeks Twin Goal of Unity, Expansion." Alastair Bradley Martin of Glen Head, Long Island and New York City, who had rated newspaper headlines for 30 years both as a tennis player and administrator, was about to assume the presidency of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association.
Martin thought like a player and felt former players should have a say in the way the game is run. The presidency in '69-'70, however, was a tough assignment. Tennis was in turmoil with the advent of "open competition" between professionals and amateurs in 1968; it was a time of dramatic growth, unlimited commercial opportunities, power struggles, and uncertainty. Martin had supported the British revolt which led to the ITF’s sanctioning of Open tennis, and now it was his turn to consolidate the transition into the Open era.
Tennis writers in the N.Y. dailies were quick to point out that although he was a product of the Park Avenue-Princeton-Eastern establishment, a man who had enjoyed a wealthy upbringing and aristocratic heritage, Martin was a realist.
When he was president of the Eastern Lawn Tennis Association in '64-'65, he said, "One of the drawbacks we face in trying to improve the situation in tennis is its stuffed-shirt image. We haven't projected our stars; Open tennis might help."
He was an early supporter of introducing tennis to children in the public sector. The Eastern Tennis Patrons, of which he was co-leader, donated several thousand dollars to the N.Y.C. Board of Education in the '60s. "We sponsor annual clinics in the parks of New York, Long Island and New Jersey,” he said. "And we were instrumental in having tennis put into the regular curriculum of physical training in the schools...this is a major breakthrough." Later, when he was president of the National Tennis Foundation in '72, he increased the organization's support of junior tennis programs in major cities; and privately he organized a joint effort with the Boy Scouts of America.
Martin played tennis in prep school, at Deane in California; and at Princeton, where he was graduated in 1938. He competed on the Eastern clay and grass circuits before and after World War II (he served as a Captain in the U.S. Army during the war). In the '50s he ranked among America's best tennis players in singles, and held an ETA ranking in singles and doubles for 11 straight years among some of the most accomplished players of the day – Bill Talbert, Dick Savitt, Sidney Wood, Jr., and fellow '90 ETA Hall of Fame inductees Ron Holmberg and Bob Barker.
He also achieved national and international stature in court tennis during the '40s, '50s and '60s. He was the U.S. National Court singles champ eight times, its doubles titlist 10 times, and the British champion in singles. But reporter Allison Danzig noted in The Times: "Martin happens to be the best amateur court tennis player in the country and probably the world...But it is for his contributions to lawn tennis that he has been singled out by the pros." The U.S. Professional Lawn Tennis Association honored him with its annual award for distinguished service to tennis in May of '56.
When Martin retired from the USLTA presidency, Danzig wrote, "I regret that you are stepping down... There never was a time when tennis was more in need of the leadership of men like yourself – men of character whose only interest is to serve the game...Too often profits and prize money are the only yardsticks of success and progress. Hardly anyone seems to give a thought to the future (champions) or takes steps to make it possible for more of the youth of the land to be introduced to a game that will give them pleasure and good health for life...I know you are concerned about this...I have so great a respect for you as a man of integrity and honor who says only what he means and believes."
Alastair Martin was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1973.
Photo Credit: Wendy Leroux
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BARBARA S. WILLIAMS | By Nancy Gill McShea
In her role as the first woman to serve on the Board of Directors of the US Tennis Association, Barbara Williams commands the highest visibility of any woman in tennis administration in the United States, and perhaps the world. Presently the treasurer of the USTA, she is also the first woman to serve as an officer on that board, and the first to be elected president of a USTA section, the Eastern Tennis Association, in 1978-'79.
In addition, Williams was honored with tennis' most prestigious award for women in 1985, the "USTA Service Bowl." The award, which is presented "To the player who yearly makes the most notable contribution to the sportsmanship, fellowship, and service of tennis," lists tennis greats Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Alice Marble, Maureen Connolly Brinker and Sarah Palfrey-Danzig among its most well known recipients.
However, Williams' first priority is her family-her husband Jack; six children: David, Sally, Sue, Bobby, Amy and Andrew (tennis players all); 12 grandchildren; her 87-year old mother, Anna Lisa Seaquist; her brother Kenneth; and her longtime companion Sylvia Jones. Fortunately, the whole group shares her commitment to the game. It is not unusual for them to spend a weekend working behind the scenes processing a 15,000-piece tennis mailing; and in 1988 the Williamses were honored as the "ETA Family of the Year,"
Honors and position do not distract her. Williams has been dedicated to Eastern tennis for more than 30 years, and she continues to be interested in helping people at the lower organizational levels of the sport, and those who are just getting involved as players.
Williams grew up in Evanston, Illinois. Her Girl Scout leader taught her to play tennis in the public parks there when she was 11, and she won the City's tennis title three times in her youth. After she graduated from the University of Illinois, she moved east to Larchmont, N.Y. in the late 1950s where she quickly became known as a tennis leader. She founded the Metropolitan Inter-Club Tennis League at the Orienta Beach Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. and was its president for 18 years. The league, which fields both adult and junior teams, has succeeded because of Williams' personal involvement. She gathered key tennis players from various clubs, inspired them to volunteer their time, which led to an extensive recreational tennis network in Westchester County.
During her years as an ETA administrator, she founded and is still a member of the Junior Tennis Foundation. She organized and chaired the Foundation's first major fundraiser for junior tennis, an outing to the movie premier of "Players" followed by a party at New York's hot spot," Studio 54." The event raised $50,000. She initiated programs for the young novice player and the disadvantaged: the Caravan program of free tennis clinics, the "Ups" circuit for unranked players, and district tournaments and rankings. In addition, she has captained ETA team events, started intrasectional team matches for men and women, worked as a tournament director, and served on and/or chaired some 14 ETA committees.
She has made an impact on the game in the national and international arenas simultaneously. Since 1980 she has been a member of more than a dozen USTA committees, most notably the Olympic Games, and the Federation and Wightman Cups. She chaired the Maureen Connolly Brinker Cup, a team competition between the U.S. and Australia, which the U.S. hosted from 1980-87; and the USTA's Individual Membership Committee from 1981-'85 - her trademark.
Friends agree unanimously that Williams is a true ambassador for tennis. "Barbara has been a gracious hostess at the U.S. Open (in the USTA Information Booth) since the tournament moved to Flushing Meadow in 1978," says ETA executive director Doris Herrick, who has worked with her for years. "People from all over the world and across the U.S. stop to say hello to her every year. What's amazing is she remembers all their names!"
Not if you're Barbara Williams!
Photo Credit: Wendy Leroux
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HAROLD A. LEBAIR | By Nancy Gill McShea
Harold Lebair devoted more than 40 years of service to promoting the game of tennis. He was widely respected for many administrative contributions to the sport, but he was perhaps most well known as a tennis umpire and linesman.
In 1949 Lebair was the first American (and non-British) chair umpire to call the men’s singles final at Wimbledon. (Ted Schroeder of the United States edged Czechoslovakia’s Jaroslav Drobny for the title in five sets.) Lebair recalled feeling a little nervous climbing to his perch on Wimbledon’s famous center court that year. At one point during the tournament he inadvertently announced the wrong score. He said later, “To my horror and shame, 14,000 voices cried in unison,’ Oh, no Mr. Umpire?’ It could have been worse, I suppose. Imaging what a baseball or basketball crowd would have done to me!”
As a linesman he made headlines when the U.S. beat Australia at the 1938 Davis Cup match in Philadelphia. His famous foot fault calls on Australian Adrian Quist prompted banner headlines: “Lebair Wins Davis Cup for America!” He had called seven foot faults on Quist, a number unheard of in those days. “I can still hear the boos,” he would say 20 years later. “But the umpire backed me up. What’s more, Harry Hopman, the Australian captain, got up and defended me before the crowd.”
Among Lebair’s fondest recollections was a sporting gesture he doubted would ever be repeated. Gottfried von Cramm, the German tennis player, was locked in a duel with America’s Don Budge. Von Cramm served an ace, then turned to Lebair, who was a linesman for the match and said, “I foot faulted then, didn’t I?”
Lebair was treasurer of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association from 1958-’67, and as chairman of the USTA umpires from 1941-’52 he was the first to use female umpires in the Forest Hills stadium during the U.S. National Championships. He chaired and/or was a member of 11 USTA committees, including chairing the USTA president’s committee that revised and modernized amateur tennis rules in 1953. In addition, he was a tennis member of the U.S. Olympic Committee from 1958-’65.
He also received two prestigious tennis awards. In 1948 the Tennis Writers’ Association honored him with its annual award as the man who had done the most for tennis that year; and in 1951 he received the John T. McGovern trophy, given annually to the umpire who does the most for tennis officiating.
In private life, he was a member of the national advertising staff of The New York Times from 1936-’65, when he retired. Personally, he was described as a tall, lean erect man who dressed smartly and often wore a homburg. He was distinguished for his brisk walk, rapid speech and brimming energy; yet he always found time to be friendly.
Born in Philadelphia, Lebair attended the University of Pennsylvania and worked as a reporter for the Philadelphia Public Ledger before moving to New York in 1908.
He settled on the South Shore of Long Island in Lawrence with his wife Lucile and three daughters, and launched a long career in tennis, advertising and local community service. He died in July of 1967.
Photo Credit: Unknown
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ROBERT M. BARKER | By Nancy Gill McShea
Like any ambitious junior analyst who works for a firm on the New York Stock Exchange and commutes on the Long Island Rail Road, Bob Barker should have been studying The Wall Street Journal the morning of Sept. 2, 1955. Instead, he turned to the sports section of The New York Times to check out the featured opening day matches at the U.S. National Championships (now U.S. Open) in Forest Hills, N.Y. He was shocked to see that HE was scheduled to play at 1PM that very day.
"I was so startled and excited," Barker recalls, "I read it twice!" He immediately put in an SOS call to his father Richard who collected Bob's tennis gear and met him at Forest Hills for his historic debut on grass.
He lost that match in five sets, but at age 25 he was just beginning his long successful career in competitive tennis.
The story is revealing. Barker did not expect to get in to the nationals that year-he had not received written notification and he had been rejected the year before. Plus, he had never played the junior circuit so his tournament experience at the game's highest levels was limited (except for outstanding results at Manhasset High School on Long Island and Colgate University). But he was never rejected again. He competed in the men's draw at the U.S. Open until he was 35, won national titles (the USTA 35 and 45 Clay Courts), and set Eastern records for 35 years.
"Bob has been one of the most respected Eastern players over the past three decades," says tennis promoter Lloyd Emanuel. "In addition to his national titles, he dominated every ETA adult age division, and remarkably, held his own against top players well into his forties. His achievements are a tribute to his intense spirit and excellent physical conditioning.
Indeed, Barker, often described in the press as "a stockbroker capable of tennis heroics," has accumulated more than 60 ETA and USTA rankings, including being ranked in ETA men's singles for a record 20 consecutive years and earning the No.1 ranking in every age category. At age 29 in 1959, he was ranked No.6 in ETA men's singles right behind Ron Holmberg and Dick Savitt who were Nos. 4 and 5, respectively, in the U.S. top ten that year.
In 1956, Barker was runner-up in the Suffolk County Championships in St. James, L.I. Interestingly, the draw featured three ETA Hall of Famers spanning three generations. Barker, then 26, beat Alastair Martin, 41, in the semis; and later that day he lost to Yale freshman Gene Scott, 18, in the final. It was Scott's first title in men's singles and he remembers it well. "Bob is a cross between a pit bull and a poodle," says Scott. "Off court he's a gentle fine guy, but he's a great competitor."
Barker has achieved his greatest success on clay, his favorite surface. In 1961 he met Arthur Ashe in the finals of the Eastern Clay Court Championships at the Oritani Field Club in Hackensack, N.J. Barker was 31 and Ashe was 17. Mel Woody of the Newark Evening News reported, "There must have been 40 or 50 key points in the grueling five-set match...Barker twisted his ankle early in the third set which may have cost him eight or nine points...It took four match points before Ashe pulled out the 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 marathon victory." Losing has its compensations, however. Smiling wryly, Barker says, "I played the tournament (at Oritani) for 18 years. I was getting older and never won it so they felt sorry for me and gave me the sportsmanship award."
Barker is also an author. His 1975 novel Love Forty about a stock broker obsessed by tennis, drew rave reviews from the experts Bobby Riggs, Times reporter Allison Danzig, Dick Stockton, Ashe and Scott. Said Riggs, "Only a top player could have written Love Forty. This is what competitive tennis is really like." And Scott added, "Barker thoroughly explores the psychological aspects of a semiprofessional's daily routine, and his own on court experience provides a real-life tone that has rarely been duplicated."
Despite a busy tennis schedule, a Wall Street career and the labor involved in writing a novel, Barker directed a junior tennis program in Great Neck, N.Y. in the '70s, has been an ETA tournament director and chairman of several ETA committees.
Photo Credit: Wendy Leroux
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RON HOLMBERG | By Nancy Gill McShea
In the late 1950s and '60s World Tennis magazine frequently paid tribute to Ron Holmberg's tennis ability: "Holmberg can do more with a tennis ball than any other player of his era. There is no shot that is beyond his aptitude…His touch, power and strokemaking are beautiful to watch..."
Indeed, the U.S. Tennis Association Official Encyclopedia of Tennis cites Holmberg as one of "the leading tennis players of his day." He ranked among the top 10 in U.S. men's singles 10 times during the '50s and '60s, he was a semifinalist at the U .S, National Championships, a quarterfinalist at the French, and he won the singles and doubles crowns at the Canadian Open in Toronto, among other titles.
His record was impressive, but more importantly, Holmberg was a spectator's delight. Steve Flink, the present editor of World Tennis, says, "Ron was his own kind of player, a consummate stylist, which made him stand out. He reminded me of (Ken) Rosewall in that he was so effortless. He could hit winners from everywhere." In fact, Flink remembers watching him play Rosewall in the Wimbledon warm-up at the Queens Club in the late '60s. Holmberg was down a set and 2-love, but after a rain delay he found his timing and completely took over the match. "He was brilliant!" says Flink.
Holmberg learned the game in his native Brooklyn at Fort Greene Park and progressed through the N.Y.C. parks system. He played No.1 singles for Bishop Loughlin High School in Brooklyn and won the City's Public Parks Championship, but his potential carried him beyond his roots into the national arena when he was 14. He met teaching pro John Nogrady, who was a tremendous help, especially with match-play strategy. And in 1953 at age 15 he won the boys' 15-and-under doubles title at the Nationals, was triumphant in both singles and doubles at the Indoors, and won his first match at the U.S. Nationals in Forest Hills.
At 16 he was an early "protégé" of the USTA's Junior Davis Cup program, and he capped off his successful junior career by beating his old friend Rod Laver for the junior singles title at Wimbledon in 1956. In '56 and '57 he was a playing member of the U.S. Davis Cup team, and he was twice the NCAA doubles champ during his college days at Tulane, in '57 and '59.
During the past 20 years Holmberg has established an international reputation as a junior and adult coach. He ran a junior camp at the Kent School in Connecticut; coached at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point; and he taught at an adult camp with his pal, Australian Roy Emerson, at the Palace Hotel in Gstaad, Switzerland in the summer of 1989.
"Teaching is terrific," says Holmberg. "It's fun to work with a group when everybody enjoys being there...I do not choose to teach people strictly on ability, but on their desire to learn. For this reason all my lessons are enjoyable."
His teaching reflects his approach to life. "Ron is a direct person and uncompromising in his principles," says one former student. "But he's also carefree. His personality comes across on the tennis court. He talks about the game in very precise terms yet he believes players should spend time just fooling around on the court (other than practice). Players that do that love the game and learn to be creative." The Holmberg philosophy: "Hit the ball as hard as you can and as close to the lines as you can, but don't miss!"
Ron Holmberg is multi-faceted. He worked as an ESPN broadcaster over a three-year period, including the United States' 4-1 winning effort over Czechoslovakia in the 1981 Davis Cup match. His life is one of a jet setter-always on the go, socializing with many successful people in the entertainment and sports industries who have become good friends. His daughter Holly ("the light of my life") has gone off to college at Emory University in Georgia so he has more flexibility to travel. Incredibly, he plays in regular pickup basketball games all around the country every opportunity he gets. "Basketball is my first love," he says, "probably because I was better at tennis...My good friend John Andariese (the voice of the N.Y. Knicks with Marv Albert) knows basketball the way I know tennis, but we both love the other sport...Life is that way."
Photo Credit: Wendy Leroux
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