Learn about Life in the 1920s

Vincent Richards becomes First U.S. Professional Tennis Champion in 1927

DEFEATING Howard Kinsey, of California, in four straight sets, the former amateur star, whose defection to professional ranks made such a rumpus last year, won the newly organised "professional tennis championship of the United States," we are told, "just before boarding a train for the Coast, whence he sails to Japan for several weeks of exhibition matches."

To the view of Mr. John R. Tunis, both Richards and Kinsey played better tennis in some respects than they ever had as amateurs. One feature of the professional tournament, which was held on the Notlek tennis courts, New York City, was "the evident amusement the players all took in it." Writing in the New York Evening Post, Mr. Tunis goes on:

May I be forgiven for suggesting that the seriousness and grimness which hangs over a big affair at Forest Hills was totally lacking; the players made a game of it, played the game, and for the most part played it well.

Incidentally they appeared to be enjoying themselves in the playing, something that seems to have become a crime lately in American sports. More than one of them was out of practise, more than one of them was suffering from blisters, and Paul Heston played his semi-final round match most pluckily with a bad boil upon his knee.

But there was no complaining, grousing, nor was there any throwing of points.

Once again may I be forgiven if I suggest that as sportsmen these professional players did not suffer in comparison with the amateurs.

Next the galleries. A good deal of cheap talk was broadcast before the match about the lack of temperament of the professional players; word was sent forth that applause in any or all forms would disconcert them not at all.

Actually the galleries of the three days behaved impeccably; that of yesterday which filled all the admission seats and most of the reserved sections was not a bit different from the gallery at Forest Hills. Once in a tense and spirited rally between Richards and Kinsey in the final round, some one started a supprest cheer.

It was instantly shushed to death by the surrounding crowd until the end of the point, when the cheers broke out in earnest. If the galleries were small compared to those at Forest Hills and Germantown, they knew tennis. And they saw good tennis, too, in the final round.

Kinsey, as I said, is a much improved player over the player who won his way to the finals at Wimbledon several years ago. He is forcing more, adding speed to his shots, and playing ever with that guile and deception for which he is famous. Against Richards he adopted just the right tactics to worry the blond volleyer; nor did he fail to do so. Knowing well Richards's tendency to come in on a second service, he invariably got his first ball in, and even tho it was a softer serve than usual, Richards rarely moved forward on it.

Kinsey also kept him away from his favorite position in forecourt by some lobbing that was as near perfect as lobbing can be. I wish every young player in the country could have been there yesterday to have seen how perfect lobbing will slow down and nullify a volleying attack.

Time after time Richards would come in, only to be obliged to retrace his steps for a lob so accurately timed that he was able only to pop it back weakly. This and a fast cross-court dipping drive when Richards was entrenched at the net won Kinsey many points.

But Richards in a year has not stood still either. If you expected a fat, undertrained, uncertain Richards, you were much surprized. The Vincent Richards of 1927 is a keen, well-trained athlete without an ounce of extra flesh upon his body. He was overtennised last year at Forest Hills in the national singles tournament; yesterday he had that subtle sense of touch which makes him the greatest volleyer in the world. Nor do I except either Borotra or Cochet, those two volleying geniuses from across the sea. As he played yesterday with the volleys rising from his shoe-tops to stab first one corner and then another, he would have defeated any one who played at Forest Hills early this month except Lacoste. And a match between the two would be a battle worth going a long way to see.

The match itself was virtually won in the first set when after a 3—0 and 5—3 lead against him Richards evened the score and finally won a long deuce set at 11—9, relates Mr. Tunis, adding:

Kinsey made some astonishing gets of impossible shots; he played Richards correctly and he made the winner hustle all the way.

Even in the last set, when Richards at five games to two and two sets down relaxed an instant, Kinsey came to the net, stowed away a volley at a critical moment and just failed taking the set to games all. But it would have taken even a better player than the improved Howard Kinsey to have defeated Vincent Richards as he played yesterday afternoon.

The trophy presented indicates that the promoter expects this to be a yearly event. And, by the way, this same gen-tleman told me that at the start of the tournament one or two of the competitors came and asked where he was putting them up. Can you imagine anything so absurd? These professionals actually talking like the amateurs? A large crowd saw the last two days, including a number of members of the umpires' association—one of whom umpired the finals—and a former president of the West Side Club. I hope he won't lose his amateur standing. Among those not present were Mr. Julian Myrick and Mr. Jones W. Mersereau, former president and president respectively of the United State Lawn Tennis Association.

The thing that imprest me on the opening day was the sorry quality of the play of one or two of the contestants. Some of them—they were all put out in the opening round—made one shudder at the thought of their teaching the game of tennis. They had no form, no strokes, no idea of what to do with the ball or how to do it. As instructors, as teachers, as players in even the smallest club they will do more harm to the professional side of tennis than 10,000 George Agutters can do good. One of the first things the newly organized Professional Tennis Players Association can and should do is see that its members attain a certain standard before posing as professional players.

The superiority of the two great ex-amateurs to the rank and file of their old-style pro competitors was not surprizing, according to Fred Hawthorne, who makes excuses for those who are pros because they teach tennis. As he tells us in the New York Herald Tribune:

Teaching novices the rudiments of the game and engaging in competition for several months each year against the best players in the country are two entirely different matters. The former exerts a deadly influence on one's effectiveness, while the latter is really vital to success. Give the regular professionals a season or two of active competition and watch the results. There is no reason to believe that the average professional lawn-tennis player, under the new conditions, will not be as uniformly superior to the average amateur as is the case in golf at present.

Next season, the ice having been broken this year, the professional game should advance with tremendous strides. It is more than probable that several of the leading European professionals will compete on American courts next year, thus lending the much desired "international flavor." Several of these men are rated extremely high by Tilden, Kinsey and Richards, high enough to give any of our leading amateurs a great battle.

All this must eventually lead to open championships that will permit the greatest of the amateurs to compete against the best of professionals, and then we shall know just who is the greatest lawn-tennis player in the world, the one man who stands out above all contenders as distinctly as does Robert T. Jones, of Atlanta, in golf.

Source: The Literary Digest for October 8, 1927