Tennis From the Archives

Priceless videos of old-time tennis have become available on the Internet, thanks to people who want to rescue past wonders. It isn’t today’s power tennis played by giants of fitness and nutrition, and we’re fortunate tennis has become the marvel it is these days; but of course the old wooden racket tennis has its own artistry and beauty.

The Way to Wimbledon/The Spirit of Wimbledon. Here, thanks to archives of British Pathe, we have two videos dramatizing the pageant from the 1920s to 2011. There’s a beautiful musical score by Elizabeth Lutyens in The Way to Wimbledon. The Wimbledon productions are a distillation of the lovely experience of preparations, fashions, players, and tennis spectacles at Wimbledon over the years, and it’s dreamlike as a brief refuge from the horrors of Century Twenty; it’s as if all that authoritarian savagery must have occurred on another planet. You enter a sort of Edenic Wimbledon. Of course, it will only transport you from the rest of reality for a few minutes; it won’t make you innocent again. But what a trip!

Maureen Connolly at Wimbledon. Just a wonderful short video. Little Mo. Wow.

Bill Tilden’s Instructional Tennis from Circa 1943. These videos have long been missing in action, though Imdb has listed them for some time. It seems a miracle they are now on YouTube. You want to watch because for a few seconds here and there, Tilden hits forehands, backhands and serves. Nabokov said of him that his play was “the divine delicacy of absolute power.” LaCoste said that even when you beat Tilden he eclipsed you. It’s a few seconds of incredible tennis beauty and artistry, albeit he’s now 49-50; and if my history is right, he is scuffling in Hollywood, playing  on private tennis courts such as that of his friend Charlie Chaplin. Yet as I recall from reading about Tilden, somewhere in this general late period in his tennis: (a) he beat twenty-something reigning US National Champion Ted Schroeder in an exhibition match for World War Two soldiers; (b) had twenty-something Bobby Riggs, the World Pro Champ, on the verge of defeat in the deciding set of a final before Big Bill got exhausted and Riggs barely prevailed; (c) beat Kramer in a match on a hotel court somewhere in LA; and (d) beat Budge in a final in a pro round-robin a couple of years or so earlier, though Tilden at 46 had lost most of his professional matches against the twenty-something Budge–Tilden pulled it together against Budge in that match (it was in London) and won in straight sets. Budge reportedly said that Tilden’s tennis in that match was the finest Budge had ever seen. Small wonder Tilden is a tennis legend.

Ken Rosewall’s Backhand. A video from 1954. Lew Hoad, a serious candidate for best player in the wooden racket era when he was at the top of his game, is also shown, as are Tony Trabert and Vic Seixas. The videos are very professional and show the players’ strokes. Rosewall’s backhand is one of the great shots in tennis history.

Suzanne Lenglen versus Helen Wills, Cannes, 1926. Jumpy. Poor image contrast. Very brief.  But Lenglen! Her grace, displayed very briefly in a few frames in which she hits shots, makes this old film worth studying.

A History of The French Open. Two parts. Terrific, must-see stuff.

“The Way to Wimbledon”:–Part A

“The Way to Wimbledon”:–Part B

“The Way to Wimbledon”:–Part C

“The Way to Wimbledon”:–Part D

“The Way to Wimbledon”:–Part E

“The Way to Wimbledon”:–Part F

“The Spirit of Wimbledon”:–Part 1

“The Spirit of Wimbledon”:–Part 2

“The Spirit of Wimbledon”:–Part 3

“The Spirit of Wimbledon”:–Part 4

Tilden Instructional Video # 1:

Tilden Instructional Video # 2:

Ken Rosewall’s backhand:

“Lenglen versus Wills,” “A History of the French Open” and “Maureen Connolly at Wimbledon” are available on YouTube.