Column: The tennis world loses with "Big Jake's" passing
Jack Kramer, a great tennis figure who was responsible for bringing professional tennis from a side-show in the mid 40's through the early 60's to the formidable game its become today, died last week at the age of 88.
If you're in the business of tennis or just grew up loving this sport, how do you express your gratitude to one of the main people who made tennis what it is today?
He started as an amateur and became a champion. He turned pro and became a champion.
He toured the states and internationally.
Along the way he became a promoter, an innovator, an announcer and finally, the executive director of the ATP.
Kramer, who was born in Las Vegas and moved to the Los Angeles area as a kid, learned the game on public courts.
He was good enough, and lucky enough, to work out with U.S. Nationals and Wimbledon champion, Ellsworth Vines.
Known as "Big Jake" to his friends, Kramer won the 1946 and 1947 men's singles title at the United States Nationals at Forest Hills (now the U.S. Open) and captured the Wimbledon singles in 1947.
He won the U.S. doubles championship four times and the Wimbledon doubles twice and played on Davis Cup teams that defeated Australia in 1946 and 1947.
He decided to turn pro in late 1947 to make some money at the game. Then he played against the likes of Bobby Riggs, Pancho Gonzales, Frank Sedgman and Poncho Segura.
In the late 50's, injuries forced him to retire from playing, but not from running his own tour.
Jack was one of the last tennis professionals to link the amateur game of tennis - where many players were paid under the table to maintain their status - and host his own series of one-night stands throughout the U.S. and overseas.
He contracted with Gonzales, Segura, Sedgman, Hoad, Rosewall and Rod Laver during this time period, making as many as 11 appearances in eight cities in 12-day periods.
These players transported themselves and their own portable court, did much of the promotion, helped set up the site, sometimes slept in a car or a so-so motel. Yet for the most part, they enjoyed the fact that they were doing what they loved.
You can't write about Jack without mentioning the many tennis players who've been playing the game since the early 50's, 60's, 70's or 80's that at one time or another didn't play with a Wilson Jack Kramer Autograph wood racquet.
In fact, from 1947 to 1982, thirty million of them were manufactured, the largest selling racquet in the history of the sport.
As "Open" tennis came about in 1968, Kramer devised the men's Grand Prix, a series of tournaments leading to a Masters Championship for the top-ranked players played the end of each year for a bonus pool of earnings.
This went on for 20 years.
During this time he also helped found the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) becoming its first executive director.
Jack was a family man during all this tennis madness, married to his wife Gloria.
They lived in the Los Angles area, owning and managing a couple golf courses and the famous Kramer Tennis Club, where well-known tennis instructor Vic Braden worked.
His death brings an end to an era, but one to remember with admiration.
Jack is truly a tennis legend for all time.
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-445-1331 or firstname.lastname@example.org