Column: A Tennis Icon From Akron, Ohio?
Ohio was once known as a hotbed for the number of presidents who were born and raised there, but with its cold winters, not so much for top-notch, world-class tennis players; that is until Shirley Fry was born in Akron, June 30th, 1927.
The now 84 year old Fry, who currently resides in Florida, in the 1950s acquired 17 Grand Slam titles in singles -4 - doubles -12 - and mixed -1 - events. And that doesn't count the multitude of finalist appearances (4 in singles, 7 in doubles) she also made playing in majors.
But when it comes to records, she is maybe one of today's least know elite players, having won a career Grand Slam in singles, the Australian in 1957, Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships in 1956 and the French in 1951.
This puts her in the company of the following 14 players: Maureen Connolly, Margaret Court, Steffi Graf, Doris Hart (her best friend and former doubles partner), Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Serena Williams, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
That alone is quite an accomplishment, but addeed to that she also holds the same accolade in doubles, winning the Australian in 1957, the French in 1950 through 1953, Wimbledon in 1951 to 1953 and the U.S. Championships from 1951 thrugh 1954.
Only six other players can boast the same doubles aptitude; Serena and Venus Williams, Doris Hart, Margaret Court, Martina Navratilova and Roy Emerson.
Add in a mixed doubles championship title at Wimbledon in 1956 and playing on six winning Wrightman Cup teams and you've rounded out the highlights of one of the better female tennis players of her era.
This 5-foot 5 inch, 125 pound woman, was trained and encouraged by her father, Lester, who was a former Ohio University track and field star. He also owned a tennis shop in Akron.
At the age of 10, the right-hander was a real tomboy and already traveling to tournaments around the country, sometimes alone. She was in 1941 the
youngest women to ever complete in the U.S. Nationals.
Fry said of herself during her playing days, "I really wasn't that good of a player. I wasn't a natural. I had the athletic ability. I could run and I could concentrate."
Early in her amateur career Shirley was known as a gifted player who couldn't win a major singles title.
Some interesting quotes from her that show the differences between yesteryears' game and today's:
"During the '50's, player were amateurs earning little more than expense money. We stayed in people's homes on the road. When we traveled overseas we stayed three or four months at a time.
"Many players rarely went to Australia, because the trip took so long, but after taking the time to go to one of the majors, most players entered all three
events, singles-doubles and mixed.
"All the majors were played on grass, except the French and racquets were made of wood, much heavier than today's models.
"Due to a softer surface to play on (grass and clay), and a heavier racquet that didn't allow most players to whale on the ball like the current lighter, stiffer racquets do...fewer physical problems seemed to occur."
She said she retired from the tour because she was tired of living out of a suitcase and also had a bit of an elbow injury.
Shirley Fry was deemed the most brilliant and fastest player of her day, and beyond that she was known for her congeniality and fair play. She had great ground strokes, was very competent at the net and a sound strategist.
Fry graduated from Rollins College in 1949 with a degree in Human Relations, married Karl Irvin, whom she met in Australia when he was a tennis umpire and advertising executive, and went on to have four children.
In 1970, Fry was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
In 1988 she moved to Florida and quit playing tennis in 1990 due to knee problems. Now she plays golf.
The little trooper from Akron, Ohio has had a life full of interesting and wonderful memories, friends, and accomplishments to reflect on, and it just shows that if you have a drive to do something more than normal and you don't get in your own way - you just might surprise yourself.
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or firstname.lastname@example.org.