Column: Vic Braden's passing leaves giant void in game of tennis
"If I'm Only 22, How Come I'm 82," was Vic Braden's last book and a chronicle of his life and times in the world of tennis. Braden died this past week of heart failure at the age of 85. The subtitle of that book was: "Tennis is more than just a sport," and most tennis players certainly wouldn't argue with that statement.
You see, this 13-year-old kid from Monroe, Michigan's introduction to the game came from trying to steal tennis balls as they were mis-hit by players over a parks and recreation tennis fence. He was caught and told, "You can go to jail or learn to play tennis."
The rest is history.
He became a very good player and tennis became Vic's ticket to meeting new friends and traveling to cities never imagined. His thoughts of working for the railroad turned to bigger dreams as he won the Michigan State High School tennis championships in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades. He'd hitchhike to tournaments. Can you imagine that today with our kids? Lo and behold he obtained a tennis scholarship to Kalamazoo College.
His first real paid tennis job during and then out of college was at the Toledo Tennis Club. Soon after, out to California to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills where he met and taught many Hollywood Stars with a seasonal job.
Now married, a move to the city of Palm Springs and the El Mirador Hotel followed where he taught tennis to the celebrities of the '50s.
Back from California to finish school at the University of Toledo, Braden decided to go to graduate school and get his master's degree in educational psychology.
Still his hand was in tennis, meeting and gaining friendships with the great Jack Kramer, Pancho Segura, Pancho Gonzales. He was then invited to compete in the world pro championships in Cleveland where he was defeated by Frank Kovacs and Bobby Riggs.
Those relationships led to help Jack (Kramer) run his professional tour during 1960-61 and after that help with Davis Cup duties, and professional tournaments.
Vic opened and worked as the Tennis Director of the Jack Kramer Tennis Club from 1962 to 1970 where he worked seven days a week, yet yearned for a sports research center where new educational systems could be developed.
Tennis was taking off in a major way and Vic was right smack in the middle of it. Open Tennis in 1968. The Battle of the Sexes in 1973. Players like Connors, McEnroe, Nastase, Laver, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert. It was a time in tennis that created a perfect storm.
The first Vic Braden Tennis College opened in Rancho Bernardo in 1971, but in 1974 at the age of 45 his lifetime dream came true with the completion of his new facility at Coto de Caza, California. A new learning center, high tech classroom, 19 teaching lanes, an observation tower, video viewing rooms, and six specifically designed tennis courts, in conjunction with a 5,000-acre development.
This 5-foot-6 giant of a man was making his mark in tennis because he loved most every aspect of what it was and what he envisioned it to be for the masses. His relentless efforts on all fronts made him beloved to the common tennis player as well as the top professionals. Vic was reachable, humorous, witty, created a wealth of contacts, worked hard, and had vision.
Vic seemed to be everywhere in the tennis world: magazines, videos, books, in the announcer's booth, on TV, and opening other Vic Braden sites around the country as well as visiting and teaching in many countries. His scientifically proven teaching methods were innovative in the industry. The '70s, '80s and '90s were a whirlwind of activity that now is a blur to look back at with what he was doing.
By 2000 it was time for a change and Vic and his wife, Melody, moved to Palm Springs where he pulled back to his tennis roots once again. Vic began a life on the road as a speaker and ran seminars. He put together programs for kids as ambassadors to teach others, he worked on brain-typing research, and some people in the industry were calling him old-school, which he didn't like one bit.
"Show me where what I have taught isn't proven and true and I'll be happy to make a public announcement that I was wrong," he'd say.
As for me, Vic was my mentor, the guy I wanted to emulate, and I'll miss him very much.
As a tennis professional in the industry Vic carried us into a new era and left some very large shoes to fill, giving us much to strive for and look forward to.
His legacy will stand the test of time. One of his lasting thoughts for us as tennis players was "Laugh and Win."
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or email@example.com.