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Old 02-19-2007, 09:59 PM   #1
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Default Kings of the Court video, anyone? Thoughts on the 'ten greatest players of all time'

I have been reading this forum for a long time, and recently I decided to purchase Kings of the Court: The Ten Greatest Tennis Players of All Time online (it is now hard to find and quite expensive). It is an 88-minute video released by the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1999, with footage of Bill Tilden, Ellsworth Vines, Fred Perry, Don Budge, Bobby Riggs, Jack Kramer, Pancho Gonzales, Frank Sedgman, Lew Hoad and Rod Laver. Many of the clips unfortunately come from practice hitting sessions, rather than competitive matches, but it's still fascinating to see the stroke mechanics of these 'old timers' first hand. I will share just a few quick observations. If anyone else has seen this video, or other similar footage, please add your impressions as well.

Big Bill Tilden was an incredible athlete. His serve motion was beautiful, and the variety of shots he could hit off both the forehand and the backhand would be astonishing by any standards. The players interviewed struggled a bit with how to rank Tilden among the greats, and I have to agree with Bobby Riggs, who put Tilden in a class by himself and couldn't compare him to other players. There was tennis before Tilden, and there was tennis after Tilden. No one else comes close to the influence he had on the game.

Elly Vines had an even more impressive serve than Tilden. He was tall, skinny, and such a natural. Just an awesome swing, so much power. The editors do some cheesy effects where they add PowerPoint-quality sound effects to Vines's groundstrokes; nevertheless, the beauty of the strokes themselves shines through. He hit everything flat and as hard as he could. His forehand especially must have been devastating. Don Budge and Jack Kramer both agreed that Vines, at his best, was unbeatable by anyone. He averaged 2.5 aces per game in his tour against Budge in 1939! Riggs said that a case could be made that Vines was the greatest tennis player of all time, and even that he was the greatest athlete of all time.

The most interesting segment of the video, for me, was the footage of Fred Perry. I was shocked to see a player run so fast in trousers. Literally, only Borg comes to mind as Perry's equal in terms of court coverage. Perry also had a tremendous running forehand, hit with a snap, supposedly influenced by his days as a table tennis champion. On top of it all, he was supposedly a fierce competitor. An injured Perry played a lesser opponent in the French Open, asking before the match not to make him look bad. When the guy took advantage of his injury, Perry promised he wouldn't win a single game the next time they played--and kept his word, handing him a triple bagel!

Everything that's been said about Don Budge on this forum has been true. His ground game was superb, especially the famous backhand. The general consensus among the old timers seems to be that Budge had the most consistent game of them all, and would have had an even more impressive career were it not for the war. I was a little unhappy that the video spent so much time showing practice footage of a much older Budge, but I could still appreciate the majesty. Budge was one of the true all-time greats, no doubt.

I was surprised how impressive the young Bobby Riggs really was, as I sadly have always known him best for his much later shenanigans. It seems he possessed one of the most natural all-around games ever seen. Rod Laver even says he could not name a better competitor than Riggs. Still, it's hard to put Riggs in the same class as Vines, Perry, or Budge, who all possessed at least one truly magnificent shot.

It is obvious how much Jack Kramer's game was influenced by Vines. The footage of the young Kramer even looks an awful lot like Vines, right down to the hairstyle. Kramer's forehand was flatter than I anticipated, not quite as powerful as Vines's, but still an awesome stroke. His serve and volleys were among the very best. Riggs claims Kramer was the best serve-and-volleyer in the entire history of the game. Kramer's serve, it seems, was built more on accuracy than on power--he was able to hit a silver dollar suspended above the net cord in his first attempt. He was also as mentally tough as they come, able to wear down anyone in an extended series of matches.

Pancho Gonzales is introduced as the game's 'most graceful big man.' Of all the players on the tape, only Gonzales struck me as in the same league as Vines for quality of serve. He was also very fast, and had a very solid (and I think underrated) set of groundstrokes. Though Kramer beat Gonzales in their pro tour, he admits that Gonzales became a lot better afterwards. Seeing them both play, I have to say I still think Kramer at his peak was superior to Gonzales: his serve wasn't as good, but his volleys were better, and he had the big forehand that Gonzales lacked.

The video concludes with three Aussies: Frank Sedgman, Lew Hoad and Rod Laver. Sedgman surprised me. He tends to get overlooked, but he was a great athlete; Riggs apparently considered him the best of all the Australian players. Hoad, though, quite literally took my breath away. He reminded me of the young Boris Becker, my childhood idol, but perhaps even better. Laver claims that he copied Hoad's style exactly, but lacked the older player's power. I think that Laver was able to develop a more sturdy and consistent game by relying more on topspin, though there is no doubt in my mind that Hoad at his very best was more impressive than Laver. In my final judgment, Vines, Perry and Hoad were the most talented players of the group, though by virtue of their records I have to give Tilden and Laver the highest all-time honors, followed by Budge and Kramer. I hope anyone who has a chance to see this tape does so. It's definitely worth your time.
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