professional tennis before 1926, part I


While our knowledge of professional tennis is quite satisfactory after 1926 (thanks mainly to the excellent research of Ray Bowers, and Joe McCauley), very little is known about professional tennis before 1926.

I have accumulated the following chronology using contemporary tennis magazines (Lawn Tennis and Badminton in the Wimbledon library) and on-line databases.

I would welcome any additions or suggestions. My end goal is to establish professional and combined (pro-amateur) rankings in this early era.

So here is what I could establish from this early era:

The first professional tennis players seem to have come from the Fitzwilliam Tennis Club in Dublin, and later on from the Queen’s Club in London.

George Kerr is appointed to assistant professional in the Fitzwilliam Tennis Club, and quickly becomes the chief professional.

In Aug 25 in Newport American professional Tom Pettitt (24) defeats US Amateur champ Dick Sears (22) 6-4 9-11 6-4 6-4.

In Aug 22 US Amateur champ Dick Sears (24) defeats American Tom Pettitt (26) the real tennis world champion in Newport 6-2 7-5 6-2. Pettit has become world champion in May when he has challenged and beaten George Lambert at the Royal Tennis Court, Hampton Court Palace. In Oct 9 James Dwight, US No2, also defeats Pettitt in a close game.

In May 14 in Boston Sears defeats Pettitt 4-6 6-3 6-3 7-5. In Aug 27 in Newport Sears once again wins 6-2 6-4 6-4.

In Aug 27 in Newport Sears defeats Pettitt 6-3 7-5 6-3. In Sep 21 Pettitt beats Slocum in a lawn-tennis match.

George Kerr, the Irish professional champion comes to the US and beats Pettitt three matches to one for the world professional champion title. The first match is played in Newport, Aug 29, and Kerr wins 6-3 6-1 6-1. According to New York Times he displays the hardest hitting ever seen in America. Kerr also wins in Springsield on Sep 13. Pettitt wins on Sep 21. Finally in Boston on Sep 25 and Kerr once again wins 6-3 3-6 6-4 6-4. Kerr usually played in short knicker boxers and black stockings, and kept a flask of whisky beside the court.

At the end of May in Dublin Tom Pettitt defends his real tennis world champion title beating Charles Saunders (Princes, London) 7 sets to 5.

In June George Kerr and Pettitt clash once again in a series of lawn tennis matches from 9 to 11 Jun in Dublin and Kerr wins the series, and a purse of Ł75, 3 matches to 0. The detailed scores are: 4-6 6-3 6-1 4-6 6-4; 5-7 6-3 6-2 6-3; 6-4 6-4 6-4.

In September Pettitt resigns his real tennis world champion title.

In a pro match at Queen’s Club, London in March Thomas Burke (BRI-I) defeats Tom Fleming (BRI-G).

The earliest mention of an actual pro tennis tournament from The Times. In Apr 24 a pro tournament was played in Paris on covered courts (probably means wood) in a round-robin format. Both Thomas Burke (tutor of the Tennis Club de Paris, former teacher of Pim) from Ireland and his countryman George Kerr (Fitzwilliam Club) defeat Tom Fleming (Queen’s Club) and Burke overcomes Kerr 6-2 4-6 6-1 5-7 6-4 in a wonderful match, after trailing 1-4 in the fifth set. Burke has played through his matches with coolness, judgment and steadiness, his passing shots and lobbing was marvelous. His back of court play is fine, especially his backhand. George Kerr played a very aggressive game with tremendous forehand drives.
Thomas Burke (BRI-I) - Tom Fleming (BRI-G) 6-3 2-6 6-2 6-2
George Kerr (BRI-I) - Tom Fleming (BRI-G) 6-3 6-4 6-3

Pro rankings: 1. T. Burke 2. Kerr

A pro-amateur meeting is played, possibly on the Riviera in the spring where Wimbledon champ Reggie Doherty demolishes the leading professional Thomas Burke 6-0 6-1 6-1.

In August in Bad Homburg Thomas Burke and the leading Irish amateur Harold Mahony meet on clay and after both players have won two sets each the match is discontinued at 1-6 5-7 8-6 6-4.

Pro rankings: 1. T. Burke

During the 1900 Paris Exhibition a professional tennis tournament is held on clay and Irish Thomas Burke finishes ahead of his countryman George Kerr and the English Charles Hierons.
Paris Pro Exhibition, Paris FRA (C) 1900 Jul 9
George Kerr (BRI-I) - Tom Fleming (BRI-G) 6-2 7-5 6-0
Charles Hierons (BRI-G) - Tom Fleming (BRI-G) 2-6 6-3 6-4 6-4
Thomas Burke (BRI-I) – Charles Hierons (BRI-G) 6-2 6-0 4-6 6-4
Thomas Burke (BRI-I) – Tom Fleming (BRI-G) 1-6 6-0 9-7 6-3
George Kerr (BRI-I) - Charles Hierons (BRI-G) 6-2 6-2 6-1
Thomas Burke (BRI-I) - George Kerr (BRI-I) 4-6 6-4 2-6 7-5 2-1 (retired exhausted)
George Kerr was hitting hard and constantly running up to the net, which Burke tried to overcome with lobbing. In the 4th set Kerr lead 5-4 and was within two points of winning the match, and in the 5th retired, very much exhausted, his age and the fierce, forcing game he played took its toll. M.Masson, the observer in Lawn Tennis thought that Kerr played the better, the forcing game throughout the match and he is at least as good as Burke (two years ago Burke also beat him in a very close match, both both times they played on Burke’s own court, and the Irishman is not accustomed to playing on wood or clay). Hierons is an excellent player at the net.
Thomas Burke, the father of Albert and Edmund Burke, must have been an outstanding player. In 1920 the Times stated that at his best he could even beat Reggie Doherty, who was the Wimbledon champion between 1897 and 1900.

Pro rankings: 1. T. Burke 2. Kerr 3. Hierons

Thomas Burke wins a pro round-robin in Nice, ahead of Tom Fleming and Charles Haggett (English pro working in Stockholm):
Thomas Burke (GBR-I) - Tom Fleming (BRI-G) 3-6 6-4 6-3 6-2
Thomas Burke (GBR-I) - Charles Haggett (BRI-G) 6-2 6-3 6-4
Charles Haggett (BRI-G) - Tom Fleming (BRI-G) 6-1 6-0 6-1

In each year Tom Burke (Monte Carlo Pro) and Tom Fleming (Cannes pro) play matches, one in Cannes, the other in Monte Carlo, usually 5 hard-fought sets. Their tennis is reported (by Myers) to be mechanical and not very entertaining.

In April at the Queen’s Club in London Tom Fleming beats Charles Hierons indoors 10-8 6-8 0-6 6-3 7-5.

Pro rankings: 1. T. Burke 2. Haggett 3. Fleming

American millionaire Eugene Higgins offers 5000 francs for a competition between the leading amateurs and professionals in Nice in March. The players are divided in 3 groups, in the first amateur group Laurie Doherty, while in the second Reggie Doherty triumphed. Then Laurie gave a walkover to his brother. In the third group 3 professionals played:
Thomas Burke (GBR-I) – George Kerr (BRI-I) 6-3 6-4 6-3
Thomas Burke (GBR-I) – Charles Hierons (BRI-G) 7-5 4-6 6-1 4-6 6-4
George Kerr (BRI-I) - Charles Hierons (BRI-G) 6-0 6-4 6-2
The finals between the amateurs and professionals:
Reggie Doherty (BRI-G) - Thomas Burke (GBR-I) 1-6 6-1 6-0 6-0 (after losing the first set Reggie puts down his sweater and outclasses Burke)
Laurie Doherty (BRI-G) - George Kerr (BRI-I) 6-3 6-2 7-5

A fortnight before in Nice both Burke and Kerr were beaten by leading British amateurs Sidney Smith and Frank Riseley.

At the end of May, before the Budapest International Championships Hungarian pro Ferenc Burger beats a leading British amateur, Josiah Ritchie 5-7 11-9 6-3.

Pro rankings: 1. T. Burke 2. Kerr

Hungarian Pro Championships in Sep in Budapest: (first edition)
F: János Zeitler (HUN) – Ferenc Burger (HUN) 6-3 4-6 7-5

An article in Lawn Tennis and Badminton describes the state of professionals in lawn tennis. There are few professional players and these few do not have the sufficient incentive to bring out their best qualities. Since the 1900 Paris Exhibition tournament (even that lacked the importance and the official stamp), there was no professional championship and by virtue of his victory Burke is still regarded the professional champion. Hierons mentioned recently that he and his colleagues would welcome a competition. They would like to play for a title under set and authorised conditions, and not have to wait for some philantropist to come forward and offer a prize for an unofficial exhibition match, which is far from satisfactory as a test of merit, and concerns only two players and not the many. Cowdrey was another good professional at the Queen’s Club, and was supposed to be capable of beating the Doherties.

Hungarian Pro Championships in Aug in Budapest:
F: János Zeitler (HUN) - József Zeitler (HUN)

Hungarian Pro Championships in Oct in Budapest:
F: János Zeitler (HUN) - József Zeitler (HUN)
(in the 1930s there are further editions of this event, usually won by Ferenc Schmied (Schmidt/Szigeti) who also plays in international pro tournaments)

George Kerr, who has taught tennis in Berlin for many years leaves Germany and resettles in England. But his legacy in Germany is immense and ensures the leading role of German professionals in the next decades. One of his most prominent students, Roman Najuch, takes over his role.

The German Professional Tennis Association is founded, the first of its kind in the world.

Karel Kozeluh beats Roman Najuch 6-2 6-3 in the West Germany Pro Championships in Wiesbaden, probably in the spring.

The first German Pro Championships is played in Bremen indoors in Oct 4-6. There is a closed event for German citizens, won by Willi Hannemann (born in 1892); and an international event, won by Roman Najuch (born in 1893).


professional tennis before 1926, part II

Roman Najuch defends his German Pro title.

Charles Haggett, the best English teaching professional, settles in the USA at the West Side Tennis Club in New York. He becomes the coach of the American Davis Cup team. According to Haggett, England has been falling behind in recent years largely because she has allowed all her best professionals to leave the country. France and Germany began to take an interest in the game six or eight years ago, imported all the best teachers from England, and these countries have come up wonderfully in lawn tennis in recent years. A tennis professional is an experiment in the USA. There have been a few professionals, at rather obscure clubs, but they have played no important part in the development of the game.
In May 24 in preparation for the Davis Cup tie against Australasia Haggett plays a test match with the leading US amateur McLoughlin:
Charles Haggett (BRI-G) - Maurice McLoughlin (USA) 6-2 9-8
In May 30 Haggett plays a few test sets with the US and Australian Davis Cup players:
Stanley Doust (ANZ) - Charles Haggett (BRI-G) 9-7
Charles Haggett (BRI-G) - Horrie Rice (ANZ) 6-3 6-3
Charles Haggett (BRI-G) - Maurice McLoughlin (USA) 6-2 6-3 3-6 (but McLoughlin did not extend himself and devoted most of his attention to back court work).

A NY Times article in September reports that Haggett outclassed Karl Behr in practice and is easily superior to American players, with the possible exception of McLoughlin. Although, when they met in Davis Cup practice matches in June, he was a shade better than McLoughlin. He has also beaten Wimbledon champion Wilding, the conqueror of McLoughlin in the Wimbledon challenge round. The article even suggests that he is the best player in the world. From the age of 13 he played at the Queen’s Club with the best British players, and his reputation spread so rapidly that at 17 he was engaged at the Royal Club of Stockholm (where he taught the game to King Gustav of Sweden as well). He spent his summers in various European clubs, coaching among others Froitzheim.

Pro rankings: 1. Haggett (probably belongs in the Top10)

Roman Najuch defends his third German Pro title in a row (the Reznicek book omits this year). He also defeats J. Negro (ITA) at the Nizza Pro Tournament.
Tony Wilding, the best amateur clay-court player defeats Najuch 6-3 6-3, then 8-6 2-6 6-4 in two pro-amateur matches on the Riviera. Based on this result, Najuch is at least as good as the 2nd German amateur, Robert Kleinschroth, whom Wilding beat 6-4 6-4 on the Riviera.

Pro rankings: 1. Najuch (he probably belongs to the Top10)

In Apr in Cannes war charity matches are played. Tom Burke and Najuch play in doubles together.

In Apr 30 Thomas Burke (BRI-I) plays an exhibition in Cannes against Suzanne Lenglen and leads 5-7 3-0 when the French lady retires.

George Kerr settles in the USA during the war, and continues to teach tennis at the Philadelphia Lawn Tennis Club. He dies in March 1954 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, the article states he was an international tennis star 50 years ago, his age is given 75, which must be a mistake, as he already played against Pettitt in 1889.

Thomas Burke playes war charity doubles matches on the Riviera.

From Maurice Brady: The encyclopedia of lawn tennis (Robert Hale Limited, London, 1958) I learned that the first British Pro Champ was won by Charles Hierons from Queen’s Club in 1919.
Then according to the French magazine Tennis et Golf he issues a challenge to all professionals in the world, stating that in the absence of an answer he will consider himself the professional champions of the world.

In the Inter-Allied tournament in Paris in June the leading French amateur Andre Gobert defeats Karel Kozeluh 6-2 6-2 6-1 in the quarters. Then in the Inter-Allied team matches American amateur
Watty Washburn defeats Kozeluh in 4 sets.

Willi Hannemann wins the German Pro title (in the Reznicek book Najuch is given as winner).

At the beginning of the year d’Arsonval, a French pro at Sporting Club de Paris, takes up the challenge. In Feb 29 in Paris he defeats Hierons (who is approximately 10 years older) 6-1 6-2 6-4 (and in an additional match French amateur Brugnon defeats another British pro, Charles Read form Queen’s Club 6-4 8-6). The Times states that in 1920 Mar 20 at Queen’s the French Henri Darsonval (who was later the teacher of Cochet and Lacoste as well) once more beats C. Hierons 6-2 8-10 6-3 8-6. The Times also states that an international professional championships has not been contested for several years (probably they thought on the 1900 tournament in Paris).

The French magazine Tennis et Golf writes that after this victory d’Arsonval will probably play young professional Plaa from Paris, and Negro, the best professional at the Riviera may then challenge the winner.

In August Charles Read and Charles Hierons (two professionals at Queen’s Club) played two matches to determine the professional champ of Britain. Read won at Hurlingham 6-2 6-3 6-1, then at Roehampton 6-0 8-6 6-2.

Willi Hannemann defends his German Pro title.

In Dec Romeo Acquarone (FRA) wins the Bristol Cup at the Riviera over J. Negro (ITA) 3-6 7-5 5-7 6-2 6-3. The event is played on the clay courts of Hotel Bristol. This event is sometimes regarded as the first edition of the French Pro Championships.

Roman Najuch wins his fourth German Pro title. W. Hannemann was reamaterized sometimes in the early 1920s.

At the end of December the Bristol Cup was played in Cannes (it began in Dec 22). The sons of Thomas Burke, Albert and Edmund Burke lost in the first round (their father has died recently). The six remaining players were: Read (the pro champ of Britain), Page, Romeo Acquarone (the title holder), Negro, Rendall and Bruno.
Q: A. Page (GBR) - Romeo Acquarone (FRA) 8-6 4-6 6-4 9-7
S: A. Page (GBR) – Charles Read (GBR) 2-6 6-2 7-5 2-6 6-2
F: John Rendall (GBR) - A. Page (GBR) 6-3 6-4 4-6 7-5
Suzanne Lenglen presents the Cup to the winner. Major John Rendall is an ex-amateur, a certain baseliner. He was still an amateur in the spring (has played Wimbledon before WWI, lost to Parke in 1912), and in the Riviera tournaments he was repeatedly beaten by Kingscote and Lowe, so he does not belong to the Top 10.

In Sep there is a professional tournament at Lloyd Park, Walthamstow England and Albert Burke beats Charles Read 4-6 4-6 6-2 7-5 7-5 in the final.

Roman Najuch wins his fifth German Pro title.

In Nov 13 Henri Darsonval, the French professional tennis champion wins the first match in what is called the world's professional tennis championship competition by defeating British (Irish) Albert Burke 6-1 6-4 6-2.

In Dec 22 John Rendall wins the Bristol Cup at Mentone (FRA), in the final he beats J. Negro 6-1 0-6 6-4 6-1. In the semis Negro beats Romeo Acquarone and Rendall beats Edmund Burke. Acquarone has put out Page in an early round 3-6 7-9 6-4 6-3 6-2.


professional tennis before 1926, part III

In Feb Henri Darsonval also wins the return match in Cannes over Albert Burke 6-4 6-8 5-7 6-4 7-5 on the home court of the Irishman.

In March Darsonval plays an official match against Cochet, and lost it 6-2 6-3 6-8 6-2. It indicates that the professionals were probably not among the best players yet.

Roman Najuch wins his sixth German Pro title, still restricted to German citizens.
Najuch is supposedly the World Pro Champion this year, but it is unclear which event he won.

In Dec 20 John Rendall wins once again the Bristol Cup at Mentone. In the final he beats J. Negro 6-2 6-3 7-5. In the semis: Rendall - Edmund Burke 6-4 6-2 6-4, Negro – Pierre Guidici 6-2 6-2 6-1.

August Becker wins the German Pro Championships in Oct 20 in Düsseldorf. It is played in a round-robin format and he finishes ahead of Hermann Richter whom he beats 6-3 6-8 6-2. Najuch does not take part in the tournament.

At the end of December the Bristol Cup was played. 4 players reached the semis: Rendall, Roman Najuch (who plays this tournament for the first time), Albert Burke, A. Paye (who beat the British champion F.W. Donisthorpe). Albert Burke wins the tournament. McCauley mentioned that in 1924 Burke won the World Pro Champs, probably it was the same event (could have been different as well, since in 1925 it was played in Deauville).
S: Roman Najuch (GER) - John Rendall (GBR) 6-1 1-6 6-2 4-6 6-3
F: Albert Burke (IRL) - Roman Najuch (GER) 7-5 1-6 6-4 6-1

My pro rankings: 1. A. Burke 2. Najuch

In Jul 10 Roman Najuch (32) defeats Otto Froitzheim (41), still the amateur German champ this year 6-1 6-4 6-4 in a pro-amateur meeting in Germany.

In Aug at Deauville the first official French Professional Championships is played on clay. After a qualifying stage the Top6 players played a round-robin stage. Karel Kozeluh finishes ahead of Albert Burke and Roman Najuch (the British pro champ Charles Read is well behind, Darsonval failed to do himself justice due to a strain).
Karel Kozeluh (TCH) - Albert Burke (IRL) 6-1 3-6 3-6 7-5 6-0
Karel Kozeluh (TCH) - Roman Najuch (GER) 6-4 10-8 6-4
Albert Burke (IRL) - Roman Najuch (GER) 6-3 5-7 8-6 6-4

Roman Najuch wins his seventh German Pro title in Oct 4, beating A. Becker 6-4 6-3 6-3

In Dec 26 Albert Burke wins the Bristol Cup (the “World Winter Pro Champs”) by beating Roman Najuch 0-6 4-6 6-4 6-4 6-1. In the semis: A. Burke - J. Negro 6-3 9-7 6-8 7-5, Najuch – M. Plaa 2-6 6-3 6-0 6-0. In the quarters A. Burke beats the young Ramillon 6-1 6-1 6-2, Najuch beats Edmund Burke 5-7 6-1 6-4 6-3, Negro beats Page 4-6 6-3 6-3 6-1. Plaa has spent years in South America, training the Davis Cup teams of Brazil and Argentina. But Kozeluh is apparently not present, and based on his earlier win over Albert Burke must be regarded the best professional.
My pro rankings: 1. Kozeluh 2. A. Burke 3. Najuch

In May 9 a pro match is played in Berlin and Roman Najuch defeats Karel Kozeluh 6-3 6-4 0-6 6-3.

Between Jul 11 and 13 an exhibition is played in Berlin, where the pro Najuch also takes part. For the first time since the war, German tennis enthusiasts are privileged to see their countrymen in competition with Americans.
Roman Najuch (GER) - Vinnie Richards (USA) 3-6 6-2 6-2
Vinnie Richards (USA) - Friedrich Rahe (GER) 2-6 3-6 6-1 6-1 6-2
Heinz Landmann (GER) - Howard Kinsey (USA) 6-1 6-0 6-4
Heinz Landmann (GER) - Vinnie Richards (USA) 1-6 6-4 6-2 6-0
Roman Najuch (GER) - Howard Kinsey (USA) 6-3 2-6 7-5

In Deauville Albert Burke finishes ahead of Najuch and together they win the doubles.

In the meeting between British amateurs and professionals Austin defeats British Pro champ Read 6-4 7-5.

In Sep 21 Roman Najuch wins his eighth German Pro title in Hamburg. In the finishing round-robin stage he establishes a record by winning 72 games and losing just 7.

French Pro Championships, Bristol Cup, Cannes FRA (C) 1926 Dec 16
S: Karel Kozeluh (TCH) - Roman Najuch (GER) 6-1 3-6 6-1 9-7
F: Karel Kozeluh (TCH) - Albert Burke (IRL) 3-6 6-1 6-2 6-0

For a detailed report on the Pyle tour with Lenglen and Richards, and the Bristol Cup, see the chapters of Ray Bowers.

My pro rankings: 1. Kozeluh 2. A. Burke 3. Najuch
? Richards? (he lost to Najuch in Jul)


Thank you elegos7. There are times when the hostility and dismissivesness of some posts on this board make me question if it is worth my while participating. However, your wonderfully informative and generous contribution here restores my faith. Thank you for sharing such great work.