REALLY Ancient History

Henry Hub

Professional
As mentioned above, Barlow wins the Wimbledon warm-up event at the London Athletic Club. He also then defeats the defending champion EG Meers to take the singles at Beckenham.

Barlow is on career-best form, timing his run into Wimbledon perfectly. Here is a photo of Barlow at an Irish championship in 1890. Fittingly, the photo shows him adopting his usual method of throwing strategical orthodoxy out of the window in a relentless pursuit of the net. He is pictured knocking back a good length ball from the baseline but charging in anyway.


Meers’s consolation is to win the Kent championship (closed to Kent residents only) against CG Eames. Eames had previously beaten both of the Baddeley twins on his way to the final.

This is a sketch of Meers’s triumph. Miss Smyth, a flash-in-the-pan Irish player, is depicted as she wins the ladies’ singles and doubles.

 

Henry Hub

Professional
Elsewhere, Arthur Gore starts to make headway in various singles events.

Gore wins the Wimbledon singles title three times in the 1900s, taking his last title at the age of 41 (albeit with the help of the challenge round structure and an inexplicable collapse by Major Ritchie from two sets up).

Gore learned the game growing up in Dinard in France and plays that event to a great reception and frequent successes from 1889 through the 1890s. Dinard has hard, light-coloured asphalte courts that bounce high and are blinding in the sun. Neither aspect favours serve and volleyers, which goes to explain Gore’s stolidly baseline game. More Gore (so to speak) in due course.

At Edgbaston, local favourite and Renshaw-conquering leftie Deykin wins his regulation annual silverware. Of much more interest is the triumph of Maud Watson in the ladies’ singles. She is heavily handicapped but still wins, though her form is said to be sub-par. Doesn’t stop her winning the mixed and ladies’ doubles too, though. Her opponents in the ladies’ doubles? Two ladies by the names of Mrs Hill and Miss Rooke.
 

Henry Hub

Professional
And so to Wimbledon. This iteration ends up being probably the best of the 1800s.

It hardly starts auspiciously though. A rumour starts to swirl a day or two into the championships that Lottie Dod does not intend to turn up for the challenge round to defend her title.

Indeed, the only way she could probably do so is if she sailed all the way down the Thames - she is reportedly on a sailing holiday off the West coast of Scotland.

So the title is seen as a cakewalk for Blanche Hillyard, with only the Steedman sisters, the Rice sisters and Miss Jackson filling out the draw.

The favourites on the men’s side are William Renshaw and his Dublin conqueror Willoughby Hamilton. Hamilton is on a hell of a tear, undefeated in singles in 1889 after wins in the Irish, Welsh and Northern championships. The English public hopes for a rematch on a dry and fast court.

EG Meers scratches his first match, still suffering from tennis elbow. Chipp is only just getting back on court so does not put his name into the hat. Mahony is abroad. However these absences are more than made up for by the likes of Lewis, Lawford, Grove, Barlow, Hillyard, Goodbody and Wilberforce.
 
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Henry Hub

Professional
The weather is more pleasant than in 1888, though that is admittedly the lowest of bars. All of the courts play well, the slowest being the centre court (not yet capitalised) with its longer grass.

SAE Hickson, the Wimbledon referee, has everything well in hand. The stands have all had a fresh lick of dark green paint, while the gardener has spruced up the grounds, with flower beds for the first time liberally dotted about. Hickson also has a bright idea of how to solve the usual problem of a lack of umpires, offering willing volunteers free transport and entry to the grounds.

While the tournament now starts on a Monday rather than the Saturday (to the relief of tournament committees whose events are to wind up on the preceding Saturday), there are a couple of scheduling issues that attract criticism.

To the dismay of Pastime, the old hiatus for the Eton-Harrow cricket match has been re-adopted. Meanwhile, the County Gentleman bemoans the “preposterous” extension of the event into the Monday of the following week - they put the blame for this at the feet of the 4:30 pm start time each day.

At least the singles events are now played concurrently.
 
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Henry Hub

Professional
Renshaw, despite not dropping a set in his first two matches, is not thrilling his adoring fans. He is pulling the trigger too early in rallies and racking up a slew of unforced errors. Now, it must be said, when it works, it really works. Two sets up against Wilberforce in the second round, he redlines his game and wins a love set in 9 minutes, only allowing the future Wimbledon chairman a paltry nine points.

Hamilton has a bye in the first round and a walkover in the second. Lewis does his bit and sets up a rematch with the Irish champion in the third round.

Meanwhile Grove and Barlow are having a right ding-dong. Grove is as mercurial as ever, his game veering from unplayable to abominable. His brother-in-law Barlow is the ideal opponent, never playing a three set match when 5 is on offer.
 

Henry Hub

Professional
We have seen Grove’s bio before and we will be treated to an updated version in the early 1890s. By way of a reminder:
http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/index.php?threads/really-ancient-history.246089/post-17983016

Barlow though well deserves his own entry. Here is a photo from 1893 and a high level background:


Born in 1860 and educated at Trinity, Cambridge, Barlow made his way to London where he became a tennis playing member of the Hampstead Cricket Club. Who better then to write a mini-biography of Barlow than his club mate, Herbert Chipp?

 

Henry Hub

Professional
The inconsistent pair duly contrive to go the full 5 set distance.

Barlow is 2 sets to 1 and 3-1 up when Grove’s game really clicks. Grove takes 10 games on the spin, finding himself 5-0 up in the fifth set. Grove has a match point but Barlow comes up with an audacious cross court pass. He unflaggingly chips away at Grove’s lead and squares things up at 5-5.

Grove, who must have been losing his mind by this point does inch ahead again but cannot convert. Barlow takes the match 9-7 in the final set. Two guinea racket or no two guinea racket, I would have been obliterating my Tate collection against a changing room wall after that match.
 

Henry Hub

Professional
With all due respect to Messrs Grove and Barlow, their match is but an aperitif to what follows in this most extraordinary of championships.

On Wednesday 3 July, the hot ticket is for Ernest Lewis’s latest attempt to take down Willoughby Hamilton. To paraphrase Andy Murray, Lewis is getting closer but consistently fades late on in their matches, his stamina not a patch on the Irishman’s.

The quality between these two is as high as ever. After losing the first set to some inspired tennis from Lewis, Hamilton raises his own level and takes a 2 sets to 1 lead. He establishes a healthy lead in the 4th but Lewis grits his teeth and claws himself back into the set, overhauling his opponent and taking us to a 5th.

The effort though has cost Lewis dearly and Hamilton flies off to a 5-1 lead. To his credit, Lewis again forces the issue, getting back to 5-4. An awful double fault at a crucial moment breaks his momentum and Hamilton needs no second invitation, breaking Lewis for the match.

Elsewhere on the Wednesday, the ladies’ event kicks off with a couple of fairly uncompetitive matches. A surprising result comes in the men’s, with the fancied Eastbourne champion Ziffo being embarrassed at the hands of Lawford 6-2 6-2 6-0. Lawford is in full-on flat track bully mode, the dry, warm conditions suiting his game and physique perfectly. With this win, Lawford sets up a mouthwatering clash against his old nemesis, William Renshaw.
 

Henry Hub

Professional
The tournament committee has the easiest scheduling decision ever on the Thursday. Centre court is reserved for the Lawford-Renshaw match and the stands are duly packed out.

What follows is a decent match but not one to place alongside their previous encounters. Compounding this are the shouts and cheers that can be heard from another court over the first two sets. Some spectators feel they are missing out and drift away to see what the fuss is about, flattening the atmosphere.

Both players have their moments but their purple patches don’t coincide. After a tight couple of sets, with Renshaw taking the first 7-5 and Lawford the second by the same score, Renshaw puts his foot down and rattles through the last two sets against a tiring opponent. The match is error-strewn, the players’ attempts to take the initiative with first strike returns of service mostly ending up with the ball ballooning over the sidelines or into the net.

One interesting side note to the match is the identity of one of those line judges, watching the balls fly yards out. Lena Rice takes a line and thereby becomes the first lady to do this job at Wimbledon.


This puts Lena Rice into the Wimbledon pantheon of early pioneers along with Blanche Williams who umpired one of the final 1884 matches (http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/index.php?threads/really-ancient-history.246089/post-17861745 ).
 
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Henry Hub

Professional
So what on earth is going on over on court 4?

Hamilton has been pushed off the show courts for what is supposed to be a straightforward match against Barlow. Despite his stellar fitness levels, Hamilton is still feeling the effects of his epic against Lewis from the day before, while Barlow was making ultimately untroubled progress against George Hillyard.

Barlow plays the match of his life. It doesn’t start that way, though. Hamilton takes the first set easily, exploiting Barlow’s weak returns and passing his opponent on his ceaseless forays to the net.

Maybe it is all too easy for Hamilton, as he loses focus completely in the second set, coming in on balls he should be staying back on and losing his range on the groundstrokes. Barlow takes it 6-3.

In the third, Hamilton has lasered back in. His drop shot, a much overlooked part of his arsenal, comes to the fore. He brings Barlow forward (not that he needed much excuse) and then passes the big man at will. He wins the set 6-2 and all seems right with the world.
 

Henry Hub

Professional
With his back now against the wall, Barlow reaches into his rather shallow bag of tricks and resorts to the tactic that paid so well for him at the LAC and Beckenham.

Barlow becomes that so despised of players, the moonballer. Editorials were written in 1888 on this new shot, predicting that moonballing and sustained lobbing would spell the end for tennis.

Well, if Barlow is to be the Oppenheimer of tennis’s demise, it is a role he is willing to embrace. As the fourth set proceeds, Barlow’s groundstrokes get higher and higher. Hamilton does not appear to know how to play these moonballs, let alone the full-on lobs that Barlow also throws in.

With Barlow continuing to charge in at any opportunity, Hamilton’s mind is scrambled. If he tries to force pace on the ball, he tends to miss. If he engages in the same slow loopy game, Barlow is at the net to knock off the shot with a volley or smash or, if Hamilton does get the ball back over his opponent’s head, Barlow has time to chase it down and start the moonballing monotony again.

What’s worse is that Hamilton’s weaknesses on the smash are now fully exposed. If the Irishman gets to the net, Barlow doesn’t need to risk a passing shot. He throws the ball up high and Hamilton invariably just pats the ball back, at which point Barlow can bury a volley or put away a short ball.

The 4th set goes to Barlow 6-3 after he wins 5 games on the trot.

Both players are exhausted by the time the 5th set starts. Barlow is the first to surge ahead, Hamilton by now so all over the place that his game consists of gently floated groundstrokes interspersed with rash attempts to drop shot Barlow’s moonballs. Barlow wins the set 6-3 and the match in one of Wimbledon’s greatest upsets.

Here’s the match report from Pastime:

 

Henry Hub

Professional
Not even Pastime can surely begrudge Wimbledon its Friday rest day. It gives everyone time to get their breath back before the All Comers’ Finals on the Saturday.

I mentioned a page or two back that 1889 featured one day that will be top of my list if I ever stumble across a flux capacitor.

Saturday 6 July is that day.

The ladies’ ACF is the de facto championship round in the absence of Lottie Dod. It is contested between the 1886 champion, Blanche Hillyard, and the dark horse Lena Rice.

The two of them played at Fitzwilliam Square, with Hillyard winning 7-5 7-5 after being 5-1 down in the first and 5-3 in the second. They also played doubles together and mixed against each other at the Irish, so they must know each other’s games by now.

Rice is blessed with a big forehand which she can play cross court or down the line. Her backhand is serviceable but she only hits it cross court. I have looked around but can’t find anything on her serve. She doesn’t appear to number among the select corps of 1880s lady volleyers.
 

Henry Hub

Professional
Hillyard is surprisingly nervy to start the final. Her usual accurate driving is wayward and short. Her service, never a weapon, is a total liability. She dishes up a wretched double fault at break point down in the first set at 4-4 and Rice serves it out.

Hillyard is nothing if not a fighter and she immediately races to a 3-1 lead to the delight of the enormous crowd. However Rice is not to be taken lightly and she goes on a run of games until she finds herself at 5-3, assisted by Hillyard serving two consecutive double faults from deuce in one game.

The lady from Tipperary continues to press her advantage. She gets to 15-40 on the Hillyard serve. 2 championship points to Lena Rice.

Hillyard shows her battling spirit and fends off the 2 match points to get to deuce. Rice manufactures another point for the title. Again, Hillyard comes through in the tightest of pinches and saves the game.

It is Rice’s chance to serve it out. She wins the first two points. Then disaster strikes - a combination of Hillyard’s improving play and her own tightness results in her coughing up the game and the set is all square. The deadlock continues to 6-6, at which point Hillyard holds serve then breaks to somehow take the set.

Both ladies are playing excellent tennis in the third set. Hillyard rediscovers her usual accuracy and length. Meanwhile Rice continues to barrage the Hillyard baseline with her forehand, seeking out Blanche’s weaker backhand. However Hillyard by now has a plan of attack. She camps in the left hand court, running around her backhand and launching her trusty forehand across court into Rice’s backhand wing. Rice cannot seem to play that shot down the line, so Hillyard knows she can leave acres of space on that side of the court.

It is a tactic that initially pays dividends, as Blanche again moves into a 3-1 lead. Again, though, Rice stays calm and wins 4 games in a row. At 4-3 and serving, Lena has a point for 5-3. She cannot convert and is broken for 4-4.

To rapturous applause, Hillyard wins the last two games and takes the title in one of the most exciting Wimbledon finals.
 

Henry Hub

Professional
William Renshaw and Barlow are next on court for their All-Comers’ Final. They have probably been peeking onto court from time to time, wondering how the hell they are going to follow Hillyard and Rice.

They needn’t have worried. What they serve up is a match that was considered an all time classic during the living memories of those who saw it.

I would argue that the match still deserves, nay demands, that status today.

The two players stroll onto centre court carrying not only their rackets but also towels and drinks. In an era when players take half of their worldly possessions onto court, this would be travelling light. However in 1889 it’s remarkable enough that it gets mentioned in dispatches by Pastime.

 

Henry Hub

Professional
With Hamilton out, Renshaw is now the tournament favourite. Like many players after him, this conjures all sorts of demons in his mind and he starts erratically. His big serve is misfiring and he sprays his ground strokes around scattershot.

Meanwhile there is zero pressure on Barlow and he just decides to attack. He crowds the net at any opportunity and dares Renshaw to pass or lob him. Renshaw is not up to the task, blazing passes in all directions or offering up feeble lobs that Barlow lashes away.

The first set is convincingly won by Barlow 6-3. The crowd, desperate for a Renshaw victory, must have been stunned by what was happening.

If they were stunned at the end of the first set, they must be totally gob-smacked by the end of the second. Renshaw’s play improves but he can’t manufacture any chances against Barlow’s all-out attack. The score ticks away up to 5-5. Will Renshaw take this moment to hit one of his purple patches and blow Barlow off the court?

Erm, no. Instead, it is Barlow who wins 8 consecutive points to take the set 7-5.
 
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Henry Hub

Professional
Like Hillyard in the earlier match, Renshaw has his back against the wall. However, he must have had some of Asterix’s magic potion in that drink he brought onto court as he finally takes a lead in the 3rd set, going up 3-0 to the delight of the partisan crowd.

Just like Asterix’s potion, though, the effects are strictly temporary. Barlow sees his man has shot his bolt and redoubles his efforts. Creeping back into the set, he squares it up at 3-3 then kicks on into the lead.

We are at 6-5, Barlow serving. Like Lena Rice, Barlow is two points from victory. Also like the unfortunate Irishwoman, he can’t close it out. With the crowd four square behind him, Renshaw raises his game at the right time and takes three games on the trot to win his first set 8-6.
 

Henry Hub

Professional
Barlow is still 2 sets to 1 up. He is still playing well while Renshaw is fast running out of time to find any rhythm to his game.

As we have seen, tennis in England in the 1880s goes at a hell of a lick. A set of tennis typically takes around 20 minutes. There’s no opportunity to sit down at a change of ends and take stock, let alone do the Arthur Ashe towel over the head sensory deprivation tank technique.

I think that’s one of the reasons why we see all of these runs of games in Victorian tennis - momentum, once gained, is very difficult to stop.

All of which goes to explain why Renshaw may be thinking the jig is up when he finds himself 2-5 down in short order in the 4th set. Barlow is receiving and goes 40-30 up. Match point. Cue a desultory clap from the crowd.

Renshaw saves the match point, saves another at ad out for good measure and wins the game. 3-5.

About 40 seconds later, Barlow is 40-15 up. Deep breath from Renshaw, two more match points saved. He wins the game. 5-4.

A hold of serve and we are squared up at 5-5. And this is where the next point of controversy arises.
 
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Henry Hub

Professional
Herbert Chipp is hors de combat but cannot stay away from Wimbledon. He willingly umpires most of the big matches, no doubt attracted by Hickson’s promises of free South West train tickets and ground passes.

He is in the chair for the Barlow-Renshaw match. At 5-5 in the 4th, Herbie realises he has run out of scorecards with which to record proceedings. He looks about himself frantically and whispers furiously to his aide de camp to source some tout suite (and maybe, in the words of US tennis player and WW1 soldier Andy Allen, the touter the suiter).

Unfortunately the players have meanwhile started the next game. Barlow wins the point. Chipp looks up, realises he has missed the action and orders the point to be replayed.

Barlow is incandescent with rage with his old HCC club-mate. The referee Hickson is summoned and he sides with Chipp’s call. The Field and Pastime both sympathise with Barlow, who goes on to lose the game. The crowd though finally takes Barlow’s side and goes wild when he then breaks to again draw level.

Chipp later writes about this incident.

 

Henry Hub

Professional
Barlow gets to 7-6. He plays a fine game and he has Renshaw at 15-40. 2 more match points.

Renshaw throws in a trademark big serve to save the first. 30-40. One to go.

The two of them then play out the most famous point in 19th century tennis.

Renshaw gets his serve in and charges the net. The ground is dry but somehow Renshaw loses his footing around the service line. He slips, tumbling to the ground. His racket flies out of his hands, bouncing off the turf and coming to rest a yard or two away.

Who knows what is going through Barlow’s head. All he needs to do is to block the ball back across the net and it will be arms in the air, brisk handshake and drinks in the tent time. Maybe it was a big serve that he cannot control. Maybe he is distracted by the arms and legs flying on the other side of the net and automatically reverts to his moonballing technique. Whatever the reason, Barlow rolls back a slow floating return.

As the ball leisurely arcs over his head, Renshaw madly scrambles to his feet, snatches his racket from the deck and sprints back to the baseline, clawing the ball back across the net. The rally continues and somehow Renshaw emerges the victor.

No doubt thinking he has the gods on his side, Renshaw serves out the game and ultimately breaks the deadlock to win the set 10-8.
 

Henry Hub

Professional
Pretty good match, right? If it ended there and then by default, withdrawal or asteroid strike, it’s safe to say the crowd would have nothing to complain about. Maybe not so much in the asteroid strike scenario.

Somehow - god knows how - Barlow shrugs off the loss of 6, yes 6 match points and goes again in the 5th. And with great effect. 1-0, 2-0, 3-0 - the games keep racking up, Barlow absolutely unplayable.

In no time at all, Barlow is at 5-0. The crowd are perhaps by now siding with Barlow a little but we’ve all seen enough Wimbledons to know that they love their champions. As Renshaw marches around the net at 0-5 down, it must have been bedlam.

For the first time in the match, the positions are reversed. Renshaw has nothing to lose and Barlow has all of the pressure. Perhaps, somewhere in the back of his mind, Barlow remembers Grove being 5-0 up in the fifth set of their match earlier that week and how that lead had melted away.

As the tension creeps into Barlow’s shoulders, Renshaw’s arm relaxes. He is no handicap specialist like his brother - he does not have the capacity to play the percentages like Ernest. But what William does possess, has always possessed since he first came on the scene, is the ability to break a match open with flat out, zero margin for error, swashbuckling tennis.

And this is probably his game’s finest hour. From 5-0 up, Barlow never has a game point or a break point. He does not hold a single match point in that 5th set. It’s as if Renshaw has flipped a switch (might be a bigger deal in Victorian times) and he simply dominates the rest of the set.

Barlow finds himself 5-6 down and at the receiving end of a match point. Fittingly for this match, he doesn’t crumble. He retrieves an impossible shot, saves the match point and takes the score to 6-6. The poor residents of Worple Road must have been praying for the advent of double glazing to muzzle the noise.

There is still time for one last twist as Renshaw has an attack of cramp. Luckily for him, it’s only in his thumb so it’ll only hamper his autographs afterwards. His revitalised game carries him easily to an 8-6 victory in the fifth and the match is over.
 

Henry Hub

Professional
Apologies, I may have got a little carried away there. Here’s Pastime’s much pithier match report (I shall spare you the one from The Field, which is both squint-inducing and prosaic). This match is covered by loads of contemporary and subsequent sources, the main ones filling out some of the colour on the above.

 
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Henry Hub

Professional
After that match, the challenge round was always going to be an anti-climax. It’s another frustrating example of siblings playing poorly against one another.

It has rained on the Monday morning before the match. The tarpaulin protects the court area but the grass is slick when it is removed. Ernest Renshaw doesn’t trust his footing on this surface and slips many times when setting off for a ball. Allied to this, his patient and precise, almost Djokovic-like game is off form.

Ernest goes 4-2 up in the first set despite all of this. His brother, though, is playing an all out serve and volley game and Ernest cannot cope with the pressure being exerted. Even his lobbing is dire. The elder Renshaw loses 10 of the next 11 games, ending up 6-4 6-1 down.

While Ernest gives the crowd something to cheer about when he takes the third 6-3, that’s his last hurrah. William Renshaw puts on another masterclass of devastating hitting in the fourth and final set. He wins it 6-0, only allowing his brother 5 points in the first 5 games.

It is William Renshaw’s 7th singles title and his greatest.
 

Henry Hub

Professional
The men’ doubles (still no ladies’ doubles for many years yet) starts the day after the challenge round. There’s very little to be said about most of the event - few interesting matches with very few people watching.

There is a growing grumbling about this event, some suggesting that the AELTC should allow another tournament to host the All England doubles, while others propose that it be held at another time of year (as was the case when it was organised by the Oxford University LTC).

The only interesting match before the challenge round is that between Lewis and Hillyard and the 17-year old Baddeley twins. The crowd and reporters enjoy the “machine-like accuracy” of the twins, particularly when they use this steadiness to come back from 2 sets down to force a 5th. The older pair run out the winners eventually.

After disposing of those two future grandees of British tennis, Mewburn and Gore, in the All Comers’ final, Lewis and Hillyard face the Renshaws in a rematch of their Irish championship encounter earlier that year. The Renshaws were beaten then and must have been out for revenge.

They duly win the first two sets 4 and 4 and get to 3-1 in the third before the wheels come off. Lewis has already been playing out of his mind but Hillyard has been a weak link. In the third it clicks and they win 11 games on the trot. Some of the rallies are sensational.


The Renshaws have saved themselves for the 5th set and win it 6-1, defending their title.

After the curtain falls on Wimbledon, the announcement is made that the singles and doubles will be split out for the 1890 event, the doubles along with a veterans’ championships and a couple of non-All England status events to be held in the third week of July, a fortnight after the conclusion of the singles.

 
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Henry Hub

Professional
The London segment of the calendar ends with the Chiswick Park tournament.

There’s nothing much to report in terms of action - it chucks it down, Lewis defeats Barlow and there’s a battle royale between the Steedman sisters.The event is interesting because of its novel policy on balls.


Back in June, our old friend OR Coote gets wind of Chiswick’s plans to use the Slazenger ball instead of the Ayres one. He protests that all big events should offer the same ball for the benefit of the players. He notes that Scarborough have seen the error of their ways and reverted to Ayres after a dalliance with the Cannon Street firm’s product.

One thing we have seen about Coote is that he does tend to attach himself, limpet-like, to any issue on which he has an opinion. He has been carrying a bayonet on the frontline of the Battle of the Balls since at least 1887 so you can imagine he rejoices at the chance to get back into active service again on his typewriter.

He does a bit of digging and discovers that the Chiswick committee are proposing to let players choose whether to use Slazenger or Ayres, either by way of a pre-event vote or, more extraordinarily, by agreement of the combatants before each match. This is an open goal for Coote and the Irishman is no Diana Ross when it comes to converting that kind of chance.

 

Henry Hub

Professional
In the end, Coote’s dire predictions fail to materialise and the players just get on with things, agreeing on the balls before each match. Ayres’s balls are used pretty much exclusively throughout, apart from one of the championship matches (I’d guess Lewis-Barlow in the men’s singles, given Lewis’s affiliation with Slazenger) and two of the all-comers’ finals.

 

Henry Hub

Professional
Just a couple more things before we take the plunge across the Atlantic.

The first is a fascinating article written in an 1889 American book called “Athletic Sports in America, England and Australia”. The author is a tennis fan who seems to be UK-based. He writes under the pseudonym “Banshee” (maybe Brownlee?) and provides an insight into the games of the principal players of the day that goes into technical detail that is not to be found elsewhere.

For example, this is the description of William Renshaw’s game. This is the only reference I have ever found to the mechanics of his service action - he uses the “hammering a nail up the wall” technique rather than the backscratcher. I find the description a bit tricky to follow but it sounds like he jumps up after he tosses the ball but somehow lands before hitting the serve? Sounds a little inefficient.

 
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Sanglier

Professional
For example, this is the description of William Renshaw’s game. This is the only reference I have ever found to the mechanics of his service action - he uses the “hammering a nail up the wall” technique rather than the backscratcher. I find the description a bit tricky to follow but it sounds like he jumps up after he tosses the ball but somehow lands before hitting the serve? Sounds a little inefficient.
If tennis archeologists manage to unearth a film sequence of what is described here someday, I suspect it would look a lot like Michael Stich’s serve.

Wrist-snapping may have been difficult with those heavy racquets, but that “hammering” part of the motion undoubtedly involved an elbow snap of sorts, i.e., internally rotating the forearm to achieve maximum racquet head acceleration. What the writer saw as the “downward drag” of the racquet prior to ball contact might have been a pronounced slicing action and its follow-thru, as a true 12 to 6 drag of the racquet head on contact is biomechanically incompatible with a properly snappy overhead stroke, and would have put a backspin on the ball that made the latter sail long whenever it’s struck with any pace, especially by a shorter player.

Now that we have AI video generators, it wouldn’t be long before we can reproduce these scenes using ancient journalistic texts and by training the bots with Stich videos. Tennis archeologists better hurry up before our curiosity is satiated thru proximation wizardry!
 

Henry Hub

Professional
Ernest Renshaw is the next to fall under Banshee’s beady eye.


He nails Renshaw’s athleticism, which is described in about a thousand columns as “panther-like”. We learn that Ernest’s serve is more modern in terms of its back-scratching swing. According to the writer, it is an extremely fast delivery which is impossible to handle on the rare occasions Renshaw actually succeeds in landing one in court.

Victorian newspapers occasionally carry variations on the amusing descriptions here of the twins lashing their services straight into the stands to the detriment of lady spectators and their dainty parasols alike.

Ernest’s signature shot is his inch-perfect lobbing. This article actually gives us a description of how he hits it.

For some reason I think the final statement about Ernest never having beaten his younger brother is incorrect. He did defeat him at Prince’s in 1881 I think, albeit in a handicap event.
 

Henry Hub

Professional
Banshee comes into his own when he explains Hamilton’s game to his US readers.


There’s loads of wonderful detail here. Hamilton is skin and bones at 142 lbs, even for an 1880s player. Banshee (or his editor) has considerately converted stones and pounds into pounds only for a US market (I believe our fine cousins would have been able to cope with the 14 times table here…!).

Hamilton usually holds his racket like a social tennis septuagenarian, halfway up the grip. If granny’s coach ever tells her off for this, just let her know that a Wimbledon winner (spoilers) used this technique. Point the coach at Zina Garrison while you are at it.

There’s all the usual stuff about the Irish Drive, about half of which is frankly unintelligible. Viz: “In that case, if he is a good volleyer, he will prove to the driver that if he had left the ball alone he would have been the gainer by a considerable amount of “win”.”

Huh?

The writer really does seem to have some animus towards the Ghost, barely even being able to commend his drop shots from the baseline.

The one point on which he is prepared to praise Hamilton is the Irishman’s temperament. He is certainly light-hearted on the court, constantly bantering away with the crowd, ball-boys or anyone else who will listen. However I’m not sure that he can be described as maintaining a steady state of play - his up and down match against Barlow is only one of several other examples of mercurial play, though admittedly he is nowhere near the haywire level of Barlow himself or Harry Grove.

The usual English excuse for William Renshaw’s losses against Hamilton is trotted out yet again. The lazy stereotype is that Hamilton is happiest wallowing in a muddy court and that on a dry court he would have no chance. Given his demolition of Ernest Renshaw on a fast, dry Penarth court in 1888, that has never sat well with me.
 

Henry Hub

Professional
If tennis archeologists manage to unearth a film sequence of what is described here someday, I suspect it would look a lot like Michael Stich’s serve.

Wrist-snapping may have been difficult with those heavy racquets, but that “hammering” part of the motion undoubtedly involved an elbow snap of sorts, i.e., internally rotating the forearm to achieve maximum racquet head acceleration. What the writer saw as the “downward drag” of the racquet prior to ball contact might have been a pronounced slicing action and its follow-thru, as a true 12 to 6 drag of the racquet head on contact is biomechanically incompatible with a properly snappy overhead stroke, and would have put a backspin on the ball that made the latter sail long whenever it’s struck with any pace, especially by a shorter player.

Now that we have AI video generators, it wouldn’t be long before we can reproduce these scenes using ancient journalistic texts and by training the bots with Stich videos. Tennis archeologists better hurry up before our curiosity is satiated thru proximation wizardry!

This is really interesting - you’re quite right, that must have been how he was hitting it. I had in my mind that he used a frying pan grip and had the kind of agricultural throw and bash technique exemplified by Miss May Sutton below in her 1907 Wimbledon win against Lambert Chambers. Do note the scandalously rolled-up sleeves.

 
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Henry Hub

Professional
Refreshingly, Banshee also pores over the techniques of the leading ladies.

These are his hardly revelatory views on Blanche Hillyard.


As we already know, Blanche has a fast and deep forehand and will do everything short of selling her soul to the devil to avoid hitting a backhand. The glaring oversight here is any mention of her Seles-like grittiness.

We get a shamefully rare insight into Louisa Martin’s game. The more you read the 19th century English tennis press, the more depressing it is how they gloss over the Irish women. The guys get their share of column inches but the women are pretty poorly treated.


The attributes to note here are Louisa’s big serve, backhand (other commentators are more effusive about this shot) and in particular her volley, making her quite the curate’s egg among her rivals.
 

Henry Hub

Professional
Banshee has been relatively restrained and even-minded up until now.

When he turns to Dod, though, it’s Beatlemania.


I am prepared to forgive Banshee’s borderline creepy enthusiasm on the basis that he provides the only description of Dod’s game dynamics that I have been able to find.

Slide 2 describes in detail how she hits that devastating forehand drive. In my mind’s eye, it looks like an army marching drill. Left foot forward, right arm back in a line from shoulder, through the elbow, wrist and grip all the way to the tip of the racket (Ayres “Special”, lest we forget). I am going to need the help of @Sanglier on the follow-through. Do you read this as Dod finishing her swing with the racket being pointed straight up in the air, “By the powers of Grayskull” style?

We have seen before that Dod rolls in an underarm sidespun serve and she writes in the 1890 Badminton book that she considers overarm serving for women a waste of effort. Here is that old illustration of her serve from 1887 Wimbledon.

 
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Sanglier

Professional
Lawford’s write-up is similarly illuminating.


We learn little that’s new about his mighty forehand. However his backhand technique is confirmed (pic again below), with topspin somehow being exerted on this Fosbury Flop of a shot.


To me, it looks like Lawford used an eastern grip for everything. This would be the most natural grip to go with his unique forehand. On the backhand side, the only way for him to hit a ball with any pace at all without changing his grip would have been to brush up on the ball using the palm-side of the stringbed - in principle not all that different from a modern topspin OHB, only he did it with a continuously pronated forearm and near vertical racquet orientation, causing the racquet head to trail his hand even during much of the follow-thru (mirroring what he was doing on the forehand side), instead of a biomechanically more efficient 'normal' backhand stroke where the forearm naturally supinates as the racquet head accelerates past the hand. This is probably why he can only hit topspin shots from both sides with good effect and may have had trouble handling low-bouncing balls, and why he ended up looking so contorted in his follow-thrus.

Dodd also seems to be using an eastern grip for her forehand. However, instead of leaning into the stroke with her whole body Lawford-style, with the racquet trailing behind, this fine specimen of Cooper's maiden instinctively understood the advantage of the kinetic chain, and simply swung through the ball "on the drop" from low to high as she transferred her weight forward (the way all future players were taught since day one), and let the principles of physics do the magic for her with minimal energy expenditure and body discomfort. Her racquet ended up pointing to the heavens in the follow-thru because there was no wrist action involved; which was probably necessitated by her magnificent but obviously not working-class-stout constitution.
 

Henry Hub

Professional
Much like the Spanish Inquisition, my one other thing I wanted to cover before getting to matters americains has now become two.

First off, we have the LTA’s club challenge cup. This has been running through 1889 but it has struggled to entice decent players to play and been characterised by walkovers in many fixtures.

Anyway, we get to the final at Queen’s in August and, quelle surprise, the AELTC have got there (though by the skin of their teeth after a tight semifinal against the Lordship Road LTC of Stoke Newington. Their opponents in the final are the Whitehouse LTC of Edinburgh who have been taking this competition more seriously than most. They come down for the final with a strong team and only narrowly lose.

The reason the final is of note is that both Lawford and William Renshaw turn up to play. In Renshaw’s case, only just - he turns up so late that the order of the competition has to be rejigged about. The competition is a doubles-only event and, on the only occasion I could find, the two great champions team up.

They play 3 matches together and it’s not the most auspicious of starts, as they lose their first set. Then Lawford realises how much space he has to hit his big forehand into and the tide turns. They run out winning all 3 matches comfortably.

 

Henry Hub

Professional
Pastime’s editor casts his eye across the pond as he describes an article on ladies’ tennis written by the US champion, Henry Slocum Jr.

We will come to this article very shortly. Slocum writes a couple of long reads this year that are invaluable in providing insight into the US tennis scene over the mid- to late-1880s.

The key thing here is that the editor is already in 1889 heralding the future US dominance of tennis.

 

Henry Hub

Professional
Ditson of Wright & Ditson fame (back to them very soon - think I solved one of the puzzles above) is in England in July, trying to entice players to come over for the US National Championships.

Other than easily persuading George Kerr, the Fitzwilliam’s pro, to come over to play a series of matches for a share of the purse against US pro champion and Newport groundskeeper, Tom Pettitt, Ditson is said to be unsuccessful in his mission.


Well, maybe not entirely. At the start of August, EG Meers buys a ticket to the US and heads over to compete at Newport. Bearing in mind he scratched at Wimbledon with ongoing tennis elbow pains only the month before, this is an interesting decision by Meers.

 

Henry Hub

Professional
Over we go to the US.

Before we kick off, one point of order. @Sanglier and I were idly trying to figure out why Bancroft never crops up in any of the US ads in the 1880s, since they later make much of their racket manufacturing pedigree since 1882.

Well, while doing a bit of digging yesterday on Allied tennis players during WW1 (oh, the stories! Gobert, the French player, was probably the luckiest man alive), I stumbled across Fred Bancroft’s obituary in 1918. This answers the question neatly.


Incidentally, I then looked to corroborate the below and realised Randy Crow had already solved this one!

https://www.sportcrowtennis.com/articles/early-american-racket-makers

So Bancroft started making rackets as the OEM for AJ Reach of Philadelphia. This was a two year contract so assume this was over 1882-3. Sadly they missed out on making The Bent Racquet, though Fred would probably never have been able to live it down...

They then made Wright & Ditson’s rackets for 10-12 years, which would take us from 1884 to 1894-6. Very interestingly, W&D are said to have only been manufacturing rackets for a year at that point. So that suggests only W&D’s 1883 output was produced in house. That’s important because the Clark brothers both used Wright & Ditson rackets when they came to England and played the Renshaws in 1883.

http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/index.php?threads/really-ancient-history.246089/post-17834444

It does mean that Bancroft were responsible for the W&D Sears Special and many of W&D’s other greatest frames, though.

Once the W&D contract expires, Bancroft took on a contract for BGI (the Bridgeport Gun Implement Co.). BGI was taken over by W&D at some point, at which point Bancroft finally start manufacturing their own brand rackets. Randy traces the first Bancroft ad to 1905, which lines up. BGI stopped making golf clubs in 1904, so maybe that was the year of the W&D takeover.

Randy anticipates all of this on his fabulous site (link above):

“Then there is the Fred J. Bancroft Company that has always been a conundrum for tennis collectors. I and others have been aware of the attached 1888 Bancroft racket making ad for many years, but the earliest Bancroft marked racket that I have ever seen is an early 1900’s convex wedge model. This mystery was compounded by an 1892 business directory listing that states that Bancroft was producing 20,000 lawn tennis rackets annually.

The answer lies in a recently discovered 1905 Bancroft Tennis Catalog. In the catalog forward, Fred Bancroft reveals that while his company started making rackets in 1887, the first year that he put the Bancroft name on his products was 1905. He goes on to state that his company had been contract manufacturing rackets for Wright & Ditson, A.J. Reach and the Bridgeport Gun & Implement Company (BGI) during the previous 18 years. Mystery solved.”

So no wonder Bancroft never advertised in the 19th century - they were behind the scenes, making the rackets for other companies!
 

Henry Hub

Professional
The St Augustine tournament or the Tropical Championship in March has now established a foothold as the first big event of the US season. It even attracts attention in Pastime, though maybe that is as much for the weather as the competition. Helpfully, Richard Sears gives us the lowdown on return train ticket prices from New York.


In February, it’s all change at the annual meeting of the USNLTA. Sears gets binned at President after his serial non-attendance and numerous winters spent in Cannes instead of getting down to the business at hand at New York’s Hoffman House (as previously discussed, consisting of a bit of corporate governance box-ticking then drinks at the bar and chortling at the nudy paintings).

Joseph Clark, one of the Clark brothers who played the Renshaws at Wimbledon in 1883, replaces him.

Of considerably more importance is the inauguration of a ladies’ national championship. This is to be held at the Philadelphia LTC at Wissahickon.


On the second slide, we see that the USNLTA feels the need to define amateur status, which later grows arms and legs and catches out Vinnie Richards and Bill Tilden among others. W&D gets another call-up as the manufacturer of the regulation ball.
 

Henry Hub

Professional
Henry Trevor, comically wealthy Long Islander and animal husbandry enthusiast who forever made poodles a laughing stock among other dogs, is the defending champ down in his winter retreat in St Augustine.

http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/index.php?threads/really-ancient-history.246089/post-18091421

There is a new challenger on the scene though. Ollie Campbell arrives for a tilt at the title. You may recall that Campbell is that most unusual of customers: an inveterate serve and volleyer rocking a pat-ball service. He is the subject of the apocryphal story I posted before that has him serving his typical floater before charging to the net, where he gets bonked on the back of his head by his delivery.


Anyway, Campbell is far far far too good for any of the sunburnt denizens of St Augustine and Valentine Hall reports that he sweeps the singles and doubles.

 

Henry Hub

Professional
In Outing of March 1889, Henry Slocum writes the definitive history of tennis in the South (ie anywhere south of Pennsylvania). Apologies for some of the more retrograde language and for the extraordinary length of the article.


Slocum casts an eye over tennis in Washington DC, Delaware and Maryland.

The Southern championship was originally held at the Delaware Field Club in Wilmington in 1886, other events being held at such clubs as the Baltimore Cricket Club (for which an illustration is provided). In 1887 the championship is held at the US Marine Barracks in Washington DC.

In 1888, a Washington DC tournament is held at a Kendall Green institute for the deaf and mute (now Gallaudet University). The Southern Championships are held at the Baltimore Cricket Club but with an open event held the same year at the Highland County Club.

Slocum gives us some history of the Highland Country Club. This becomes one of the bigger clubs of the 1890s and hosts an open southern event in 1888. It is located on the US Route 1 Alternate from Washington DC to Bladensburg, presumably somewhere near Jiffy Lube. The story of the courts being stamped down just before the start of the tournament by a herd of mules is a good one. At the end of the event, the same herd of mules takes a coterie of 30 players into Washington DC, where they pay a visit to President Cleveland at the White House.

Slocum gives us some background to the Baltimore Cricket Club and the Delaware Field Club (now the Wilmington Country Club).

Some of the principal Southern players in the late 1880s are pictured, including Mansfield and Post.
 

Henry Hub

Professional
In June, the ladies’ national championship is finally staged at Wissahickon.


Bertha Townsend wins the event. I confess I am confused by the references to Townsend defending her title. 1889 is the first year where there is an official ladies national title but Wikipedia suggests that there were events in 1887 and 1888. I can only conclude that these earlier events did not have official national status but were treated as such on a nod and a wink basis.

Townsend is on the far left of this photo I have posted before:

 
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