Judy Alvarez (What could have been)
When assessing the tennis achievements of Tampa's Judy Alvarez, there are two keys: referencing the results and listening to the stories. Alvarez's remarkable rise on the women's world tour in the early 1960s must be remembered in two contexts - factual and fun.
Alvarez has titles and trophies, many of the latter on display at her northwest Tampa tennis club. She also has tales that take you back to when big-time tennis was genteel and, at times, uproarious.
Take Wimbledon, 1962 for instance. Alvarez's first appearance at the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, a fortress of decorum that was downright stodgy and snobby 40 years ago. In the faux pas category, Alvarez quickly became the tournament leader.
Her first match was on an outside court. Good thing, too, because Alvarez, well, "snapped.''
"I go to serve, first time on a court at Wimbledon ... and my bra broke,'' Alvarez said, laughing. "All the [linespeople] on my court were women, and they looked around in their purses until one of them found a safety pin. Then they circled around me and held their coats out, so I could fix the bra. Well, I got it fixed but I went back to play and it came loose so I had to come over and fix it again.''
For a first-round doubles match, Alvarez and partner Carol Caldwell were put on famed Centre Court, right after a Rod Laver singles match. Alvarez looked ready, as she walked back to the service line to begin the match. Except for one thing. She had left her racket at her chair.
"When it was obvious I didn't have my racket, you could hear all this mumbling,'' Alvarez said. "Anyway, I got my racket and as I walked back out, I held it up so everyone could see it. Everyone applauded. Carol and I lost, but the crowd was behind us the whole time.''
There are other gems. Like the time at Wimbledon when a good friend and fellow player, having gone to see a London hypnotist to help her concentration, freaked out and couldn't play her match. She stood riveted at the back fence, claiming she had gone blind, and had to be led off-court by Alvarez.
As a teenager growing up in Ybor City, Alvarez spent many days catching a bus to the old Davis Islands Tennis Club. A good friend - and top rival - was future Tampa mayor Sandy Freedman.
"There was a whole crew of us back then,'' Freedman said. "I remember Judy's mother used to bring me pizza. But I don't know if she did it to weigh me down before I played Judy or what.''
Not all of the memories are good ones, of course. For Alvarez, 1964 forever will be bittersweet. She beat fellow Americans Billie Jean King, Darlene Hard and Donna Fales, only to be left off the Wightman Cup squad. Crushed by what she considered a political and perhaps discriminatory decision - Cubans weren't exactly commonplace in tennis - Alvarez quit the tour. She was ranked No. 6 in the U.S. at the age of 21.
"I could shoot myself for that, now,'' Alvarez said.
"I think Judy could've made a lot of money [if she'd kept playing],'' King said. "She was a great player, a very good athlete. And it was very important for her to be playing - it was important to me - because she was Hispanic.''
After a short comeback in 1970-71, Alvarez quit again to open Judy Alvarez's Club Tennis, a northwest Tampa facility she now is trying to sell.
At the age of 35, she came back and dominated her age group in the U.S. and internationally. Finally, in '84, she quit for good.
"And I think I kind of lost my identity after that,'' she said. "The competition was a big chunk of my life, and I had to put it away. I miss that a lot.
"But I'll tell you, if I had to play now like I used to, I'd need a doctor to travel around with me, to keep me going.''
Indexed and linked to Blast bio.
Live so that when you are gone, it would have mattered---- Betty Feezor
Last edited by Rollo; Apr 10th, 2013 at 05:51 PM.