Most of the main biographical details for this piece come from two Spanish-language websites, and can be found here: http://www.tenischile.com/biografia_anita_lizana.htm
, and here: http://www.chile.com/tpl/articulo/de...d_articulo=787
. I have added a good deal of additional information from various other sources, which help to round out the life and tennis career of this much underrated player.
Anita Lizana was born in Santiago, Chile, on 19 November 1915. She came from a very modest background, her father, Roberto, being caretaker and administrator at the local “Club de Tenis de los alemanes” [“German Tennis Club”], in the district of Quinta Normal. The Germans who lived in the area and frequented the club thus got to know Roberto and set up a small house for him and in his family beside the club grounds. All six of his children were born in this house.
Roberto’s brother and Anita’s uncle, Aurelio Lizana, was a mythical tennis player in Chile in the early part of the twentieth century. It is said that he could have been the first great Chilean champion, but for financial reasons he did not have much opportunity to leave the country. If an amateur tennis player like Aurelio had received any money at the time, his reputation would have been ruined. This inability to earn money through tennis meant that the Lizanas would always live in straitened circumstances.
However, Aurelio was invincible in Santiago. He took on the best players who came to Chile and beat them all. Aurelio was the main factor in the formation of Anita, who was also taught tennis by her father (in addition to his caretaking and administrative duties, he also coached at the German tennis club). Anita began to learn the game at a very early age and, according to legend, was sleeping with her racket by the age of six. Her five siblings – Clotilde, Loreto, Ricardo, Roberto and Juan – also took up the sport, but only for Anita was it to become a way of life. None of her siblings had her dedication and talent.
This talent and her facility for the sport enabled her to officially participate in her first tournament in 1926, at the age of 11. She won the tournament from a more experienced player of the time, María Salas. Anita was so small that she was nicknamed “the little mouse” but, according to Helen Jacobs, writing in 1951 in “Gallery of Champions”, Anita’s “timing was so carefully gauged and her body weight so skilfully used in adding momentum to her strokes that she could hit harder than players thirty pounds heavier than her”.
Although Anita finished her formal education in her mid-teens, as a child she combined her schoolwork with her tennis. She and her siblings could not afford to be slack. Her father wanted them to do well, so he made them study because that was the only way there was. For a while Anita was the most rebellious of the six Lizana children, but not for long. She became more serious when she reached her teens.
Her weekends were spent waiting for partners to go to the courts or the gardens with, and exercising. On weekdays she would run from school straight to practice. She spent hours exercising her legs and fine-tuning her game under the watchful eye of her father and her uncle.
In 1930, Anita’s name became known to the public for the first time when her unquestionable talent for tennis saw her being crowned champion of Chile in the senior category at the age of 14, a title she would retain for four years, until 1934.
Her desire and enthusiasm for the sport, and the impossibility of meeting opponents of her class, made Anita leave Chile to try her luck abroad with her racket. At that time a handful of people who believed in her talent made a public appeal for support based on the desire and the innate skills of the young tennis player, in order to collect money which would finance her international travels. In this way her international sporting career would be able to commence. Her supporters did not doubt that she would triumph and create history. 120,000 pesos (a fortune at that time) were collected and Anita was able to travel to Europe in 1935, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to Great Britain, where she won several tournaments on her international debut.
This was an impressive start from someone who cannot have been familiar with a grass court; grass was a common surface in Britian in those days. She reached the third round of Wimbledon that first year, losing to Britain’s Kay Stammers, 6-2, 8-6, on the Centre Court. Anita had a very relaxed yet determined approach to the game and smiled a lot. She was agile, quick and had little to lose. Her pleasant disposition won her many fans on this first trip abroad.
In 1936, she established her reputation definitively by wining several more tournaments and reaching the quarter-final at Wimbledon, losing to Helen Jacobs, the eventual champion. These results led her to be classed number eight in the world at a time when world rankings did not exist. Rankings at that time were based on tables drawn up by journalists from specialist magazines. In “Gallery of Champions”, Jacobs wrote of Anita: “Her strokes were graceful, her footwork as delightful as a ballet dancer’s. Every return she made, successful or not, showed nerve and imagination. And always, winning or losing, her gay, cheery smile endeared her to everyone who watched her play.”
In 1937, Anita again reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, while on September 11 of that year she won the US national title at Forest Hills by beating the Polish player Jadwiga Jerdzejowska 6-4, 6-2 in the final. By this time Anita’s game had become steadier and she know exactly when to play the right shot at the right time. According to legend, so great were the Chilean’s efforts in the final that she fainted at the end. This was the image of the 22-year-old tennis player recognized by so many, someone who fought tooth and nail until she had nothing left to give. Jadwiga Jerdzejowska had just played in the Wimbledon final and was also considered one of the best players in the world.
Anita Lizana was the first Latin American player to win a Grand Slam tournament. She did so on her debut, without conceding a set in any of her matches and on her only appearance at Forest Hills. This victory made her number one in the world in several experts’ eyes. Looking back on that 1937 US championship win nearly fifty years later, Anita said: “I can still remember every minute of that tournament. It was my greatest victory. What I felt at that time can’t be compared to anything else. I was invited to countless receptions and congratulated by some of the most famous people in the world. It was as if I was living in a wonderful dream.”
In 1937, Anita also won a large number of other singles titles, including the Riviera Championships in Menton, France, on clay, the British Hard Court Championships in Bournemouth, England, and the Pacific Coast Championships in Berkeley, California. The renowned journalist A. Wallis Myers ranked Anita number one overall for 1937. At the end of the year she travelled back to Chile, where she was given a hero’s reception and was received by the president, Arturo Alessandri Palma.
Dorothy Bundy, one of the United States’ top players at that time, watched Anita play that year and wrote an article on Anita for the “The Age” newspaper in November 1937. The following is an extract from that article:
“No one was more popular in America than the gay and laughing little senorita from Chile, Anita Lizana, who won the national singles title and the hearts of all Americans. Anita is such a tiny little thing. I got to know her well when we were at Forest Hills, and always she reminded me of a little faun. She is so graceful, fleeting in her movements and so quick. It is her quickness which is her outstanding feature.
“Much less than five feet in height, one would never think to look at her that Anita had any power with which to hit her shots – but she drives on either her backhand or her forehand as hard as any woman player. Anita gets her tremendous strength and power from her perfect timing and her coordination. All her movements are rhythmical. Her ground shots are made in effortless fashion and they just sting across the net.
“Her backhand is considered one of the best seen in women’s tennis. It has a wonderful follow-through and is free in its action, but, perhaps the most masterful touch in her game is her drop shot. The ball stops just over the net and cuts away. She uses it marvellously, and it is so well-concealed one never knows whether she is going to hit a powerful backhand down the line or send a drop shot which leaves you standing.
“If there is a weakness in her game it is her service, where she drops the head of her racket right back, and gets little body swing into it. It is flat and well placed but presents no particular difficulties which a cut or sliced ball does.
“One extraordinary thing about Anita is that she does not play the net game which is regarded as essential in America. She never stands in close when she is playing doubles, but wanders around in ‘no man’s land’ near the service court, which normally would ruin any other player’s chances of success. Anita, however, does the most stupendous half-volleys and pick-ups, jumping around like an elfin figure and amazing her partner as well as her opponents with her recoveries. This does not make her a good doubles player because teamwork is necessary, but I feel that if she bothered to concentrate on improving her net game, she would be absolutely unbeatable. But it is fascinating to see this little mite moving around like quicksilver, picking the balls from behind her ears and body in exceptional fashion.”
Although she was not yet 21 when she won the US Nationals title in September 1937, this victory was destined to be the peak of Anita’s tennis career. In May of that year, she had become engaged to Ronald Ellis, Scotland’s number two tennis player and a native of Invergowrie, a village located to the west of Dundee. They first met in 1936, at the Hydropathic Hotel, in Peebles in Dundee, during the Scottish tennis championships. Ronald Ellis was the only coal merchant in the area and was to amass a fortune through his business. On 14 July 1938, Anita and he were married in the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, popularly known as the Brompton Oratory, a Roman Catholic church in South Kensington, London. They settled in Dundee.
It is clear that, although they were to play and win a number of mixed doubles events together later on, Ronald Ellis was only an occasional player, while tennis had essentially been Anita’s life up until her marriage. After her marriage this situation changed and she was never able to dedicate herself as much to the game as she had done before she married. There are two main reasons for this. First of all, she had three children (all girls, named Ruth, Carol and Carmen) in the following years and, secondly, the Second World War intervened.
Her subsequent drop in form was reflected in her poor results. In 1938, she was unseeded at Wimbledon and lost 6-4, 6-4 to France’s Simone Mathieu in the second round. She played in a few more events between the summer of 1938 and the outbreak of the Second World War just over a year later, but restricted her appearances to tournaments in Britain.
Anita spent the war in Scotland. She appears to have had at least one of her three daughters by this stage. (Ronald Ellis was 23 years old in 1939 and more than likely served in the army during the war.) There was little opportunity for Anita to practise her tennis during this period and she had to rely on local boys to maintain her form. Many years later Anita said that she believed she would have won Wimbledon if the Second World War had not intervened – she was only 23 when it broke out – but marriage and motherhood might well have prevented her from doing so. She always regretted not being able to maintain the form which had enabled her to become a world-class player.
She resumed her tennis career in 1946, after the end of the war. Despite her lack of recent practice, she was again able to win the Scottish Championships in Edinburgh. The following year she returned to Wimbledon, but lost in the second round to Patricia Todd, the number four seed. This defeat discouraged her from entering the top tournaments again. However, she won the Scottish Hard Courts in 1947 at Saint Andrews, beating Dorothy Round Little, another veteran, in the final. Anita’s husband partnered her in the mixed at the Scottish Championships and at some other tournaments where she also enjoyed success in the singles.
Although Anita Lizana is without a doubt Chile’s most famous female tennis player, she never played the sport as a professional because, it is said, her husband did not wish her to. Her triumphs brought the name of Chile to the best courts in the world and her victories inspired the construction of part of the mythical Estadio Nacional [National Stadium] in Santiago which bears her name, Complejo Anita Lizana, as well as a street with her name in the Parte Alta sector in Coquimbo in Chile.
In 1966, Anita was officially invited by President Eduardo Frei Montalva to play in the South American Tennis Championships held in the Estadio Espańol in Santiago and she accepted the invitation. Her visit was a major event and she was acclaimed by a full Estadio Nacional [National Stadium]. She once again received proof of the affection she deserved and which she always appreciated.
In later life Anita played both tennis and golf socially. She became a grandmother and a great-grandmother several times over. None of Anita’s daughters became involved in competitive tennis.
During the interview she gave to a Chilean journalist in 1986, when she was 71, Anita was asked why she had not returned to Chile (her husband had died suddenly of a heart attack eight years earlier, in 1978). She said that she had lived in Britain since she was about 20, that her children and grandchildren lived there and that she had put down roots in Scotland. She was so unused to speaking Spanish that the interview had to be conducted mainly in English. It was clear that Anita had not kept in close contact with her relatives in Chile (the travel costs would have prohibited them from visiting her in Scotland), and that she had not followed the progress of tennis in that country. When reminded that no Chilean player, male or female, had approached her success, she smiled with genuine modesty. There were no visible reminders of her success on display in her home (“I keep my trophies in the bank,” she said).
In 1989, Anita returned to Chile for a final visit. Her main reason for doing so was to participate in an international seniors tournament in Vina del Mar on the Chilean coast. She was 74 at the time. Several sources state that Anita spent her final years in “Ferdown”. This could be Ferndown, a town in the south of England, close to the coastal resort of Bournemouth. She died of stomach cancer on 21 August 1994 at the age of 78. She was cremated and her ashes were deposited beside those of her husband in Dundee, Scotland.