Professor Stefan Maroti, of the Faculty of Physical Education and Sports at the University of Oradea in Romania, recently wrote an article on the early Romanian lawn tennis player Lenke Ziszovits-Popper. This article provides an insight not just into the life and lawn tennis career of the player in question, but also into the early days of lawn tennis in Romania.
The article was first published in a Romanian quarterly devoted to interdisciplinary studies and research (it can be seen here, in Romanian: http://pm3.ro/pdf/42/PM3_Nr.4(vol.11)_2010m.pdf;
the article in question includes some photographs of Lenke Ziszovits-Popper). It deserves to be read by a wider audience, hence its appearance here.
Lenke Ziszovits-Popper – a representative Romanian tennis player of the inter-war period
by Stefan Maroti (translated from the Romanian by Mark Ryan)
During the last part of the nineteenth century and the years immediately preceding World War One, Oradea experienced remarkable commercial, economic and cultural developments. Similarly, with the support of businessmen, intellectuals and other lovers of physical exercise in the city, sport developed through the founding of a number of sports clubs and associations, and the redevelopment of a number of sports centres. Tennis was among the sporting disciplines which benefited from and capitalized on the favourable conditions existing during this period. It captured the interest of many inhabitants because it was played by a broad basic number of players who achieved good results.
Following the establishment, in 1895, of a sports centre in Redhey Park, the establishment, in 1896, of the Association of Tennis Players in Oradea Mare, and the redevelopment of numerous grounds in different parts of the city, tennis became a sporting discipline played by a large number of people and a sport with a broad calendar of competitions practised by players who even achieved results at national level. For example, during the tournament held in Budapest in June 1901, Odon Schmidt, a native of Oradea, finished first. At the tournament held in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, at the beginning of June 1902, Ede Toth, another native of Oradea, and Odon Schmidt, put in excellent performances, finishing in second and third place respectively.
The creation of the tennis section in the Oradea Sports Association, the Oradea Athletics Club, the Sporting Harmony Association in Oradea, the Sports Association for Diligent Workers in Oradea, the Crisana Sports Club and the Maccabi Sports Association in Oradea all contributed to the progress and growth of the popularity of tennis in Oradea. Other contributing factors were the redevelopment of 67 different sports grounds throughout the whole city, the establishment of the first indoor tennis courts in Romania, the organising of a number of international competitions, the Oradea Athletics Club Cup and the Dreher-Hagenmacher Cup, involving the participation of a number of good players from Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania.
During this time, competent people were in charge of tennis in Oradea, including Pal Nemeth, founder of the tennis section in the Oradea Athletics Club, and Erno Popper as well as a proficient coach, Andor Mathe. The [make-up] of the generations shows us that, during this period, the city by the Crisul Repede river was an important centre of Romanian tennis, which produced a number of talented players with a gift for hard work who achieved success on both a national and international level.
Some future great champions received their initial training in Oradea and would go on to win the Romanian national championships as well as numerous internationl tournaments. These players were Lenke Ziszovits-Popper, Klara Somogyi-Hensch and Magda Berescu (Bereczky)-Rurac who, through their sporting performances, dominated Romanian tennis in the 1930s. During this period, Oreada was one of the most powerful centres of tennis in Romania.
Early years of activity
Lenke Ziszovits was born in Petrosani in 1909. She made her first acquaintance with tennis in the place of her birth under the guidance of one of the best tennis players in the country at that time, E. Schlosser. Lenke Ziszovits was quickly singled out as a young girl with real qualities and the prospect of becoming a good tennis player. Due to the training programme she implemented, her coach also took care to give her a sporting education so that, in time, she became a real player as much due to her temperament, qualities and training as to her education.
Starting in 1923, when she was a pupil at the Commercial School in Oradea, Lenke Ziszovits became a player in the lawn tennis section of the Oradea Athletics Club where she trained assiduously and began to take part in official competitions in her own age group. Her talent, serious nature and the diligence she showed when training meant that she had a rapid rise, becoming, within a short period of time, a player with remarkable physical qualities and with a clean and efficient technique. After finishing her studies she returned to Petrosani and continued training with her first coach, Miss Schlosser, with whom she took part in different local and national competitions.
In 1925, Lenke Ziszovits trained in Switzerland for a short period of time and took part in a series of tournaments in which she represented Geneva. In the sporting year of 1926, she returned to Oradea Athletics Club, a sporting institution which, in that period, had a well-organized tennis section and players who achieved good results on both a local and national level, managed by skilful, enthusiastic, competent people.
Results at national level
In Oradea, a centre of tennis with an old tradition, Lenke Ziszovits found material conditions for training which allowed her to put in top performances. During this period in Oradea, top players were developing their game. These included Lili Marton, Liska Manic, Endre Steiner, Imre Werwath, Emerik Grunwald, Alexandru Grosz, Janos Frolich and Mihai Petrovics. Those in charge of the tennis section ensured that they had a broad programme of tournaments in which to take part on a local, national and international level.
Having in Andor Mathe a coach who knew how to guide her tactfully, to value her qualities and, through a methodical form of preparation, to perfect her talent, Lenke Ziszovits made progress year by year. As early as her first year of activity in Oradea she made good progress, finishing near the front in the Haggibor Cup, the [Cup of the Athletics Club of Oradea], [the Cup of the Athletics Club of Cluj], the Dreher-Hagenmachen Cup, etc. In the Romanian national championships she won three silver medals – in the women’s singles, the women’s doubles (with Nini Golescu) and the mixed doubles (with Gheorge Lupu).
Due to the results she obtained, Lenke Ziszovits-Popper was one of the best Romanian players during subsequent years. Between the years 1930 and 1938, she won the women’s singles title in the Romanian national championships five times (1930, 1931, 1932, 1933 and 1938). She also won the women’s doubles event at the Romanian national championships four times – in 1930 and 1933 with Nini Golescu, in 1931 with E. Schlosser and in 1935 with Magda Berescu as her partner.
Due to the success she achieved in tennis tournaments, King Carol II conferred upon her the award for “Sporting Cultural Merit”.
Lenke Ziszovits-Popper in international competitions
In the 1930s, Romania had a wealth of top female tennis players who achieved excellent results internationally. Lenke Ziszovits-Popper was one of these players. The skill she exhibited led to her being invited to take part in international tournaments in several European countries – Austria (Reichenau, Semmering), Bulgaria (Sofia, Varna), Czechoslovakia (Stary Skomovecz), France (Annency, Lyons, Paris), Germany (Berlin), Greece (Athens, Salonika), Hungary (Budapest, Balaton, Lillafured, Mako), Romania (Bucharest, Cernauti, Cluj, Sinaia), Switzerland (Geneva, Lucerne) and Turkey (Istanbul).
While taking part in these tournaments she met top-class players, many of them being part of the elite of tennis in Europe – Campbell from England; Payot from Switzerland; Golding, Bartier and Satoner de Roy from France; Friedlander from Germany; and Lenos from Greece. Lenke Ziszovits-Popper was victorious in many of the foreign tournaments in which she particpated – in Arad, Balaton, Berlin, Budapest, Cluj, Cernauti, Lillafured, Oradea, Reichenau, Semmering, Sinaia, etc.
She also underlined her talent by the results she obtained in the Romanian International Championships where, in 1929, together with S. Fobert, and in 1930, together with Nini Golescu, Lenke Ziszovits-Popper finished first in the women’s doubles event. At the edition of the tournament in 1929, together with J. Sala, she became mixed doubles champion at the Romanian International Championships.
Lenke Ziszovits-Popper was a member of the Romanian national team during the first three editions of the Balkan Tennis Championships, held in Athens. At the first edition of this tournament she won three silver medals – in the women’s singles event and in the doubles events. At the edition held in 1931, together with Nini Golescu, she finished in second place in the women’s doubles event and won the gold medal in the team event. At the third edition of the Balkan Tennis Championships, held in 1932 and only for teams, she won a silver medal.
Victim of anti-Jewish laws
Being Jewish, Lenke Ziszovits-Popper was affected by the restrictive measures taken by the sports authorities of that time against athletes from minorities in Romania. In this respect, the Romanian government’s regulations and those of the heads of sports tribunals in our country, e.g. the Decision of 31 March 1935, taken by the Union of Sports Federations in Romania; Decree no. 3424 of 7 October 1937, issued by the Romanian government; and Decision no. 72 of 6 August 1940, taken by the authorities in Romania, had negative effects on Lenke Ziszovits-Popper’s career.
Following completion of the annexation of Northern Transylvania by Hungary on 12 September 1940, through the application of the antisemitic laws of 28 May 1938 and 5 May 1939 respectively, through the implementation of the Hungarian government’s Decision of August 1941 concerning the reorganization of physical education and sports, and of Decree no. 239000/1942, Jewish sporting organizations were disbanded, and people of Jewish ethnicity had their right to be members of certain sporting bodies and to take part in official international competitions withdrawn.
Between 22 May and 5 June , as part of the “actions taken to solve the Jewish problem”, 27,469 ethnic Jews from the city of Oradea and localities in the county of Bihor, concentrated in two ghettoes in Oradea, were loaded onto nine trains whose destination was the concentration camps. Lenke Ziszovits-Popper was among those who died as a result of these deportations.
1. Throughout her sporting career, Lenke Ziszovits-Popper obtained notable results, winning the top prize in numerous local, national and international tournaments. Her nine titles in the Romanian national championships, in the singles and doubles events, are a confirmation of her talent and qualities as the best female tennis player in Oradea.
2. Her three finishes in first place at the Romanian International Championships, and the five medals she won at the Baltic Championships, place her among the best female Romanian tennis players of the interwar period.
3. Although she was not at her sporting peak at the time, the anti-Jewish measures taken by the authorities in Romania and, subsequently, the authorities in Hungary, affected her sporting career.
4. Due to the results she obtained and the contribution she made to the development of tennis, Lenke Ziszovits-Popper was a representative tennis player in Oradea and on a national basis.