this is one of the most interesting articles on tennis i've read in some time. i hope you enjoy it as much as i did.
Posted on Sun, Mar. 16, 2003
Tennis' forgotten past sleeps in South Florida
BY MICHELLE KAUFMAN
Gardnar Mulloy parks his rusty blue Oldsmobile at Northwest Third Street and Ninth Avenue, a corner he has visited regularly for most of his 89 years. He reaches into the back seat, pulls out a basket of tennis balls and a couple of rackets, and strolls into Henderson Park.
The bronze plaque that read ''Gardnar Mulloy Tennis Center'' is long gone. Somebody stole it shortly after it was mounted.
''Little Havana Thugs'' and ''[Expletive] Police!'' are scrawled on the benches. A couple of teenagers, who arrived recently from Nicaragua, play basketball, unaware of the hallowed tennis grounds on which they dribble.
Told they are in the company of a former Wimbledon champion who played mixed doubles with Althea Gibson, one of the boys, Jaime, said: ``I see that old man here all the time, practicing, and figured he was just some guy. I had no idea.''
''Used to be eight clay courts here,'' Mulloy says, pointing to two hard courts, four basketball courts and a medical clinic across the fence.
''The clubhouse was over there.'' He points to an open field. ``It had nice stands and a viewing porch. People would come from all over South Florida to see the Dade County Tennis Championships. It was a big deal.''
Nowadays, when people think Miami tennis tournament they think of the one on Key Biscayne, the NASDAQ-100 Open, which begins Monday with qualifying rounds. Most of the top 150 players in the world will whiz into town, compete for $6.2 million and whiz out to the tours' next stops.
They will never step foot on Henderson Park, or Moore Park in Allapattah, a once-whites-only park where Arthur Ashe eventually gave lessons and dozens of black children play today.
They certainly are familiar with South Florida's most celebrated tennis player, Chris Evert of Fort Lauderdale. But do they know that former Wimbledon champion Doris Hart, the fifth-winningest female player of all-time, lives in Coral Gables?
As South Florida's tennis community prepares to lather itself in sunscreen and crane its collective neck right and left for the next two weeks at NASDAQ, it seems a perfect time to look back at snapshots of local tennis history.
''Gar'' Mulloy has been around Miami (or, ''Mi-ah-muh,'' as he calls it) long enough that he remembers Seminole Indians canoeing up the Miami River and setting up camp in his neighborhood, Spring Garden. Long enough that he used to sneak over to the bootleggers' headquarters down the street and earn a buck a day for helping repair their speedboats.
Mulloy, who turns 90 in November and still competes in senior tournaments, is a walking encyclopedia of Miami history. His modest home, next door to the one he grew up in, could be designated a tennis museum. Hundreds of trophies, plaques, old photographs and film reels clutter the living room. The remains of one of the city's first tennis courts is in Mulloy's back yard. His father and uncles built it in 1923.
''Sunday afternoon, my dad's friends would come over to play and he'd drag me out there,'' Mulloy said. ``I hated it. But by the time I was 11, I was better than most those guys.''
Mulloy became a legend in the area's tennis leagues and played No. 1 at Miami High. They knew him at Flamingo Park, the Surf Club, Coral Gables Country Club and Moore Park. Henderson was his home.
''Henderson Park was the hotbed,'' Mulloy said. 'They were clay courts, and some old geezer was in charge of drawing the lines. You'd stop midway through a match and yell, `Hey, how 'bout a line?' and he'd come over and pour the powder down. Half the time they were crooked, but nobody seemed to care.''
Mulloy went on to establish the University of Miami's first tennis team while he was on a football scholarship in 1935. The first year, the tennis team took road trips around Florida and to Havana. The next year, the players piled into two cars and headed north to play Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, and Cornell.
''We clobbered everybody,'' said Mulloy, who also wrote and transmitted game stories to The Herald via Western Union.
In 1939, Mulloy won his first national title at a father-son event. He teamed with Bill Talbert to win the U.S. Open doubles titles in 1942, 1945, 1946, and 1948. In 1957, at age 43, Mulloy won the Wimbledon doubles title with Budge Patty.
The Wimbledon trophy, a small silver bowl, remains his most prized possession.
Even more valuable, you could argue, are his memories. He can tell you stories about being stopped on the street in Miami, during the era he played with Gibson, and being asked, ``What's a Southern man like you doing playing with that [N-word] woman?''
Or the time he was sneered at by a group of white men on a boat to Havana after he chatted with a black man on board. The man was Jesse Owens, who was headed to the same sports festival as Mulloy.
Or the time in the late 1960s when he and Ashe showed up at a tournament in Jacksonville and Mulloy was offered a swank cottage while Ashe was told he would have to stay in a motel on the south side of town.
''Arthur was the top seed in the tournament, and they weren't going to let him have a cottage like the rest of us,'' Mulloy said. ``I finally convinced them to let him stay with me in our cottage. Hard to believe, huh? But it was a different time.''
Ashe qualified for his first Orange Bowl junior tournament in 1956. One problem: Black people were not allowed to stay in the hotels on Miami Beach, so tournament organizers asked DeCasterlin ''Dee'' Moore if he would house the young player.
Moore, who is black, was a gardener and recreational tennis player well known in the city parks. He was especially known at Moore Park (the park is named after former pineapple giant T.V. Moore, no relation) on Northwest 36th Street and Seventh Avenue. Though the park was whites-only most of the time, black players got court time in midday, when the sun was hottest.
''We'd stand there peeking through the fence at the white folks, and then around 11, they'd come off the court and we'd go on,'' said Reginald W. Rhodriguez, 60, who played tennis at Northwestern High and remains a regular at Moore Park. ``Around 2 or 3, when the sun went down a bit, the whites would come back and we'd have to get off. That's just how it was. We had a gentleman's agreement.''
The court slowly integrated during the 1960s, and by 1970, Ashe was a touring pro at Doral and often stopped by Moore Park to offer lessons to inner-city youths along with legendary park coaches Bobby Curtis and John ''Slim'' Harbett.
Kim Sands was one of those kids.
''I took lessons from Arthur right there on Court One,'' said Sands, who went on to a 10-year professional career and No. 46 world ranking (No. 29 in doubles). ``I still teach serving the way he taught me, stressing the toss.''
Sands said it was tough being a black junior player in the 1970s.
''Kids can be cruel,'' she said. 'And so can the parents. I used to hear stuff, or people would just stare, like, `What is she doing here?' The Jewish families were generally more supportive, but it was a lonely time.''
Sands was the first black player to receive a tennis scholarship at UM and later coached the Hurricanes for eight seasons. Two years ago, she took over as director at Moore Park's Ashe-Buchholz Tennis Center. She oversees 35-50 kids a day in the after-school program, sponsored by the City of Miami and the Greater Miami Tennis Foundation.
Eight of her students are playing in college. About a dozen of them are playing U.S. Tennis Association youth events. As she coaches the kids -- Yannick Noah Jackson, Rodney Young, Aja Wright, Rashante ''Chocolate'' Jordan and Razvan Nicolescu -- she thinks of the history of the park.
''Arthur Ashe wasn't even allowed on these courts at one time, and now look,'' she says, pointing to her pupils. ``That's my inspiration.''
When Fort Lauderdale officials hired Jimmy Evert to coach tennis at Holiday Park in 1948, they had no idea he would become a fixture for 49 years. Nor did they have any way of knowing his daughter, Christine, would become one of the top players of all time.
From 1972 to 1989, Chris Evert was never ranked lower than No. 4 in the world. Her career winning percentage (.900) is unmatched. She made the semis or finals at Wimbledon 17 of 18 years and retired in 1989 with 154 singles titles.
The Everts lived a 10-minute walk from Holiday Park, 701 NE 12 Ave., and the park's clay tennis courts would become a second home for all five of Jimmy and Collette's kids. All of them went on to play competitively.
Jeanne, born in 1957, was a touring pro; Clare (1968) played at Southern Methodist; Drew (1953) played at Auburn and was a touring pro; and John (1961) played at Auburn and coaches at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton.
''Our family didn't do picnics at the beach on Sunday,'' said Jeanne Evert. ``Our family was at the tennis court.''
Most of the important lessons were learned on Court 10. That is where Jimmy taught Chris to focus and control her temper. It is also where he allowed his daughter to rely on a two-handed grip when the racket kept flying out of her hands.
''It all started on Court 10,'' Chris Evert said at her Hall of Fame induction.
Others whose games were honed at Holiday Park include Harold Solomon, Laurie Fleming, Brian and Larry Gottfriend and Jennifer Capriati.
Unbeknownst to many of her golf partners at Riviera Country Club, Doris Hart is one of tennis' all-time greats. She ranks fifth in Grand Slam wins (35) behind Margaret Smith Court (62), Martina Navratilova (57), Billie Jean King (39) and Margaret Osborne du Pont (37).
Hart, Court and Navratilova are the only three women to have won every event at all four Grand Slam tournaments.
In 1951, Hart won Wimbledon titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles -- on the same day. Her prize? An $80 gift certificate to a London tennis shop.
Hart fell in love with the game from a hospital bed as a sickly 10-year-old. She was recovering from an operation at Victoria Hospital, and passed the days looking down at Henderson Park tennis matches.
Her family, which ran the Miami Beach Kennel Club, lived around the corner. When she got out of the hospital, her brother, Bud, took her to the park and taught her to play.
''My brother would brush and sweep the court, and they'd waive the 25-cent hourly fee,'' Hart, 77, recalled from her Coral Gables condo. ``All the best players congregated at Henderson, so we got great matches.''
Hart limped from an early-childhood leg infection, so her brother taught her to concentrate on her serve and the drop shot -- lessons that served her well her entire career.
After retirement in 1955, she taught for 28 years in Pompano Beach. She gave up the game 13 years ago, when her right leg became too painful.
Unlike Mulloy, she did not keep most of her trophies and memorabilia. The only one she has on display is the 1951 Wimbledon singles cup.
She shuns publicity and has soured on the USTA and the WTA because neither, she feels, respects the champions of her era. She still follows the game closely, from her living room.
''I prefer to stay away,'' she said. ``I know what I did and I made great friends, and that's all that really matters.''