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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.
 

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I am not familiar with her career - is she the same one who played pro golf in the late 60s/early 70s?
 

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Yes, she is!

Thanks - for some reason, I cannot remember her in tennis but will search for some bio data. I esp would like to know why she was left off the Wightman selection.

As a Hispanic, I know fully well how the sport of tennis was so segregated in the 60s. When I was about 10 or 11 my mother tried to get me into a city park to play tennis with other kids. But the attendants there refused to allow me in that group as they only wanted white kids to play. When my mother complained they threatened to have her thrown in jail!!

True, parks in other cities were integrated. But sadly, not so in that part of Brooklyn. It certainly was a different time.
 

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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 think that would have been 1963.

It would surely be relative. I don't think anyone could dispute that Darlene Hard, Billie Jean King and Nancy Richey were the top 3 US players and Donna Flloyd-Fales was an experienced doubles player. In fact herself and Carole Hanks were ranked #2 in the US so if anyone should have been in the US team perhaps it was Hanks. Gwyn Thomas was ranked ahead of Alvarez for that year so she probably deserved a place ahead of Judy as well.

She had many losses as well as victories - as The National Women's Rankings Committee said - "It was a long but uneven record".

The bottom line probably is that the US had an embarrassingly large number of good players to choose from and I can't see that the US Wightman Cup team for that year was anything other than the strongest available.
 

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chris,

Do you know if there was any form of dirty politics going on behind closed doors that discouraged her?

For example, I well remember stories of pro baseball teams who wouldn't take their black players to certain trips because of racism in the USA. It was the old "we don't serve Negroes here" nonsense that discouraged many great black players from the past and forced many of them to drop out of the sport. As the story of Judy Alvarez is new to me (I was 11 years old in 1963), I am curious to know if something untoward went on in the background.
 

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chris,

Do you know if there was any form of dirty politics going on behind closed doors that discouraged her?

Sorry, wta_zuperfan I really wouldn't have any idea of whether or not there was anything underhand going on with regard to Judy.

It was just before my time any data I pick up would be from World Tennis magazine for the period.
 

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Thanks chris.

And yes, there was a great deal of intimidation going on those days. Elston Howard was a great black ballplayer in that era for the NY Yankees and was subjected to numerous death threats. Had he been brought into the MLB a few years earlier as he should have been, he would today be in the Hall of Fame. He, like many others, had their families threatened with death and that is why so many quit pro sports. This happened to a lesser extent among Hispanic athletes who were light skinned so that this is why that was the first thought that came to my mind when this topic was brought up.

It is very difficult to play tennis or any other pro sport when your life, or that of your family, is being threatened. Life in the USA was a whole lot different back then and I am old enough to remember it.
 

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Was Florida Judy's home state?

I see she made to the Slims Masters event in 1971 winning 2 qualifying matches and beating Betty Ann Hansen to reach the quarter-final losing there 0 and 2 to the 16 year-old Chris Evert.
 

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Sorry about this. No, she is not. I contacted Judy Alvarez the golfer in Tampa. She emphatically said no. The reason i thought she was because she was in a tennis article unrelated. My bad.

Thanks for the update -- do you have any photos of Judy? I tried to find some online but couldn't. A few profile and action photos might add to the conversation.

Thanx in advance.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Thanks for the update -- do you have any photos of Judy? I tried to find some online but couldn't. A few profile and action photos might add to the conversation.

Thanx in advance.
This article had a photo of her but I can't find the original article now.
 

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Thanks to Jimbo for bringing her up in the Married Names thread.

I found this interesting article:

http://tampabayonline.net/reports/top100/no70.htm


No. 70 Judy Alvarez
By H.A. BRANHAM of The Tampa Tribune
Judy Alvarez likes what she reads - her first invitation to Wimbledon.
Tribune file photo (1962)
Judy Alvarez: Jefferson '62Highlights: Reached a No. 6 national women's tennis ranking during the summer of 1964, when she beat two future Wimbledon champions � Billie Jean King and Virginia Wade. ... Played at Wimbledon for the first of three times in 1962. In her first-round doubles match she followed Rod Laver's match on Centre Court ... A three-time member of the Junior Wightman Cup team. ... As a junior growing up in Ybor City, honed her game in Tampa at old Cuscaden Park and Davis Islands Tennis Club and was taught by the legendary Maureen "Little Mo'' Connolly. ... State junior champion in '62. State women's champion '62-65. ... Won national Girls 18 doubles title in '63. ... Won the Orange Bowl International Junior Championships' 18s singles and doubles titles in '61, and finished second in '60. ... Named to Tampa Sports Hall of Fame. ... Graduated from the University of Tampa in '67. ... Having quit the world tour in '64, made a brief comeback on the Virginia Slims Tour in '71-72. ... After another lengthy hiatus from competition, became the nation's No. 1-ranked 35s player, winning the 35s' "Grand Slam'' � a sweep of all national championships. In the 40s, was No. 1 nationally and No. 3 in the world. ... Quit playing competitively in 1984, at the age of 41.
Today: Alvarez, 56, still owns and operates the Judy Alvarez Tennis Academy, the northwest Tampa facility she opened in 1973. Alvarez's focus these days is teaching, with small, beginning-level children her specialty. She has, though, worked with a number of promising juniors in recent years. "I really enjoy teaching the kids,'' Alvarez said. "It's like the second thing [after competition] that I enjoy now. Teaching kids, it brings out a lighter picture [of life] for me.'' ... Alvarez, who also teaches in South Tampa at City of Tampa-operated courts, is trying to sell her club and possibly move her instructional operation to another site. Alvarez does not plan a return to competitive tennis any time soon.

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.''
 

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Here is a link to a 1963 upset she had over US #1 Darlene Hard:

http://tampasportshistory.blogspot.com/2008/07/great-judy-alvarez-71863.html


Monday, July 21, 2008

The Great Judy Alvarez, 7/18/63







In the spring of 1963, American Darlene Hard captured the women’s singles title at the Dixie International Tournament held on Davis Islands. The top-ranked tennis player in the U.S. – and second in the world only to Margaret Court – Hard captured the title in the backyard of one of Tampa’s own up-and-coming court stars: Judy Alvarez.

On July 18, 1963, the 20-year-old Alvarez geared up to face Hard in the quarterfinals of the National Clay Court Tennis Championship in River Forest, Ill. The match represented a chance for the eighth-ranked Alvarez to atone for the 6-0, 6-0 beating Hard administered to her earlier in the year at the Dixie, and a 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 loss a week later in Miami.

By the summer of 1963, Hard boasted one of the strongest resumes of anyone on the women’s circuit. As a singles player, Hard won three Grand Slam events -- back-to-back U.S. championships in 1960-61 and a French championship in 1960. Even more impressive, Hard won 12 Grand Slam doubles events. Hard was the standard of excellence to be measured against, and if Alvarez wanted to be the best, she would have to beat the best.

While comedian Jerry Lewis had summer movie audiences in stitches at his performance in “The Nutty Professor,” Darlene Hard certainly found nothing funny about playing the crafty Alvarez. Buoyed by some success on an early-summer swing through Europe with appearances at Wimbledon and the Italian championships, Alvarez felt prepared for her third shot at Hard.

“I’d just gotten back from Europe, and it sure made a difference in my level of play and in my confidence,” Alvarez recalls. “I think I was better prepared because of the tournaments I played on clay and just wanted the chance to show I could beat her on that surface. It was my best surface.”

Their playing styles on the court could not have been more different. Appropriately, Hard thrived on hard court and grass surfaces, which suited her aggressive serve-and-volley style. Alvarez, reared on the clay surface of the Davis Islands Tennis Club, played the quintessential soft court style of consistent, baseline tennis designed to force an opponent into making mistakes. Alvarez wound grind out rallies using a mix of top spin, slice, and flat shots to keep her opponents off balance.

Right out of the gate against Hard, Alvarez played her style to perfection. Using her patented mix of slices and lobs, she quickly raced to a 5-2 lead. With a chance to close out the opening set, Alvarez fell victim to a comeback that featured four unanswered games in a row by Hard. Having once been in a position to close out the set, Alvarez now found herself one game away from blowing a golden opportunity against Hard.

Then, through a combination of self-confidence and stamina, Alvarez rallied to win the next three games and capture the opening set, 8-6. On a steamy day when temperatures on the court reached the high 90s, Alvarez found herself unfazed by the conditions while her opponent seemed to wilt by the point.

“Heat was my cup of tea,” Alvarez says. “When it’s hot up north, it’s not hot enough for me because I’m used to it. I had a darker complexion, too, so I could take it a lot better than a blonde like her.”

As Alvarez recalls, the first set could have gone either way. There was never any doubt, however, about the outcome of the second set. Alvarez’s mix of shots denied Hard easy passage to the net and threw her game out of whack. Alvarez tossed in a few service aces to punctuate the 6-2 second-set triumph.

“If she stayed back, I could rally with her,” Alvarez says. “If I gave her pace, she liked it so I moved her side-to-side. I used lobs, I used slice. Basically, I sliced and diced her.”

Beating the top-ranked American player at the time was the greatest victory of Alvarez’s career. An emotional post-match call to her mother highlighted the significance of the moment. Prior to leaving for the tournament, Alvarez’s mother asked her daughter to call her immediately if she happened to defeat either Maria Bueno or Darlene Hard, saying “those are the two fishes I want.”

“Well, right after the match I told the reporters that I can’t stop to talk to them because I had to call my mother,” Alvarez recalls. “So, one of the reporters overheard me talking to my mother on the phone when I happened to say, ‘Mom, I caught the fish.’ We were both crying because it was such a proud moment.”

The following day in the semifinals, an emotionally spent Alvarez ran into the worst possible opponent in Nancy Richey, who six years later would rise to as high as No. 2 in the world. Richey controlled the match by keeping Alvarez on the run and forcing her into defensive, rather than aggressive, shots.

“She completely out-steadied me,” Alvarez says. “She didn’t allow me to bring her in or pass her. I probably didn’t realize at the time how good Nancy was, even though I knew she had a game that could match mine.”

Despite the 6-2, 6-1 loss, Alvarez left Illinois with the confidence that she could hang with anyone on the tour on any given day. The list of foes vanquished by Alvarez during her career features several Grand Slam event winners and future Hall of Famers, such as Hard, Maria Bueno, Virginia Wade, and Billy Jean King. Still, Alvarez’s victory over Hard remains to this day one of the most meaningful of all.

“That win put me over the top,” Alvarez says, “and told me that I could beat any of those girls in the top five.”
 

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chris,

Do you know if there was any form of dirty politics going on behind closed doors that discouraged her?

For example, I well remember stories of pro baseball teams who wouldn't take their black players to certain trips because of racism in the USA. It was the old "we don't serve Negroes here" nonsense that discouraged many great black players from the past and forced many of them to drop out of the sport. As the story of Judy Alvarez is new to me (I was 11 years old in 1963), I am curious to know if something untoward went on in the background.
Having been born (1945) and raised in Ybor City, I can assure the discrimination towards Cubans was a fact. I attended Thomas Jefferson High School at the same time as Judy Alvarez. We were a mix of Cubans, Spaniards, Italians, and a "smith or jones" thrown in for good measure....but we ALL got along with each other....but we knew we were looked at differently. I can see where Judy would have faced the issues.
 
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