Jan/11

12

The Amazing Felicisimo Ampon

During a conversation with Johan Kriek, he mentioned a marvel of a tennis player from the Philippines named Felicisimo Ampon who was one of the world’s best players even though he stood only 4-ft, 8-inches tall. Kriek said he learned about Ampon from Roy Emerson who still has fond memories of the diminutive victor of Wimbledon, Davis Cup and Pan American Games victor and also scored two wins over Jaroslav Drobny.

Curious, I decided to do some research about the amazing Ampong and came up with the following…

From Ryan Arguelles, A Filipino-American tennis player:

“Felicisimo “Totoy” Ampon is the Father of Filipino Tennis who competed in Wimbledon and won the consolation tournament after the real Wimbledon champion is determined. He competed among American, Australian and European greats in his time including Roy Emerson. One day, a tennis friend invited me at Central Park and introduced me to an old guy. We played doubles that day with another tennis great of America in the 1950′s, he was already 86-years-old two years ago. His name is Fred Kovalevski and he represented United States in Davis Cup and played professional tennis in the 1950′s and 1960′s. Once he identified me as a Filipino he suddenly brought out memories of his many matches he played with Felicisimo Ampon in the Philippines and European circuit as well as here in America because he lost a few times times to him. Fred Kovalevski is still a good doubles player on his age and hits at Central Park every now and then. Every Filipino tennis player-enthusiast who has a sense of history knew about Felicisimo Ampon. Though he was really small person, not even 5 feet tall, he was really fast, a good returner and retriever according to stories I heard among Filipino old timers of the game. He represented Philippines in many Davis Cup competition and at that time nobody can beat Philippines in Asia in Davis Cup with Ampong as our main player. Japan, South Korea and China would not have a chance in the old days in Davis Cup. I was suprised that finally there was still some recognition about Felicisimo Ampon from Johan Kriek and Roy Emerson because if he was just given at least a 5-ft, 6-in height like Manny Pacquiao instead of a 4-ft, 8-in height, he would be number one in his time and be a tennis great like Emerson. Despite his small height every tennis great in his time feared him because he could upset anybody, even top 5 players in the world if they have an off-day. In fact he beat many many 6-foot tall players and until today it is a talk among Filipino tennis players on how he could play without a shoe on or just barefoot. Legends told me he play better with barefoot and was always bothered with a tennis shoes on, for big and international tournaments because he prefer barefoot play. Though in the 1980′s and when I start playing tennis in the Philippines, I knew many player who played the game barefooted and they we’re really good like real 5.0 players!”
***
From the www.philtennis.com web site…

These days with Philippine tennis languishing in relative obscurity, one yearns for the sterling feats of our Mighty Mite, Felicisimo “Totoy” Ampon, who was born on October 27, 1920.

As one of our authentic sports heroes, the diminutive Ampon certainly rose above his physical handicap. His real height-already the stuff of legend-has remained the stuff of controversy. Some writers place him at five feet tall, while others list him an inch shorter. Notwithstanding his size, he was once recognized as the best tennis player in the world, inch for inch.

Giant-killer Ampon’s exploits include winning the Davis Cup singles championship in 1937, although official records place his first year as 1939.

He stood at the helm of Philippine tennis when the country was the leading nation in Asia in the 1950′s and 1960′s, lording over Japan, Korea or India and emerging many times David Cup Zonal Champions in the Eastern Zone.
Together with Raymundo Deyro, Johnny Jose and Cesar Carmona in the Philippine team in 1955, Ampon recorded “the Most Decisive Victory in a Davis Cup Tie,” defeating Burma 5-0 while losing only 18 games.

Already 44-years-old In 1964, Ampon led the Filipinos in a Davis Cup tie in Manila against India. He was first pitted against the powerful Premjit Lall, who was 20 years his junior. To the delight of the hometown gallery, Ampon outplayed his opponent in straight sets. This he followed up with another victory in the reverse singles against Jaidip Mukerjea.

Ampon played in the Davis Cup till he was 47 years and 196 days old, earning the distinction of being the oldest player.

Besides the Davis Cup, Ampon walked tall in other tournaments in Asia, the Americas and Europe.

He was gold medalist in the Far Eastern Games before the war.

He also won the singles title in the Pan-American championship in Mexico City in 1950, although Philippine Tennis Association (PHILTA) records put this as 1949. This international tournament was his most important conquest-he had dealt humbling losses to known internationalists Bill Talbert in the semifinals and Tom Brown in the finals.

In addition, Ampon won over 30 European trophies. He defeated Wimbledon champion Jaroslav Drobny twice, and prevailed over Wimbledon semifinalist Ramanathan Krishnan.

Ampon’s victories secured for the Philippines a spot in the world map of tennis during his heyday. Paying tribute to the Filipino netter, the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) declared him its first Athlete of the Year in 1950.

In May 1952, Ampon nearly defeated world number 1 Frank Sedgman of Australia in the French Open quarterfinals. Subsequently, he again scared Sedgman in the same year’s Wimbledon, going the full route of five sets. The great Sedgman, however, went on to win the crown.

In 1953, Ampon won the Wimbledon Plate championship, a tournament among first and second-round losers in the Wimbledon Open.

This amazing feat was cited by British Ambassador to the Philippines Peter Beckingham during the August 2006 celebration in Makati City of the partnership between the Wimbledon Tennis Championships and Dunlop Slazenger International, which manufactures in the Philippines the tennis balls used in Wimbledon.

“… Some of you may not be aware that a Filipino, Felicisimo Ampon, won the Wimbledon Plate championship in 1953… At 4 feet 11 inches tall, he also holds the record of being the shortest man ever to play at Wimbledon,” he added.

Perhaps the greatest tribute ever paid to Ampon came from a London sportswriter covering Wimbledon, who referred to him as a “great internationalist who has imparted a new meaning to the delicate game and is a credit to the sport.”

After his Wimbledon feat, Ampon partnered with the younger Raymundo Deyro to annex the doubles’ gold in the 1958 Asian Games.

In September 2007, tennis great Ampon was among the 36 outstanding athletes elevated by Far Eastern University to its newly organized Sports Hall of Fame. Sadly, he wasn’t around to receive the distinction. He had moved on to that great tennis court in the sky in 1998.

***
Ryan Arguelles: “Scoop thanks for this article. Finally a recognition of Ampon for his heroics in the tennis game from an American writer! He is forgotten by most of the people now but he is remembered by those greats who fought him in a tennis game for they see a special kind of player never seen before who played the game with his heart and was good at it. I mentioned to you once maybe twice about an old great player from Philippine island in our many talk but maybe you forgot. Thanks for Kriek and Emerson for still remembering this great! Ampon having won 30 European trophies, Pan-American Games and more Asian tournament trophies is a big achievement and if you compare that today of winning ATP 500 and 1000 point events is already big. Doing that in Europe – like winning 30 tournaments and beating a Wimbledon champion in the 1950′s is really hard to achieve because traveling is not that fast at that time and being based in the Pacific island of the Philippines is a long travel to get to European countries. Some stories suggest that Bill Talbert, Emerson and top ten internationals would not win on him if they play in the tropical heat of the Philippine islands.

I just can’t imagine on what would be the kind of speed he has in order to beat tall players in the old days being just a 4-8 in height! A height of 4-8 could not possibly generate power compared with tall players especially European, Australian and American players. There must be special talents like volleying or speed at the net, whatever it is I still can’t imagine how he was able to beat former champion of Wimbledon twice just being a 4-8 in height.”

(Ampon photo from www.philtennis.com)

6 comments

  • Sakhi · January 12, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    Thanks for this wonderful piece. It’s great to have a sense of the lost heroes of tennis from all parts of the globe.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · January 12, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    Thanks Sakhi, it’s amazing to imagine just how good of a player Ampong was, to be able to compete with the best in the world and even beat some of them. I hope to be able to run into Roy Emerson again, last saw him at the WTA Villanova event about six or seven years ago, and ask him about Felicisimo Ampong.

  • vinko · January 13, 2011 at 12:33 am

    Is there any film of his matches?

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · January 13, 2011 at 1:17 am

    I doubt it Vinko, there is even very little text about Ampong on the internet. Will ask my friend if he has ever seen film of him or if it’s available anywhere.

  • RIP · January 13, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Well done! Enjoyed reading that and always like to hear about players history has perhaps forgotten or ignored. A coach who plays at a public court I sometimes play at is from the Philippines and this guy has beautiful, classic strokes and was apparently self taught. Has told me there is a hard-core contingent of tennis players there though he said funding is an issue.
    I was not aware of Ampon’s achievements – thanks for writing that and informing us all.

  • mel ampon · September 30, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    I wish I can go back to the Philippines and help out with the Tennis Industry and continue my father’s legacy. The isuue is funding, sad to say.

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