Tennis Prose



Harry Hopman: A Tennis Legend

By Chris Lewis

There was hardly a man in world tennis more respected than Harry Hopman. Right up until his death at 79 years of age in 1985, Harry Hopman could be seen on court every day at his Tennis Academy at the Bardmoor Country Club in Largo, Florida, where he ran a huge tennis complex of 30 Har-Tru Courts and 10 cement courts.

My association with Mr Hopman began in 1975 at Junior Wimbledon. He was advising Ricardo Ycaza of Ecuador, the player I beat in the final. I was aware that he’d watched my play throughout the second week, and that he knew of me.

I began visiting his tennis academy at Bardmoor in 1977, and during the time I spent there, such good players as Andrea Jaeger, Kathy Horvath, Ramesh Krishnan, Fritz Buehning, Scott Davis, Hans Gildemeister, Johan Kriek, Peter McNamara, Paul McNamee, Andres Gomez, Vitas Gerulaitis and John McEnroe trained at the academy.

Such was the respect that Harry Hopman commanded, just by his record and his presence, that all the players, without exception, would call him Mister Hopman. Well, almost without exception, as occasionally Vitas would call him “Mr H,” but no one would dream of calling him Harry.

One of the reasons Hopman earned so much respect was that he truly loved the game. He wasn‘t just interested in the big names, but in anyone wanting to play tennis. At his camp, there were always dozens of inexperienced players, as well as the bigger names, and Hopman took a personal interest in all of them.

He had such a passion for the game that even in his seventies he would travel to the Grand Slams — Wimbledon and The US Open — just to follow the form and results of his players. No job was too small for him. I saw him the week before Wimbledon, out there, acting as a ball-boy for Vitas Gerulaitis during practice sessions.

There has also been a spin-off to Hopman‘s coaching fame. Other coaches who have worked under him have later found themselves to be in heavy demand. For instance, the late Bob Brett, a Hopman employed coach went on to become one of the most sought after coaches on the pro tour.

Harry Hopman always retained an extremely close interest in all his players, to the point of making and receiving daily phone calls during tournaments to hear reports on various matches.

He was an incredibly interesting character. He began playing international tennis in 1928. A top class doubles player, winning two Australian doubles titles with Jack Crawford in 1929 and 1930, and also reaching the French doubles final and the Wimbledon mixed (with his wife Nell).

He was playing captain of the Australian Davis Cup Team in 1938-39, and as late as 1948 reached the French Doubles final with Frank Sedgman.

It was as mastermind of Australian tennis that he made his reputation, though, guiding players from the era of Frank Sedgman, Ken Rosewall and Lew Hoad, through to John Newcombe and Tony Roche. He left Australia in 1969 to base himself in the United States.

As well as being passionate about the sport, Hopman was also a strict disciplinarian. He was known to stand hidden on the balcony of his house, which overlooked a golf course used by tennis players as a running track. Hopman would watch the players through a pair of binoculars to make sure they were sticking to the prescribed course and running at the right speed!

Players who visited his tennis camp knew they were going there to work. A typical day there for me would begin with 10-15 minutes of warm-up exercises, followed by 2 ½ hours on court. These sessions would always be very physical but also very interesting. Harry Hopman had hundreds of his own drills, and there was always something different to keep players interested.

After this workout would be a lunch break of 90 minutes, followed by more exercises, and then another 2 ½ hours on court.

At the end of the day, players were given the option of playing practice sets or going for a run.

The fact that Harry Hopman was involved in tennis at the highest level for such a huge time span is a tribute to his dedication and commitment to what was a life-long passion for tennis. Never did I visualize myself sitting at a dinner table with Harry Hopman and tennis heroes such as Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, Frank Sedgman, Neale Fraser and players of their ilk, who had attended last year‘s Wimbledon, French or United States Opens and hearing the discussion of what McEnroe or Lendl or Connors should have done at a particular stage of the match.

It was an insight into the way these men reacted to the crises which confronted them 10, 20 or 30 years earlier. It’s a most thought provoking exercise trying to create a mental picture of Hoad playing Rosewall in a major final, or Frank Sedgman playing a vital Davis Cup match.

Harry Hopman was the man who sat on the sideline and gave advice to these men, and must take a lot of credit for their achievements. That’s what made him a tennis legend.

Fred Stolle: Mr Hopman molded the character, personality and respect of all Davis Cup teams and squads that he was involved with, from Sedgman through, till the time he moved to the US, including me. A great man. I had the great honor and privilege of giving the eulogy, along with Vitas Gerulaitis and others at his memorial service.

Andres Gomez: I lived from 1977 to 1994 in Bardmoor Country Club, Mr Hopman was absolutely the best. Even after he died, I swear I felt him hidden from somewhere checking that we were doing the right thing. Sometimes he will come to me the next day and let me know what I did wrong in a return on break point while playing somebody practice sets, of course I never saw him, he was in his golf cart looking for balls at the near by lakes, balls that we will use for practice serve in baskets with thousands of them. I was lucky to hve met him, his influence on my game was big but not as huge as it was on my life. Few names… Paul Kronk, Clift Letcher, David Carter, Charlie Fancutt, Peter McNamara, Paul McNamee, John Van Nostrand, Jim Gurfein, Gabriel Neascu, Vitas Gerulaitis, Bill Bowden, Bonnie Gadusek, Kathy Horvath, Andrea and Susy Jaeger, Ricardo Ycaza, Hans Gildemeister, Ramesh Krishnan, Jimmy Brown, Shuzo Matzuoka, Bruno Oresar, with the coaches Bob Brett, Colon Nunez, Tommy Thompson, Alvaro Betancur, Howard Moore, Bob Butterfield, Scott and Tim Brooks, Rod Hernandez, John Hanky, Jim Hinson, Rick Crockett, Alex St Hill, Steve and Cliff Schneider and many more. Fun times.

Brett Stephenson: It was the place to be in late 70’s and early 80’s for improvement against top juniors plus world ranked professionals. My first day on court was with Andres Gomez, Ricardo Ycaza, and Cassio Motta. Mr Hop in his golf cart was everywhere and always watching. Tommy Thompson and Bob Butterfield were his top coaches. Remember Bob Brett was looking for ATP pros to coach. McNamee and McNamara were there practicing together all day. Paul McNamee was changing his backhand to a two hander. Jimmy Guerfein, Ramesh Krishnan and a New Zealand player Chris Lewis rumored to practice all day, go all out and never make an error.

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