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Biofile: Jack Kramer Interview

Status: Tennis great. World’s no. 1 ranked player. Won Wimbledon in 1947 and US Championships in 1946 and 1947. Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame.

DOB: August 1, 1921 (to Sept. 12, 2009) Birthplace: Las Vegas, NV

Childhood Heroes: Jimmie Foxx. Lefty Grove. George Urnshaw. Ellsworth Vines – I first saw him in 1935. Still my favorite. Great enough to be the only one. He’s the reason I got interested in tennis. On his best day I don’t think anyone would have touched him. He hit hard and accurate and he served as hard as anyone even today.

Hobbies/Interests: I loved watching and playing team sports. Then the tennis bug got me. Then I discovered golf in ’38. I’m fortunate that was awfully good for me as I later got to own a 36 hole public course in Montebello. Horse racing.

Nickname: Jake.

Pre-Match Feeling: I made damn sure I was well-prepared physically, I knew I’d done all I could to get to be steady on the court on any stroke I needed. I never had trouble sleeping the night before big matches. I’d review what I thought my opponents weaknesses might be.

Greatest Career Moment: Oh golly. I think I felt the best in ’47 when I defended my championship at Forest Hills and I signed a pro contract to play Bobby Riggs on the Riggs-Kramer Tour. I was playing Frank Parker in the final and if I won again I was going to make a ton of money playing Riggs on that tour. I lost the first two sets and won in five. That was the best I felt in my life. (Also) it was nice winning Wimbledon, going to the Royal Box and shaking hands with the King.

Most Painful Moment: When I was playing Jaroslav Drobny, round of 16, Wimbledon 1946. I had a case of bad blisters on my hand. I was wearing a ladies glove with the fingers cut off. Had a 17-15 set. Lost in five sets. Heartbreaking because I was on a boat for the war for 26 months. I planned a long time to get there. Walking up to shake hands with Drob, I said to myself, this is a wonderful way to end your dream! Won Wimbledon easy next year.

Favorite Movies: I’m a nut about movies. Casablanca. Gilda with Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth. And any time a Humphrey Bogart movie comes on we’re real excited. We like anything he’s ever made.

Favorite TV Shows: Ed Sullivan. Milton Berle. Wheel Of Fortune. CNN Larry King – a must for us.

Musical Tastes: Trumpet lessons, Big Band, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Jimmy Lunsford, Tommy Dorsey.

Favorite Meal: I love hamburgers or scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes and sausage for breakfast.

Favorite Breakfast Cereal: Now I’m a fruit man.

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: I’m a chocolate man. At night I watch TV, laying in bed, when I get hungry then Bang! I go out and get some chocolate ice cream. But then I don’t sleep too well!

First Job: Safeway grocery in high school. For my doubles parter’s dad. For thirty five cents an hour we’d work all day Saturday and Sunday. It was then I decided to be a tennis player. Of course we’re playing to avoid work!

Favorite Athletes To Watch: Michael Jordan. Elgin Baylor. Jerry West. Eddie Tolan. Andre Agassi – he’s really fun to watch though not one of my personal favorites. He hits the damn ball from one place to the other place I don’t think Rod Laver could on the run! Sampras – wonderful serve, forehand. He uses them to get to the net. You force an opponent to make a good shot. It’s errors that they make that make you win. You put pressure on them to make better shots. I can’t tell you how many matches I’ve won by using that strategy. I think Pete could do more to help grow the sport though. Stan Smith – a helluva champion. Arthur Ashe. John McEnroe – when he was winning.

Childhood Dream: Believe it or not, when I was in Las Vegas, I was a team sport guy. My best sport was baseball – I was first base, pitcher and catcher. When we moved to San Bernardino I got to be a batboy for the Pittsburgh Pirates in spring training. My dreams changed in 1935 when I saw Ellie Vines and got the tennis bug. Then I wanted to be a champion. Ellsworth Vines, when he was in town, owned a third of the Beverly Hills Tennis Club with Fred Perry. Perry T. Jones (local tennis director) talked Ellsworth Vines into playing with me twice a week when he was in town. Eventually I got imitate his style, even the way he walked. A marvelous figure. When I saw him at the Pomona Fairgournds, I thought he was dressed like Fred Astaire and hits ’em like Babe Ruth!

Most Treasured Possession: I can only find one of my two US Mens Singles trophies and two of my four US Doubles. We ask my sons and daughters – nobody has them. Shows you how loose you can get.

Family: Wife, Glorida; sons, David, John, Robert, Michael, Ronald; seven grandchildren. On our last one I asked the doctor at the hospital to deliver a girl. We already had four sons. I said if you deliver a girl I’ll pay you double, if you deliver a boy I pay nothing. And of course we had our fifth boy.

Toughest Competitors Encountered: Bobby Riggs didn’t have the power but he had a remarkable record. Pancho Gonzales went down in history as a great competitor. Well, he wasn’t when I played him. He didn’t train as hard and got tired easily. Then later in his career he trained more and solved that shortcoming. Ted Schroeder was a fantastic competitor. A slow starter who played more five set matches on big occasions than anyone I’d ever known.

Funny Tennis Memory: Don Budge and I were in Europe in ’49 and we were requested by King Gustav of Sweden. He loved tennis. So we took a private plane and landed on water near his island retreat. King Gustav wanted us to play best of five sets. Couldn’t have been more than twelve people watching, his staff. Don said we’d play two out of three because we had something to do back in Stockholm – Don had a date with a beautiful girl after the match (Jack won in straight sets). We got back in the little plane to take off. But there were waves in the water. The pilot said we couldn’t generate enough speed to take off. We tried again, couldn’t lift off. Don said try again. We tried a third time and finally got off. And Don was the happiest guy on earth!

Early Tennis Memory: I remember my first look at the big leagues in tennis in 1935. I went to Santa Monica. I was excited to see boys and girls carrying three racquets. I lost first round to no. 2 seed Ted Olwein. Then we heard somebody say, Oh there’s Ted Schroeder, he’s some player. My dad and I got a place to watch Ted play. Ted lost his serve, it was 1-1 and when he walked around the net post he was crying. There were tears in his eyes. That’s how competitive he was! We later became close friends. Won three national doubles together and two Davis Cups together.

Closing comments: You asked me a lot of questions that sort of opened me up a bit. I enjoyed it.

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1 comment

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 31, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    I was lucky to get this Biofile. I met John Kramer somewhere (don’t remember where), I had his business card. To do a Biofile with an old time tennis legend like Jack Kramer was big incentive. At first his son resisted, I believe because Jack didn’t want to do it. But I persisted and he eventually did it. And it’s clear he enjoyed my left field questions. Kramer was the Sampras/Federer of his time. His book The Game is one of the best tennis books you will ever read. I re-read it regularly it’s that good. Kramer is not talked about by the media today but he should be. I think it’s because of his adversarial stance with BJK and is realistic views about womens tennis and it’s sellability. Forever grateful I was able to do this Biofile with Jack Kramer.

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