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Biofile: Roscoe Tanner Interview

Status: Former ATP world no. 4. Australian Open winner 1977. Wimbledon finalist 1979. Won 15 ATP singles titles. Currently lives in Orlando and coaches at a church and country club as well as his 13 year old daughter Lacey.

DOB: October 15, 1951 In: Chattanooga, TN

First Tennis Memory: “Probably playing at Lookout Mountain in Tennessee, at The Fairyland Club. Jerry Evert, Chris Evert’s uncle, was the pro there. I remember taking clinics, four of us together (age 4). Back then they didn’t have the little racquets so we used the adult racquets. We were on court and they were tossing balls to us to hit forehands and backhands. Jerry had a cardboard box full of tennis balls.”

Tennis Inspirations: “In Chattanooga, Jerry was coaching sixteen nationally ranked juniors at the time. So I was inspired by the whole program. One kid named Zan Guerry was ranked no. 1 in the 12s, 14s and 16s. We had a culture of strong tennis development. Tennessee is a strong tennis state.”

First Famous Player You Met Or Encountered: “The first one I played against was Arthur Ashe at US Open, center court at Forest Hills. I remember I was really nervous. They had just instituted the nine point tiebreaker. I won the first set tiebreaker but he won the match. A few years later after I turned pro after graduating from Stanford, I got a phone call and the next six years I played doubles with Arthur. It was great for me. I got to practice regularly with John Newcombe, Rod Laver, Tony Roche, Ken Rosewall, Stan Smith, Arthur and Bob Lutz. Practicing with them every week was valuable, I didn’t necessarily think I could beat them but I wasn’t intimidated by them. Back then you didn’t travel with a coach or hitting partner. You were coached essentially by your doubles partner. I learned a lot from being around those guys.”

Greatest Sports Moment: “I would say three things. Winning the Australian Open (1977) was unbelievable. Also being on the winning Davis Cup team in 1981. John McEnroe and I played singles and John played doubles with Peter Fleming. Also being runner-up at Wimbledon and I had a chance to win it (lost 64 in the fifth to Borg in 1979).”

Most Painful Moment: “There’s always painful moments. Every loss is a painful moment. I’d like to think losing to Borg in the Wimbledon final. We had a good match. There were some players on the Tour I didn’t particularly like – I won’t name names – when I lost to them it was painful.”

Best You Ever Felt On Court: “Probably the Australian Open (final vs Vilas).”

Favorite Tournaments: “Wimbledon is no. 1. Australian Open was great but it was so far away and around Christmas. I really enjoyed playing in nice places like Maui.”

Favorite Players To Watch: “Rod Laver. And now I like Federer.”

Funniest Players Encountered: “Nastase was crazy. And also Ray Moore. In the locker room we’d sit around and tell jokes. Charlie Pasarell told great jokes. Ray Moore was the master of repartee. My daughter Lacey was with me at Wimbledon this year and she met some of those guys and she said, ‘Dad, those guys have the same sense of humor you do.'”

Closest Tennis Friends: “I would say Arthur Ashe and I were great friends. Ray Moore and I are good friends.”

Strangest Match: “One was in the quarterfinals of US Open against Borg. I was serving and had a match point. My serve hit the tape and snapped the cable and the whole net broke and fell to the ground. It took about twenty minutes to replace the net. I got to serve and I lost the match point but I ended up winning it a few points later. It was the same year I lost to Borg in the final at Wimbledon.”

Fiercest Competitors: “Probably Connors. He’d fight you all the way to the end, it didn’t matter what the score was. It didn’t matter how far behind he was. He would keep trying to win the match.

Embarrassing Tennis Memory: “Not really embarrassing, kind of funny. That same match I played against Arthur at Forest Hills, when we changed ends, the ballkids would give us paper cups of water. And I was so nervous I spilled the whole thing in front of 15,000 people. I played it off as if nothing happened.”

Favorite Sport Outside Tennis: “To watch, college football. I used to love to play soccer. I played defense for Baylor Prep. Loved playing when it was raining and muddy. Made it more fun.”

Why Do You Love Tennis: “It’s a great opportunity. It doesn’t matter how good you are, you get exercise. The whole goal is not to play perfect, it’s to figure out how to beat the other guy. I was taught to hang in there. Some guys get mad if they don’t beat you playing perfectly. Even if they are a better player, just hang in there and good things may happen. Just try to figure out a way to win that match. The way I was when I played, when I walked on the court, I always thought I had a way to win the match. If I didn’t win, don’t get upset. Think about why I lost and what I should do next time. Dennis Ralston taught me a lesson, to not get mad when things didn’t go my way. If there was a bad call or a bad error on an important point, or anything bad happens, he taught me to not get mad and let it carry over into the next point or the rest of the match. He said to make sure you took a breath and make sure you were over it. You can’t let something bother you for the second point. That helped me.”

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  • Dan Markowitz · November 18, 2019 at 5:39 am

    Very good advice on having a proper outlook for tennis. Particularly good advice for a junior. Very good Bio-file. When did you do this with Roscoe? I always liked Roscoe Tanner. He had a cool name and played an aggressive, shot-making game not unlike the French lefty, Henri Leconte, but he wasn’t as colorful as Leconte. He was the first player along with the Mayer brothers who I knew came out of the Stanford college program.

  • Harold · November 18, 2019 at 9:54 am

    Interesting post tennis career. Tennis shorts to Orange jumpsuit..

    Greg Rusedski’s game was the closest to the Tanner game

  • Harold · November 18, 2019 at 9:55 am

    Goran too

  • Hartt · November 18, 2019 at 10:15 am

    Very interesting Biofile. Lucky guy, playing with all those greats, as well as having a good career.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 18, 2019 at 10:48 am

    Hartt, Tanner had a great career. One major and 64 in the fifth vs Borg in Wimbledon final. 15 titles. Davis Cup. Doubles partner with Ashe for six years. Biggest serve in tennis (152 mph). That’s quite a solid career.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 18, 2019 at 11:02 am

    The one thing that can keep the sweet nerve of life alive is the knowledge that man cannot be judged by what he is everyday, but only at his greatest moment, for that is when he shows what he was intended to be… Norman Mailer in The Bullfighter I put this quote in my Marcelo Rios book.

  • Harold · November 18, 2019 at 11:11 am

    Leconte was way more finesse than Tanner..his ball toss was barely out of his hand before he served. Similar to Kevin Curren, the righty serve to Tanners lefty serve

  • catherine · November 18, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    We had a great picture of Tanner serving on our front cover one year – almost at the moment the ball hit the racquet and it was about an inch from the tips of his fingers. At Wimbledon, when the Centre Court was like dust so in the late 70s.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 18, 2019 at 1:06 pm

    Love to see that photo Catherine, any chance you still have it and can email it? I’d forward it to Roscoe.

  • catherine · November 18, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    I’m sorry Scoop, this was a long time ago and the original transparency (slide) was returned to an agency which no longer exists.(Nothing digital then) You might find it strange but I really don’t have any stuff from the tennis days – when the company was sold I kind of lost interest and just walked away. Of course I regret it now. I just have reprints of some of my articles and a framed signed photo of BJK given to me by a photographer.
    Files of the mag are in the W’don library.



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