Correction to This Article
An earlier version of the story incorrectly attributed quotes from Kramer to a piece in The Washington Post. The quotes were from a story in The Los Angeles Times.
JACK KRAMER, 88

Jack Kramer, 88, Dies; Wimbledon Champion Helped Found Tennis Pro Organization

Jack Kramer smashes a return shot during the semifinals of the 1947 men's singles championship at Wimbledon. He won the title and changed the game forever by wearing shorts at the venerable tennis venue.
Jack Kramer smashes a return shot during the semifinals of the 1947 men's singles championship at Wimbledon. He won the title and changed the game forever by wearing shorts at the venerable tennis venue. (Associated Press)
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By T. Rees Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 14, 2009

Jack Kramer, 88, the best tennis player in the world during the late 1940s and later one of the game's more prominent promoters, died Sept. 12 at his home in Los Angeles. He had soft tissue cancer, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Mr. Kramer was known for his aggressive playing style, terrorizing his opponents at the net with a zinging right forehand. He won the 1946 and 1947 singles U.S. Championship, the precursor to today's U.S. Open, and changed the game forever when he won the 1947 singles title at Wimbledon while wearing shorts -- the first to do so.

As an amateur in 1947, Mr. Kramer won eight of nine tournaments, prevailing in 48 matches and losing just one. After that, he decided to turn professional and set his sights on Bobby Riggs, the reigning men's singles champion.

Mr. Kramer got his opportunity during a nationwide tour of one-night matchups against Riggs. More than 15,000 people trudged through 26 inches of snow during one of New York's worst blizzards to see their first bout in Madison Square Garden.

Riggs won but tired during the course of the tour, and Mr. Kramer came out on top 69-20. Riggs then bowed out and recruited Pancho Gonzalez, a young talent known for his competitive fire, to face the challenge. Mr. Kramer diced him up, too, winning 96-27.

The tour format was lucrative. Mr. Kramer collected almost $160,000 against Riggs and Gonzalez. In all, he won 13 U.S. singles and doubles titles and was the world singles champion in 1949. He also helped found a leading tennis players' union, the Association of Tennis Professionals, which champions players' rights.

John Albert Kramer was born Aug. 1, 1921, in Las Vegas, the son of a Union Pacific railroad worker. The family moved to Los Angeles when Mr. Kramer was a teenager.

He took up tennis after watching a match featuring Ellsworth Vines, who Mr. Kramer said was "dressed like Fred Astaire and hitting shots like Babe Ruth."

In 1939, he gained international recognition at 18 after being selected to play in the doubles title match representing the United States in the Davis Cup, the international team tennis championship. Mr. Kramer and Joseph Hunt lost to Australia in four sets, but the young Californian with a deep tan and blue eyes made it to the main stage and held his own.

The playing partners would soon meet again -- against each other. Mr. Kramer served in the Coast Guard during World War II, and Hunt served in the Navy. Both received special leave to return stateside to play in the U.S. Championships in 1943. They played in the final, but Mr. Kramer lost after his last shot bounced long. Hunt died a year and half later in a military plane crash.

Mr. Kramer decided to turn professional in 1947. "I needed the money, simple as that," he told The Los Angeles Times in 2001.

His contract was almost torn to shreds before his career even got started.


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