Frank Sedgman

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Frank Arthur Sedgman, born October 29, 1927, in Mont Albert, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, was one of the world’s best tennis players in the 1950s, first as an amateur, then as a professional. In a four-year span from 1949 through 1952 Sedgman won 22 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, three fewer than John Newcombe and six fewer than Roy Emerson won over longer periods of time. In both singles and doubles, Sedgman was the major force in the first three years of the Australian domination of the Davis Cup matches in which they won 15 victories in an 18-year span from 1950 through 1967. In his 1979 autobiography Jack Kramer, the long-time tennis promoter and great player himself, included Sedgman in his list of the 21 greatest players of all time.[1] Explaining why Sedgman was not even better, and not one of the six very best ever, Kramer wrote that although Sedgman "was as quick as anybody who ever played the game... he couldn't keep the heat on."

In the days in which the Davis Cup, with its doubles match, had more far importance than it does today, and when doubles in general were more important as a spectator attraction than today, Sedgman was also noted as a particularly good doubles player. He and his partner Ken McGregor were the only men’s doubles team to ever win the Grand Slam in a single year—they won all four majors in 1951. The following year they also won the first three majors, then, at Forest Hills in the United States, were upset by a pickup team of another Australian, Mervyn Rose, and an American Vic Seixas, denying them 8 consecutive Grand Slam victories. According to Rose in a 2005 interview, Harry Hopman, the coach of the Australian team, wouldn’t talk to him for two months afterwards.[2]

Sedgman was an extremely fast, slim, 5'11" (1.80 m) right-hander known for his fitness who played the serve-and-volley game that had recently been popularized by Jack Kramer. He was one of a number of Australian players who used the continental grip in which the racquet is held the same way for both the forehand and the backhand. He was particularly known for his volleying and speed at the net. He was also extremely graceful in his footwork and strokes, with a severely classical style that was a model to other players for many years. When asked in 2005, who was the best player he had ever faced, Mervyn Rose replied, "Hopman’s pet, Sedgie." .[3]

Sedgman, writes Kramer, "was the quickest I've ever seen. He could attack off his second serve, or he could come in behind his little slice backhand -- and once Sedg got to the net, forget it, because he was so quick you had to thread a needle to get anything past him. Anything he could get he would put away. Frank Sedgman hardly ever hit a second volley. If he got his racquet on a volley, it was almost always a placement, deep and hard."

Sedgman vs. Federer

At a celebration of Sedgman's 80th birthday attended by 400 people, Kramer, who had flown in from the United States for the occasion, speculated upon a match between a young Sedgman and today's Roger Federer, a man frequently called the greatest player in history. "If he had the same equipment, he would be all over Roger's backhand, he'd make all those passing shots. Frank Sedgman was the quickest man around the court, he had great anticipation, you couldn't lob to him, and he was a super volleyer. He might have had a shot at Roger. It would be wonderful to watch."[4]

Kings of the Court, a video-tape documentary made in 1997 in conjunction with the International Tennis Hall of Fame, named Sedgman one of the ten greatest players of all time. But this documentary only considered those players who played before the Open era of tennis that began in 1968, with the exception of Rod Laver, who spanned both eras, so that all of the more recent great players are missing.[5]

Fifteen years before the introduction of Open tennis, Sedgman dominated amateur tennis in 1951 and 1952. There were no lengthy professional tours during those particular two years, moreover, and the best professionals played only a few tournaments among themselves. It is arguable, therefore, that Sedgman was actually the world's best player over that time. In late 1952 Sedgman was tempted to turn professional. Harry Hopman, however, led a fund-raising drive via his newspaper column in the Melbourne Herald to keep Sedgman an amateur. Enough money was raised to purchase a gasoline station in the name of Sedgman's future bride. [6] Sedgman remained an amateur for another year but finally turned professional in 1953 and, according to some sources, became the first tennis player, except, perhaps, for Bill Tilden, to make more than $100,000 in a single year. According to Kramer, Sedgman might have made as much as $150,000 during that tour. He was, however, narrowly beaten that first year by Kramer himself, the reigning king of professional tennis. The final score was 54 victories for Kramer to 41 for Sedgman. It was the closest Kramer ever came to losing an annual tour, but "still he couldn't beat me. He couldn't handle my second serve, and at the end, that was what saved me." Sedgman was actually slightly ahead, 18 matches to 17, when he began to have trouble with his shoulder and the flu. Kramer won 17 of the next 19 matches, then, when Sedgman had recovered, split the remaining matches to preserve his edge.

Sedgman was the winner of three major titles in professional tennis and was the runner-up another four times. He continued to play professionally well into the 1960s. According to Kramer, he took the money he made on the tour and "made more money out of squash courts, a confection named Sedgie Straws, and various other enterprises. Since he always stayed in shape, he came back as a big winner on the Grand Masters tour when he reached forty-five."

Like a number of other Australian players of the time, particularly Ken Rosewall, Sedgman was known as being extremely careful about his spending. The Australians themselves characterized this as having "short arms and deep pockets." Kramer writes that an Australian radio reporter once asked Pancho Segura what his single biggest thrill in tennis had been. "'The night Frank Sedgman bought dinner,' Segoo replied."

Sedgman was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1979.

Grand Slam record

  • Australian Championship
    • Singles champion: 1949, 1950
      • Singles runner-up: 1952
    • Men's Doubles champion: 1951, 1952
      • Men's Doubles runner-up: 1947, 1948
    • Mixed Doubles champion: 1949, 1950
  • French Championship
      • Singles runner-up: 1952
    • Men's Doubles champion: 1951, 1952
      • Men's Doubles runner-up: 1948
    • Mixed Doubles champion: 1951, 1952
      • Mixed Doubles runner-up: 1948
  • Wimbledon
    • Singles champion: 1952
    • Men's Doubles champion: 1948, 1951, 1952
    • Mixed Doubles champion: 1951, 1952
  • U.S. Championship
    • Singles champion: 1951, 1952
    • Men's Doubles champion: 1950, 1951
      • Men's Doubles runner-up: 1949, 1952
    • Mixed Doubles champion: 1951, 1952
      • Mixed Doubles runner-up: 1950

Professional World Singles Tournament wins

  • Wembley Arena, Wembley, England
    • Champion, 1953, 1958
      • Finalist, 1956
  • United States Professional Championship
    • Finalist, 1956, 1961
  • French Professional Championship
    • Champion, 1953
      • Finalist, 1959

Notes

  1. Writing in 1979, Kramer considered the best player ever to have been either Don Budge (for consistent play) or Ellsworth Vines (at the height of his game). The next four best were, chronologically, Bill Tilden, Fred Perry, Bobby Riggs, and Pancho Gonzales. After these six came the "second echelon" of Rod Laver, Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, Gottfried von Cramm, Ted Schroeder, Jack Crawford, Pancho Segura, Frank Sedgman, Tony Trabert, John Newcombe, Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, Björn Borg, and Jimmy Connors. He felt unable to rank Henri Cochet and René Lacoste accurately but felt they were among the very best.
  2. Interview with tennis historian Rich Hillway in 2005 at the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
  3. Interview with tennis historian Rich Hillway in 2005 at the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
  4. "Past hurts forgotten, a tennis champion celebrates", the age.com.au, at [1]
  5. The ten, portrayed in chronological order, were Bill Tilden, Ellsworth Vines, Fred Perry, Don Budge, Bobby Riggs, Jack Kramer, Frank Sedgman, Pancho Gonzales, Lew Hoad, and Rod Laver. Most of the commentary was provided by Riggs, Kramer, and Pancho Segura.
  6. The History of Professional Tennis, Joe McCauley, page 58

See also