Fred Perry

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A statue of Fred Perry at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon holding the racquet with his characteristic Continental grip

Frederick John Perry (May 18, 1909 – February 21, 1995) was an English tennis player and three-time Wimbledon champion who is generally considered to be one of the greatest players of all time. He was the World No. 1 player or the co-World No. 1 player for five years, three times as an amateur and twice as a professional, four of the years being consecutive, from 1934 through 1938. In spite of his personal dislike for Perry, Jack Kramer, the long-time tennis promoter and great player himself, called Perry in his 1979 autobiography one of the six greatest players of all time, just below the level of Ellsworth Vines and Don Budge.[1] With Perry as their leading player, Great Britain won the then-prestigious Davis Cup four consecutive times in the mid-1930s. Since Perry's departure from the amateur ranks to the professional, Britain has never again won the Davis Cup, nor has a British male won Wimbledon. Extremely quick, Perry had been a world table tennis champion in 1929 who took up tennis relatively late in life; he used a Continental grip that enabled him to take the ball on the rise and to snap off powerful winners with one of the best forehands of all time.[2] Even today, more than 70 years later, any promising young British tennis player is frequently, and hopefully, called "the next Fred Perry."[3]

Early successes

Perry was born in Stockport, Cheshire, England, where his father was elected to the British House of Commons as a Labour Party member. Perry was a table tennis champion before taking up tennis at the relatively late age of 18. He had exceptional speed from his table tennis days and played with the Continental grip, attacking the ball low and on the rise. He was the first player to win all four Grand Slam singles titles, though not all in the same year. He is currently the youngest player to have achieved the Career Grand Slam, doing so at the age of 26. Perry is the last British player to win the Wimbledon men's singles title, winning it three times in a row and becoming an English icon.

In 1933 Perry helped lead his team to victory over France in the Davis Cup, which earned Great Britain the Davis Cup for the first time in 21 years. They then held it for the next three years, through 1936, finally losing it to the United States after Perry had turned professional and was no longer eligible to compete.

After three years as the World No. 1 player as an amateur, Perry turned professional in 1937. For the next two years he played lengthy tours against the powerful American player Ellsworth Vines. In 1937 they played 61 matches in the United States, with Vines winning 32 and Perry 29. They then sailed to England, where they played a brief tour. Perry won 6 matches out of 9, so they finished the year tied at 35 victories each. Most observers at the time considered Perry to be the World No. 1 for the fourth year in a row, sharing the title, however, with both Vines and the youthful amateur Don Budge. The following year, 1938, the professional tour was even longer, and this time Vines beat Perry 49 matches to 35. Budge, winner of the amateur Grand Slam, was clearly the World No.1 player. In 1939 Budge turned professional and played a series of matches against both Vines and Perry, beating Vines 21 times to 18 and dominating Perry by 18 victories to 11.

Sporting legacy

Perry is considered by some to have been one of the greatest male players to have ever played the game.

Kings of the Court, a video-tape documentary made in 1997 in conjunction with the International Tennis Hall of Fame, named Perry 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..[4]

Kramer, however, has several caveats about Perry. He says that Bill Tilden once called Perry "the world's worst good player." Kramer says that Perry was "extremely fast; he had a hard body with sharp reflexes, and he could hit a forehand with a snap, slamming it on the rise -- and even on the fastest grass. That shot was nearly as good as Segura's two-handed forehand." His only real weakness, says Kramer, "was his backhand. Perry hit underslice off that wing about 90 percent of the time, and eventually at the very top levels -- against Vines and Budge -- that was what did him in. Whenever an opponent would make an especially good shot, Perry would cry out 'Very clevah.' I never played Fred competitively, but I heard enough from other guys that that 'Very clevah' drove a lot of opponents crazy."

Kramer also says that in spite of his many victories, both as an amateur and as a professional, Perry was an "opportunist, a selfish and egotistical person, and he never gave a damn about professional tennis. He was through as a player the instant he turned pro. He was a great champion, and he could have helped tennis, but it wasn't in his interest so he didn't bother." Kramer then recounts several instances in which it was clear to him that Perry was losing matches in which he had given up because he "wanted to make sure that the crowd understood that this was all beneath him."

Perry, however, recalled his days on the professional tour differently. He maintained "that there was never any easing up in his tour matches with Ellsworth Vine and Bill Tilden since there was the title of World Pro Champion at stake. He said 'I must have played Vines in something like 350 matches, yet there was never any fixing as most people thought. There were always people willing to believe that our pro matches weren't strictly on the level, that they were just exhibitions. But as far as we were concerned, we always gave everything we had.'"[5]

A final comment from Kramer is that Perry unwittingly "screwed up men's tennis in England, although this wasn't his fault. The way he could hit a forehand — snap it off like a ping-pong shot — Perry was a physical freak. Nobody else could be taught to hit a shot that way. But the kids over there copied Perry's style, and it ruined them. Even after Perry faded out of the picture, the coaches there must have kept using him as a model."

Inside the Church Road gate at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, London, a statue of Fred Perry was erected in 1984 to mark the 50th anniversary of his first singles championship. In his birthplace, a special 14 mile (23 km) walking route, Fred Perry Way, was built by the borough of Stockport and officially opened in September 2002.

Perry was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island in 1975. He died in Melbourne, Australia.

Fred Perry clothing brand

In the mid-1950s and through the early 1960s, many considered the Fred Perry brand of male tennis shirts to be the best available. The brand is still best known for its laurel wreath logo, which is on the upper left of the tennis shirts. The laurel logo (based on the old Wimbledon symbol) was stitched into the fabric of the shirt instead of being merely ironed on, as was the case with the crocodile logo of the competing Lacoste brand. Since the 1960s, Fred Perry clothing has been popular with various youth subcultures, including mods, skinheads, and casuals.

Grand Slam singles finals

Wins (8)

Year Championship Opponent in Final Score in Final
1933 U.S. Championships Jack Crawford 6-3, 11-13, 4-6, 6-0, 6-1
1934 Australian Championships Jack Crawford 6-3, 7-5, 6-1
1934 Wimbledon Jack Crawford 6-3, 6-0, 7-5
1934 U.S. Championships (2) Wilmer Allison 6-4, 6-3, 1-6, 8-6
1935 French Championships Gottfried von Cramm 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-3
1935 Wimbledon Championships (2) Gottfried von Cramm 6-2, 6-4, 6-4
1936 Wimbledon Championships (3) Gottfried von Cramm 6-1, 6-1, 6-0
1936 U.S. Championships (3) Don Budge 2-6 6-2 8-6 1-6 10-8

Runner-ups (2)

Year Championship Opponent in Final Score in Final
1935 Australian Championships Jack Crawford 6-2, 4-6, 4-6, 4-6
1936 French Championships Gottfried von Cramm 0-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-2, 0-6

Grand Slam Titles

Singles

Doubles

  • Australian Open (1934)
  • French Open (1936)

Mixed doubles

  • French Open (1932)
  • Wimbledon (1935, 1936)
  • US Open (1932)

Notes

  1. Writing in 1979, Kramer considered the best 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. Kramer book, put in exact reference
  3. 1,100 Google returns can be found for this phrase, none at all for, say, "the next Jack Kramer".
  4. 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.
  5. The History of Professional Tennis, Joe McCauley

Sources

  • The History of Professional Tennis (2003), Joe McCauley

See also

External links