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Mercer Beasley

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Newspaper cartoon of Mercer Beasley and his use of walkie-talkies to communicate with players

Charles Fenton Mercer Beasley (July 17 or 18,[1] 1882–1965), although generally forgotten today, was by far the best-known American tennis coach of the first half of the 20th century. The author of an influential book called How to Play Tennis: The Beasley System, he was also at times almost uniquely successful as a coach. In 1931 and 1932, for instance, no less than three of his former pupils were ranked among the Top 10 American male players at the end of the year, an achievement that almost certainly has never been matched since. An innovator of many coaching techniques, he also lent his name to a very successful line of tennis rackets that were widely sold for nearly three decades. Most articles about Beasley say that 17 of his pupils won 84 national titles between them, although apparently this was Beasley's own reckoning and remains to be confirmed.[2] Beasley's achievements are even more remarkable when it is considered that he suffered from extremely poor eyesight all his life and wore exceptionally thick glasses; although he participated as a youth in some school sports, it was impossible for him to play tennis at more than a rudimentary level. In this he was probably also once again unique: until the recent development of "tennis academies", most other well-known tennis coaches such as the Ecuadoran-American Pancho Segura and the Australian Harry Hopman had generally been great or near-great tennis players in their own right before turning to instruction.

Prominent pupils

Among Beasley's numerous star pupils were two of the best tennis players of all time, Ellsworth Vines and Frank Parker. In both 1931 and 1932 three of his protégés were ranked among the Top 10 Americans, Vines, Cliff Sutter, and Wilmer Allison. The youthful Vines was the No. 1 American player for each year, as well as being the World No. 1 player for 1932. In 1933 Vines, who had turned professional, was gone from the Top 10 but had been replaced at least in part by the 17-year-old Parker.

Thoroughout his long career, Beasley was a relentless self-promoter and it is not always clear today to what precise degree he was actually associated with certain notable players. It is documented, however, that at various stages of their development Helen Jacobs, Marjorie "Midge" Gladman, Carolin Babcock, and Barbara Breit did train with Beasley.[3] Jacobs was among the greatest female players of all time, and although the other three women are forgotten today, they were all nationally ranked players in the 1930s and '40s.[4]

Beasley's name is also associated with at least three other great players, Gardnar Mulloy, Pancho Segura, and Doris Hart, but to what degree is not known. A 1950's advertisement for Mercer Beasley tennis rackets, for instance, cites both Hart and Segura as having been taught by Beasley, but only scant evidence shows that Beasley ever coached Segura at any point during his college career. The same is true for his relationship with Mulloy, and even though Beasley's name is frequently linked with Hart's in contemporary media articles, none of them clearly states that he was her actual coach.

Early life

Beasley came from a family of prominent New Jersey jurists. His grandfather, an earlier Mercer Beasley (1815-1897), presided as Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court from 1864 to 1897. His father, Chauncey H. Beasley, was a District Court Judge. An uncle, Mercer Beasley Jr., who committed suicide at age 47, was a longtime county Prosecutor of the Plea. A second uncle, William S. Gummere, was yet another Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, from 1901 to 1933. For many years there was a Mercer Beasley School of Law, which eventually merged into the New Jersey university system. His given names of "Charles Fenton Mercer" may also suggest a family connection with a well-known early 19th-century Virginia soldier, businessman, congressman, lawyer, and advocate of the establishment of Liberia for emancipated slaves, Charles Fenton Mercer, who, like most of the Beasleys, was also a graduate of Princeton University. Young Beasley attended one of America's leading prep schools, Lawrenceville School, also in New Jersey, then briefly and unsuccessfully went to Princeton in 1902, from which he was soon expelled:

A local paper referred to Beasley's "passing out" and being "ousted" in the span of four months, and reported, "for some reason or other the faculty did not agree with his [Beasley's] solution to academic problems."[5]

Beasley then worked at a number of jobs for the next 17 years including being a court investigator for the New Jersey Public Railway Company[6] and a pressman’s devil before becoming a full-time tennis coach in 1921.

Tennis background and coaching beginnings

Beasley first took up tennis at age 11 on his father's lawn, "dressed for the game in cricket flannels, blazer and Eton cap".[7]

"I always loved tennis," says Beasley, "but I never could play it.".... As a student at Lawrenceville School he couldn't make the tennis team but did play on his house football squad, weighing a fierce but fragile 120 pounds."[8]

At Lawrenceville, according to Time magazine,[9] in spite of his inadequacies he did play tennis with a near-contemporary, Karl Behr, who went on to become the No. 3 American player in 1907.

The Notlek courts at Riverside Dr. and 119th St.; the Hudson River is at the far top left

Eventually, after being expelled from Princeton, and holding a succession of jobs, he became an assistant manager of the Notlek Amusement Company in Manhattan. Located at 119th Street and Riverside Drive, it had a number of tennis courts in the summer, on which occasional tournaments were played,[10] and ice skating rinks in the winter. Among other tasks, Beasley was the maintenance man of their tennis courts[11] and ran their pro shop.[12] He knew enough about tennis to begin giving informal lessons at the courts and through these endeavors eventually met such tennis luminaries as Vinnie Richards and Big Bill Tilden.[13]

It is difficult at this far remove to evaluate the precise nature of any encouragement the two great players might have given him. Time magazine, for instance, in 1932 relates Tilden's encounter with the aspiring coach:

Said William Tatem Tilden II, when they met for the first time : "Beasley, there are two ways to get to the top. Be a wonderful player, which you cannot be; the other, study." Mercer Beasley, handicapped by poor eye sight, chose study.[14]

This does not seem like entirely glowing encouragement on Tilden's part. As for Vinnie Richards, an American player of the 1920s just slightly less talented than Tilden, his role in Beasley's career appears even more questionable. According to John R. Tunis, a well-known writer in the 1930s of sports novels for teenagers and an occasional tennis reporter for the Boston Globe and New York Evening Post, in a 1934 Esquire magazine article:

His introduction into big time tennis can be laid at the door of that inveterate kidder, Mr. Vincent Richards. Vinnie pointed out one day that anyone can be a professional, and that he ought to get in on the money instead of wasting his time rolling courts. To his surprise Beasley took him seriously. Before long he had started on the road to fame and riches at the Indian Hills Tennis Club.[15]

It seems indisputable, however, that in 1921 Victor Elting, a scion of a socially prominent Chicago family of that name, was impressed by Beasley and invited him to become a teaching professional at the wealthy Indian Hill Club of Winnetka, Illinois.[16] Nearly 40, Beasley had found the career that would make him "the best known teacher in the history of U.S. tennis," as Time called him in 1932.[17]

The Esquire article, however, goes on to further belittle Beasley:

From there [Chicago] he went to Indianapolis, where so the story goes, he was coaching a boy one afternoon when Bill Tilden happened along. Shaking his head amusedly, the champion began showing Beasley some things about the game, and later he followed Tilden across the country for several months, absorbing the jargon of sport and a few fundamentals which afterwards were extremely useful.[18]

Coaching career at schools

As well as holding positions at various clubs throughout the United States and Caribbean over the next three decades, Beasley was the coach at numerous schools and colleges, including Tulane, Lawrenceville, Princeton, and the University of Miami. He spent five years at Tulane University in New Orleans, from 1929 through 1933, where his most successful pupil was Cliff Sutter, the NCAA singles champion in both 1930 and 1932, and who was ranked in the U.S. Top 10 for five consecutive years in the early 1930s. At the same time that he was coaching Tulane he was also an instructor at the Detroit Tennis Club.[19]

In 1933 Beasley returned to his alma mater, Princeton, and, except for a year away in 1938,[20] coached its tennis team through 1942, compiling a dual-match mark of 71-12-1[21] and a total record of 89-20-1 with back-to-back Eastern Intercollegiate Tennis Association (EITA) championships in 1941 and 1942.[22]

Beasley's 1946 stint at the University of Miami, however, was brief and comparatively less successful, with an overall record of 4-2-1. By contrast, his predecessor (and successor), the great amateur player Gardnar Mulloy, compiled an almost unbelievable record of 725-2.[23] For at least one year, 1943, Malloy had benefitted from the presence on the team of three-time NCAA singles champion Pancho Segura, who went on to become one of the all-time greats of tennis. By the time Beasley took over the reins of the team, however, Segura had graduated. Although a later advertisement for Mercer Beasley tennis rackets says flatly that he had coached Segura, there is only a little evidence of this and a recent biography of Segura makes no mention at all of Beasley in its extensive index. [24] A 1942 Milwaukee, Wisconsin, newspaper articles states flatly that Beasley had coached Segura during the early part of his college career, but since it is indisputable that Mulloy was the official coach at the University of Miami at that time, Beasley must have been either an assistant coach or an unofficial one. The same is true for Mulloy himself: a 1941 St. Petersburg, Florida, newspaper articles says that Beasley had recently coached Mulloy. At the time, however, Mulloy was the university coach as well as the No. 7 American player.

Many years after his death in 1965 Beasley was inducted into the National Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame at the University of Georgia in 2001.[25]

Davis Cup débacle and controversy

The low point of Beasley's long coaching career was undoubtedly his involvement with the 1933 United States Davis Cup team and its unexpected fiasco in the Interzone Final round. What was widely expected to be a triumph for Beasley and his "System" became an unmitigated disaster—but one that he was able to quickly put behind him. By 1933 numerous Beasley protégés had achieved success on a national level, the most famous one being the youthful but almost unbeatable Ellsworth Vines, who had won the National mens championship at Forest Hills two years in a row, 1931 and 1932. In the early part of the 20th century the Davis Cup had a "Challenge Round" format, in which the previous year's winning team played only a single set of matches in a final contest against the best team of all the world's challengers. The United States, which had won the Cup for a record-setting seven consecutive years in the 1920s with Big Bill Tilden, Little Bill Johnston, and Vinnie Richards being the most prominent stars, had finally been defeated in 1927 by the emergence of France's Four Musketeers, who had taken the Cup to France and then retained it for the next five years. Today it is hard to understand the importance given to the Davis Cup in the 1920s and '30s, but even to the average American with little or no interest in tennis in general in those years the Challenge Round matches had the prominence given today to the World Series or World Cup final. When the United States team sailed to Europe in the summer of 1933, it was heavily favored to first beat the British team in the Interzone, or semi-final, round and then to reclaim the Cup from the aging Musketeers in the Challenge Round final.

Two Beasley protégés were on the four-man team: the incomparable Vines, who had clearly been the World No. 1 player the year before, and Wilmer Allison. Allison had been the No. 2 American player, and another Beasley pupil, Cliff Sutter, had been the No. 3 ranked American but was not on the squad. Joining them were the non-Beasley-affiliated George Lott, the U.S. National singles champion of 1930, and the great doubles player John Van Ryn. The captain of this impressive team was the non-playing, and little known, Bernon S. Prentice, a country club director from Georgia, while the coach, or semi-coach, or simply informal advisor was none other than the now-nationally prominent Mercer Beasley. At this date nearly 80 years later, however, his exact role in the subsequent débacle is not completely clear. A statement by the governing body of American tennis, the USLTA some months after the matches stated flatly that Beasley was not the coach of the team, only that two of the players blah blah. [26] Even though various media outlets associated Beasley with the team, one thing is clear: beginning at least with the Wimbledon matches in early July, Beasley was filing newspaper stories about tennis with the New York Times, which was running them with the byline By MERCER BEASLEY, Princeton Tennis Coach, Copyright, 1933, by NANA, Inc.[27] NANA, presumably, was a news agency of the time such as Reuters or the Associated Press. And even though the great Vines had been shocked in the Wimbledon finals by the Australian Jack Crawford, Beasley continued to write that the American team was favored to regain the Cup.

The Interzone round against Great Britain was to be played on the slow clay courts of Roland Garros outside Paris. Even before the first match was played, Beasley "stated categorically that the United States would win the Cup."[28] And throughout the rest of the Interzone matches he continued to declare that his American protégés would win their matches. They did not. Vines lost in three quick sets to Bunny Austin, a man he had demolished the year before in the Wimbledon final; Allison was beaten by the up-and-coming Fred Perry; and, after Van Ryn and Lott managed to win the doubles, both Vines and Allison lost again for a humiliating final score of 1-4. Vines, in fact, who was utterly fatigued, fainted on match point against Perry and had to be carried off the court. The British, behind Perry, who was soon to establish himself as the world's best player, then went on to end France's six-year grip on the Cup.

Recriminations were not long in coming, and they were mostly directed at Mercer Beasley. Vines declared in a newspaper interview that, "We were treated like babies... I have come to the conclusion that the best plan for the United States to follow next year is to select a man with a youthful viewpoint... to direct the team."[29] Referring to Vines's physical collapse in the final match, John R. Tunis wrote in his 1934 Esquire article about Beasley that:

" 'Too much tennis can cause your tennis to get worse instead of better,' " quotes Beasley in his new book.... Unfortunately he had difficulty in persuading his pupils to follow his advice, Vines for instance even going out to practice within an hour after his debacle before Austin in the first match. The result was therefore inevitable... and Vines actually collapsed on the court.[30]

Bill Tilden, by far the most famous man in tennis, suggested that, "...it might be a good idea for the American tennis forces to be placed in the hands of a former player who knew what it was all about."[31] And the Esquire article went on to say that:

The European tennis writers were unanimous in saying that Beasley has ruined the game of the Americans, notably of Allison. True or not, it is a fact that since adopting the Beasley System, whatever that may be, Allison has done badly at Wimbledon, in two years of Davis Cup matches, and at Forest Hills.[32]

There was, however, another side to the story.

Ellsworth Vines

Of the 20-year-old Ellsworth Vines, who was just on the cusp of becoming one of the greatest players in the history of the game, Beasley said in 1932, when he was 44, with only four years of coaching experience, and not yet the most famous tennis coach in America, that he had discovered him as a 14-year-old:

"I found Ellsworth working in Kay's Bakery Shop in Pasadena.... He had a Western grip and a roundhouse swing, was about six feet tall and his feet wouldn't be friends with each other. But he had the heart and the willingness.... He was determined to hit hard.... while I fretted over errors."[33]

Vines himself, many years later in a 1983 interview with Stan Hart, makes no mention of Beasley, only that he had been a superb all-round athlete as a teenager.[34] In a 1933 book published under Vine's byline, however, he says that when he was 14 "Mercer Beasley, the famous professional coach who developed Cliff Sutter and Frankie Parker saw me play. He was very kind. He encouraged me, told me I would some day be a champion."[35]

Asked why Beasley would tutor him for nothing, Vines replied, "Because he loves tennis; loves to encourage youngsters so that the United States may develop good young players who might win and hold for America that symbol of world tennis supremacy—the Davis Cup."[36] Vines goes on to say that, "I was just fortunate in meeting Mr. Beasley... a few years later, after I had mastered his instructions, I defeated several stars, much to my amazement. Then I remembered Mr. Beasley's saying I would be a champion."[37]

According to the New York Times obituary of Vines in 1994, Beasley helped the youth in two particular areas:

Beasley...flattened his serve and forehand into the rifle shots they became and used ingenuity in developing his fabled accuracy. A narrow strip of canvas with cutouts would be stretched across the top of the net, and Vines would spend hours drilling balls through the holes.[38]

Vines went on to become one of the dominant players in the world throughout the 1930s and has been called by many competent observers such as Jack Kramer and Don Budge the greatest player of all time when his somewhat erratic game was at its best. He surprised the sports world by retiring completely from tennis at the age of 28 and quickly becoming a moderately successful golfer on the professional tour for two decades.

Wilmer Allison

A life-long Texan, Wilmer Allison attended the University of Texas, where he was the Intercollegiate tennis champion in 1927. In spite of his success, however, at one point he "found his game going sour and his national ranking taking a drop. He was unhappy about his forehand."[39]

Seeking help, he went to Beasley, who, at the time, was coaching at nearby Tulane University in New Orleans:

and they worked out his difficulty with the stroke. It was after that that the Texan began to play his best tennis and his forehand, sweeping across court or drilled down the line to open the way for his feared volley, was a big factor in his getting to the final of the national championship in 1934 and winning the title in 1935.[40]

It was apparently towards the end of 1929 or early 1930 that Allison worked with Beasley. Describing the 1930 Wimbledon Championships, The Story of the Davis Cup says that:

Wilmer Allison, a rugged Texan, did not possess half the talent of [Henri] Cochet; he was a net player who had taken an entire season off to work with Mercer Beasley in acquiring better ground strokes. He dispatched Cochet in the quarter finals and then beat [John] Doeg. [Bill] Tilden, with his bogey-man [Cochet] removed, won a close five-setter against [Jean] Borotra and swept Allison aside for the crown[41]

A grateful Allison wrote in the Introduction to How to Play Tennis: The Beasley System: "....the transcending genius of Beasley is that he can turn from teaching the most elementary steps to a rank beginner, and teach champions strategy and court tactics." [42]

Frank Parker

Frank Parker was a long-time American champion of the 1930s and '40s. Beasley, according to Time magazine:

picked up a likely-looking, $2-per-week [11-year-old] ball boy in a Milwaukee tennis club, put a racket in his hand, coached him in caution and style so thoroughly that the Polish-American tennist now stands No. 3 in U. S. rankings. Further, Coach Beasley took Frankie away from Widow Anna Pajkowski, who was busy supporting five children, adopted him, sent him to Lawrenceville, kept him well stocked with Mercer Beasley rackets and white flannel pants.[43]

It was widely written throughout the 1930s that Parker was the "foster" child of Beasley and his wife, or that they had "adopted" the boy, or even "legally adopted" him. Parker himself denied this many years later.[44]

Of the 16-year-old Parker, who in 1932 had already beaten the No. 2 American, George Lott, four times, Beasley said in 1932:

"It was in 1927 that Frankie Parker came into my life. Little shaver, thin, puny, but quiet and attentive.... He had the best eye for a moving ball I've ever seen.... It took four years of the hardest work to get the boy's title.... Last year the wonder boy never lost a set.... He is to be the best of the pack."[45]

Under Beasley's tutelage, Parker became the first of only two players to ever win the national championships for boys (those through the age of 15), juniors (through 18), and men, the other being Joe Hunt a few years later. Beginning at the age of 17, in 1933, Parker was ranked among the Top 10 American players for 17 consecutive years, through 1949, a record for male players that stood until being surpassed by Jimmy Connors in 1988. Six months younger than the great Don Budge, he consistently ranked higher than Budge until the latter turned 20.

Parker and Beasley's forehand

According to Jack Kramer, another great near-contemporary of Parker's, and many other observers, the youthful Parker, an emotionless, robot-like tennis-stroking machine, had originally had "a wonderful slightly overspin forehand drive. Clean and hard."[46] Then, according to Kramer,

for some reason Beasley decided to change this stroke into a chop. It was obscene; it was like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.... Beasley got it into his head that Parker should hit with a forehand like Leo Durocher threw the ball from shortstop to first base. That was what Beasley patterned Parker's new forehand after.

Parker's revamped forehand was not a success; writing about the 22-year-old Parker in 1938, Time magazine said that he had "learned Beasley accuracy and strategy, developed several trick strokes—notably "the shovel"—but never perfected a strong forehand."[47] In a 1935 controversy after the 19-year-old Parker had been defeated in an early round by Fred Perry in the United States championships, Parker declared that he was quitting to school to work on his forehand with Beasley in Bermuda. Beasley himself then announced that, "Frankie's got a swelled head. I tried to make him use the circle swingback but he wouldn't listen to me...."[48] For years after breaking from Beasley, Parker attempted to reconstruct his original stroke but never entirely recovered it and, according to Kramer, never quite achieved the ultimate heights that he might have otherwise.

Parker and Beasley's wife

As a strange sidelight to Parker's longtime relationship with Beasley, the youthful player and Beasley's wife, Audrey, who was at least 20 years Parker's senior and had been his surrogate mother during all his teen years, fell in love, hiding the fact from Mercer for at least two years. In 1938, however, when Parker was 22, the Beasleys divorced and Audrey and Parker quickly married. The marriage was, apparently, an extremely happy one for 43 years until Audrey died in 1971.[49]

As Time magazine described the events in 1938:

Few minutes after Katherine Audrey Browne Beasley received a Nevada divorce decree last week from famed Tennis Coach Mercer Beasley, she applied for a license to marry her 22-year-old foster son, Franciszek Andzej Pajkowski, better known to followers of lawn tennis as Frankie Parker. When the license bureau asked Mrs. Beasley her age, she said "over 21"—a statement which she was able to back up by the fact that she has a 21-year-old daughter Katherine, as well as a son Jimmy, 14. By the marriage which followed, Frankie Parker became stepfather as well as foster brother to Katherine and Jimmy.... Parker, whom Beasley characterized as "thin, puny, but quiet and attentive".... months ago, Mercer Beasley, on his way to become coach of the Bermuda Lawn Tennis Club, learned that the wife he had married a year before this puny boy's birth was about to divorce him and marry the boy. Said he: "If I've lost a love set—well, chin up."[50]

As with most divorces, there were elements known only to the two primary parties. Nearly 50 years later Parker said to Stan Hart that

had Audrey Beasley wanted to sue for alimony, there would have been a scandal second only to that which attended the life and times of Wallis Simpson. Instead she asked for nothing and remarried the young Frank Parker and became his coach and manager.[51]

Whatever potential "scandal" to which Parker refers never became known. The new Mrs. Parker worked with her husband to rebuild the original forehand that her earlier husband had so systematically and disastrously changed, but without complete success.

Coaching techniques

Traditional methods

Beasley's 1933 "How to Play Tennis" was a highly influential book that emphasized accuracy and consistent play. "He preached the virtue of percentage play, calling good tennis the 'avoidance of making errors,' and emphasizing that 'a point won on an error counts just as much as a point scored on an ace.' "[52]

Tennis [wrote Beasley] is a game of accuracy and not strength. If it were a matter of hard hitting and brute strength it stands to reason that the heaviest and strongest player would win, while actually quite the reverse is true. The speed of the ball is secondary, for the very simple reason that without accuracy speed results in netted balls and errors and hence, in wasted energy. Accuracy—the ability to return the ball to any desired position on the court—that is the secret of tennis.[53]

In 2001 Greg Moran, an accredited tennis instructor, studied Beasley's famous book, by then nearly 70 years old, and wrote a laudatory article called "The Three Greatest Tennis Tips of All Time", quoting extensively from How to Play Tennis. He called Beasley's advice timeless and summed up various sections as the three most important tips that any aspiring tennis player could ever learn. In Moran's words, as distilled from Beasley's:

  1. Keep your eye on the ball.
  2. Get your racket back as quickly as possible.
  3. Move your feet.[54]

In spite of using an up-to-date nomenclature to describe his goals, Beasley's so-called "Little Game", which he taught to beginners was basically a traditional approach to stroke-making:

"The Little Game," whose object was to develop ball control by shrinking the size of the court to its service boxes. Once they advanced to baseline play, Beasley's players were trained to see the court as a traffic light: when at or behind the baseline (red) the ball must be played safely; when in no-man’s land (yellow) a forcing but never reckless ball is played; while the frontcourt (green) is the area denoting more decisive shot making.[55]

As much for tactical reasons as for a belief in etiquette, Beasley was also a strong advocate of gentlemanly on-court comportment and impassiveness:

"What you do on a tennis court during a tournament match is watched by every spectator in the gallery as well as by your opponent. Therefore, you should be perfectly natural in every way. Avoid making any gestures or audible sounds that might cause comment. There should be nothing to encourage or discourage your opponent. Not an action of yours should show elation or dejection. Nothing he does, whether it is to score an ace or to make an error, should change your expression."[56]

It must be said, however, that aside from the occasional tempestuous outburst by the imperial Pancho Gonzales and crowd-pleasing showmanship by the equally imperial Big Bill Tilden, two of the greatest prima donnas as well as tennis players in the history of the game, tennis throughout Beasley's lengthy career was still essentially a country-club sport played by well-mannered ladies and gentlemen in immaculate whites who were expected to always observe the highest levels of decorum and good sportsmanship.

Cross-training

In spite of his inherently conservative approach to shot-making and comportment, however, Beasley was the first coach to see the value of so-called cross-training, in which he had his pupils develop different aspects of their game by emulating the movements from other sports such as gymnastics, basketball, track, boxing, and ballroom dancing. Beasley apparently developed his unorthodox techniques early in his career. He is said to have arrived every day at his first full-time teaching position at the Indian Hills Club in Winnetka, Illinois, in the early 1920s:

...dressed in a white jockey cap, long flannel pants and a pinstriped blazer. In his arms were instruments such as boxing gloves, hammers, baseball bats and bicycle tires, anything to help teach his system of the game. And it worked. Five years later his students Louise McFarland and Marjorie Gladman bagged a junior national title each.[57]

Beasley's cross-training rationale was both eclectic and original:

Boxing taught players to attack short balls in the front court. "Foot up to it on your forehand side and shoot a right jab at it," Beasley would say. Basketball helped teach defensive play and alertness. Ballroom dance and gymnastics were studied. He discovered learning tools everywhere. He even used a marching band for players to rally to while practicing footwork.[58]

Thirty years later, a 1957 article in Sports Illustrated further detailed some of Beasley's methods:

"I rarely change natural grips.... We find that if the pivot comes in, direction will follow if the racket follows in a line to where the ball is sent.... We try to have the footwork done ahead of time and then at the moment of hitting, perfect control, no falling over sideways, no off balance.... There is no lack of decision. The training calls for audible calling of where the ball is to be sent. We have used semaphores placed back of the player receiving the ball, the other fellow would follow the signals.... I do not allow more than 13 errors for any one set.... At Tulane we advocate and play basketball, we hit tennis balls with a golf stick from a cocoa mat on the tennis courts, we have the boxing instructor come down to the courts with boxing gloves and show the boys how to foot. We have the head football coach.... we get the band out... we dance, keep moving and make every one of our varsity players work on one of our six practice boards.... There is a circle about one foot round they have to serve in.... My players must never grandstand a play, never make the kill when a soft accurate shot will suffice. Energy must be saved. No false steps, no excess movements. No jerks, no wild swinging and no brute strength. Just the cool calculating mind working the system, analytical, severe, fast, cruel and deadly...."[59]

Years later, one of his pupils recalled some lessons given him by Beasley at a resort in Nassau:

"Mr. Beasley would put towels at various spots on the court and he had them numbered....He would stand at the net and yell out a number, and that meant for me to hit the ball to that spot. He would do it in rapid fire succession and it was a good coaching gimmick."[60]

It is ironic, perhaps, that Beasley is quoted as saying, "I rarely change natural grips." Perhaps his greatest professional success came from altering Ellsworth Vine's original Western grip to his all-conquering Eastern grip, while perhaps his great error in judgment lay in altering the youthful Frankie Parker's "overspin forehand drive" to the emulation of Leo Durocher's throw to first base.

Crystal ball, both clear and cloudy

Clear

Whatever the merits of his unorthodox methods of instruction, Beasley undoubtedly had a profound knowledge of, and insight into, tennis, garnered from his many decades of association with it. His record as a prophet, however, is mixed. Pancho Gonzales, for instance, writes in his 1959 autobiography, that when he began his grinding 1958 tour with Australian great Lew Hoad:

When Lew began beating me in Australia and New Zealand the writers had a field day. Almost to a man they deserted Pancho Gonzales, now known as a "sinking ship." "Time has run out on the champion" was the trend of thinking. Out of all the experts and alleged prognosticators only Mercer Beasley supported me. "Gonzales will win by fifteen matches," he predicted.[61]

Beasley must truly have possessed a crystal ball in this case—or perhaps Gonzales was gilding the lily somewhat in his recollection: the final score of the 87 matches between the two best players in the world was 51-36 for Gonzales, precisely the 15-win margin that Beasley had predicted.

Cloudy

A year earlier, however, when Sports Illustrated asked, "The Question: Will Professional Tennis Eventually Interest The Public More Than Amateur Tennis?", they received this answer from "Mercer Beasley, Dean of tennis coaches":

No, although I think pro tennis will prosper. If it were any other sport but tennis I would say that the pros would take over. However, tennis is the one sport in which amateurism is the basic appeal. We'll always have brilliant youngsters ready to take the places of those who turn pro.[62]

Beasley, however, was not alone in his opinion. Both Lew Hoad and Clifford Sutter, the former Beasley pupil who was now the USLTA Chairman of the Amateur Rules Committee, agreed with him. On the other hand, three of the era's greatest professional tennis players, Pancho Gonzales, Pancho Segura, and Tony Trabert, answered that the higher quality of the pro game would eventually prevail. Twelve years later, the first Open tournaments pitting amateurs against the top professionals began and the amateur game began a swift and definitive decline.

Contrarian views

Beasley was not without his detractors.

Commercial successes and failures

Advertisement for the Mercer Beasley tennis racket

Beasley became a consultant to the Spalding Sporting Goods company in 1935, and for many years held tennis clinics for children in public parks across the country.[63] His book How to Play Tennis, first published in 1933, went through numerous printings and eventually he became so well known that Spalding released its own Mercer Beasley racket. For many years it was sold in stores next to those endorsed by Don Budge and Jack Kramer and it is said that both Pancho Gonzales and Ted Schroeder, the two finalists in a famous match for the 1949 U.S. Championship at Forest Hills, were playing with his racket.[64] Finally, Beasley was constantly seeking technological improvements. It is said[65] that he was a pioneer in promoting synthetic strings, composite rackets, and ultralight footwear as well as being one of the first coaches to design and use the now-ubiquitous tennis ball machine.

Innovations

It is difficult today to be certain of what physical innovations Beasley actually brought to the world of tennis. Some records do exist, however, that connect him to at least some inventions. In 1934 Beasley patented a "Practice Machine constructed for the purposes of throwing a ball such as a tennis ball, baseball, or other missile."[66]

The ABC racket

The ABC racket of 1949 was what Beasley nicknamed his Adjustable Balance and Weight Control racket:

"In the handle there's a metal tube some eight inches long. A weight in the tube can be adjusted to suit the balance needed. Different kinds of weights can be added to adjust the weight, as well as the balance, in order to give the player the right 'feel'.[67]

Thirteen years later, the Washington Post of September 5, 1962, reported that Beasley was still at work on an updated version of the concept:

"The gimmick is an ounce of floating mercury floating in a plastic tube encased in the handle of the racquet. As the racquet is raised, lowered, or swung, the mercury slides in the tube and automatically changes the balance so the extra weight is exactly where the player wants it for every type of shot."[68]

Pancho Gonzales, the article goes on to say, then near the end of his long reign as the world's best player, had had one of the new racquets made for him. " 'The new racquets would cost about 12 cents more to make than the current models,' says Beasley, one-time mentor of such greats as Ellsworth Vines, Frank Parker, Doris Hart and assorted others of renown."[69]

Forty-eight years later, nothing more has been heard of Beasley's invention.

Notes

  1. Different sources give different days for his birth
  2. "Mercer Beasley," July 29, 1957, in Sports Illustrated at [1]
  3. Signed Article by Brook Zelcer, originally at Tennis Weekly, now at [2]
  4. "Sport: Midge and Her Man," Time magazine of May 23, 1936, at [3]
  5. Signed Article by Brook Zelcer, originally at Tennis Weekly, now at [4]
  6. "Hall to honor two gentlemen of tennis", by Dan Magill in the Athens Banner-Herald, May 18, 2001, at [5]
  7. "Mercer Beasley," July 29, 1957, in Sports Illustrated at [6]
  8. "Mercer Beasley," July 29, 1957, in Sports Illustrated at [7]
  9. "Sport: At Forest Hills", Time magazine, Monday, September 12, 1932, at [8]
  10. Various mentions in New York Times articles of the 1910s and 1920s, always referring simply to the "Notlek courts"
  11. "Those who can't, teach, Great tennis coach neglected by history" by Brittany Urick, article in the Daily Princetonian, February 22, 2007 at [9]
  12. Signed Article by Brook Zelcer, originally at Tennis Weekly, now at [10]
  13. Signed Article by Brook Zelcer, originally at Tennis Weekly, now at [11]
  14. "Sport: At Forest Hills", Time magazine, Monday, September 12, 1932, at [12]
  15. Esquire magazine article by John R. Tunis, apparently the July, August, or September issue of 1934, reprinted in its entirety by a newspaper in central Maine, the Lewiston Evening Journal of August 31, 1934, in a article called "Mercer Beasley Is Power Behind Big Tennis Stars" at [13]
  16. "Those who can't, teach, Great tennis coach neglected by history" by Brittany Urick, article in the Daily Princetonian, February 22, 2007 at [14]
  17. "Sport: At Forest Hills", Time magazine, Monday, September 12, 1932, at [15]
  18. Esquire magazine article by John R. Tunis, apparently the July, August, or September issue of 1934, reprinted in its entirety by a newspaper in central Maine, the Lewiston Evening Journal of August 31, 1934, in a article called "Mercer Beasley Is Power Behind Big Tennis Stars" at [16]
  19. "Sport: At Forest Hills", Time magazine, Monday, September 12, 1932, at [17]
  20. "Those who can't, teach, Great tennis coach neglected by history" by Brittany Urick, article in the Daily Princetonian, February 22, 2007 at [18]
  21. "Hall to honor two gentlemen of tennis", by Dan Magill in the Athens Banner-Herald, May 18, 2001, at [19]
  22. "Those who can't, teach, Great tennis coach neglected by history" by Brittany Urick, article in the Daily Princetonian, February 22, 2007 at [20]
  23. "Quick Fact" in the University of Miami Tennis Media Guide at [21]
  24. Little Pancho: The Life of Tennis Legend Pancho Segura, by Caroline Seebohm, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, and London, 2009, ISBN 978-0-8032-2041-6
  25. "Hall to honor two gentlemen of tennis", by Dan Magill in the Athens Banner-Herald, May 18, 2001, at [22]
  26. xxx
  27. A typical article, called "Chances for U.S. Tennis Victory Regarded by Beasley as Brighter," appeared in the New York Times of July 16, 1933, at [23]
  28. Esquire magazine article by John R. Tunis, apparently the July, August, or September issue of 1934, reprinted in its entirety by a newspaper in central Maine, the Lewiston Evening Journal of August 31, 1934, in a article called "Mercer Beasley Is Power Behind Big Tennis Stars" at [24]
  29. "Tennis Turnquote", Time magazine of October 9, 1933, at [25]
  30. Esquire magazine article by John R. Tunis, apparently the July, August, or September issue of 1934, reprinted in its entirety by a newspaper in central Maine, the Lewiston Evening Journal of August 31, 1934, in a article called "Mercer Beasley Is Power Behind Big Tennis Stars" at [26]
  31. Esquire magazine article by John R. Tunis, apparently the July, August, or September issue of 1934, reprinted in its entirety by a newspaper in central Maine, the Lewiston Evening Journal of August 31, 1934, in a article called "Mercer Beasley Is Power Behind Big Tennis Stars" at [27]
  32. Esquire magazine article by John R. Tunis, apparently the July, August, or September issue of 1934, reprinted in its entirety by a newspaper in central Maine, the Lewiston Evening Journal of August 31, 1934, in a article called "Mercer Beasley Is Power Behind Big Tennis Stars" at [28]
  33. "Sport: At Forest Hills", Time magazine, Monday, September 12, 1932, at [29]
  34. Once a Champion: Legendary Tennis Stars Revisited, by Stan Hart, Dodd, Mead & Co., New York, 1985, Chapter 14, pages 222-240
  35. Tennis Simplified for Everybody, by Ellsworth Vines, Jr., American Sports Publishing Company, 1933, page 18
  36. Tennis Simplified for Everybody, by Ellsworth Vines, Jr., American Sports Publishing Company, 1933, pages 16-18
  37. Tennis Simplified for Everybody, by Ellsworth Vines, Jr., American Sports Publishing Company, 1933, pages 16-18
  38. New York Times, March 20, 1994, obituary of Vines, at [30]
  39. "On Nearby Tennis Courts: Beasley's Coaching Spans 35 Years", by Allison Danzig, in the New York Times,, July 13, 1957,at [31]
  40. "On Nearby Tennis Courts: Beasley's Coaching Spans 35 Years", by Allison Danzig, in the New York Times,, July 13, 1957,at [32]
  41. The Story of the Davis Cup, page 103
  42. How to Play Tennis: The Beasley System, American Sports Publishing, New York, 1933, pages xi-xii
  43. "Sport: Love Set", Time magazine, March 28, 1938 at, [33]
  44. "The Beasleys wanted to adopt the boy, but his mother said no. She did allow them to take him along, however, 'the economics of the situation back home being what they were.' " From Once a Champion: Legendary Tennis Stars Revisited, by Stan Hart, Dodd, Mead & Co., New York, 1985, page 160
  45. "Sport: At Forest Hills", Time magazine, Monday, September 12, 1932, at [34]
  46. The Game, My 40 Years in Tennis, Jack Kramer with Frank Deford, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1979, (ISBN 0-399-12336-9), page 48
  47. "Sport:Love Set", Time magazine, March 29, 1938, at[35]<
  48. "Sport: Rain at Forest Hills", Time magazine, September 16, 1935 at, [36]
  49. The New York Times obituary of Parker, July 28, 1997, at [37]
  50. "Sport: Love Set", Time magazine, March 28, 1938 at, [38]
  51. Once a Champion: Legendary Tennis Stars Revisited, by Stan Hart, Dodd, Mead & Co., New York, 1985, Chapter 14, page 158
  52. Signed Article by Brook Zelcer, originally at Tennis Weekly, now at [39]
  53. "How to Play Tennis," quoted at The Tennis Server—The Circle Game, by Greg Moran in a September, 2001, article called "The Three Greatest Tennis Tips of All Time" at [40]
  54. "How to Play Tennis," quoted at The Tennis Server—The Circle Game, by Greg Moran in a September, 2001, article called "The Three Greatest Tennis Tips of All Time" at [41]
  55. Signed Article by Brook Zelcer, originally at Tennis Weekly, now at [42]
  56. Signed Article by Brook Zelcer, originally at Tennis Weekly, now at [43]
  57. Signed Article by Brook Zelcer, originally at Tennis Weekly, now at [44]
  58. Signed Article by Brook Zelcer, originally at Tennis Weekly, now at [45]
  59. "Mercer Beasley," July 29, 1957, in Sports Illustrated at [46]
  60. "Hall to honor two gentlemen of tennis", by Dan Magill in the Athens Banner-Herald, May 18, 2001, at [47]
  61. Man with a Racket, The Autobiography of Pancho Gonzales, as Told to Cy Rice, A. S. Barnes and Company, New York, 1959, page 206.
  62. "The Question: Will Professional Tennis Eventually Interest The Public More Than Amateur Tennis?" by Jimmy Jemail, Sports Illustrated, September 02, 1957, at [48]
  63. "Sport: At Forest Hills", Time magazine, Monday, September 12, 1932, at [49]
  64. Signed Article by Brook Zelcer, originally at Tennis Weekly, now at [50]
  65. "Those who can't, teach, Great tennis coach neglected by history" by Brittany Urick, article in the Daily Princetonian, February 22, 2007 at [51]
  66. Signed Article by Brook Zelcer, originally at Tennis Weekly, now at [52]
  67. "Beasley, as quoted in the June, 1949, issue of American Lawn Tennis, in the "Stuff 'N Such" column.
  68. "New Tennis Racquet Invented", by Steve Snider, The Washington Post, September 5, 1962
  69. "New Tennis Racquet Invented", by Steve Snider, The Washington Post, September 5, 1962