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Ellsworth Vines:
Ultimate Ball Striker

Ed Atkinson

Printable Version

Vines forehand: velocity and ferocity.

Big Bill Tilden was a colossus who achieved legendary status in tennis history. (Click Here to read his profile.) But the next great player to dominate the amateur and professional world may have been a better player, although he never approached Big Bill's fame. He also gave up his tennis for good when he was still at his peak.

Considered by some to be the greatest player in history, he was a tall skinny lad from Pasadena, California, who hit tennis balls with ferocity and velocity. His name was Ellsworth Vines.

According to Jack Kramer, "You could make a very strong case for Elly Vines as the best player of all time. He hit the ball like Babe Ruth and dressed like Fred Astaire."

Ellsworth Vines was a great swimmer in his youth and a freshman basketball player at USC. He played the Grand Slam events for only 4 years, winning the U.S. Championships twice in 1931 and 1932, and Wimbledon once in 1933.

A motion that produced 2.5 aces a game.

He then signed a professional contract to go on tour with Bill Tilden. He lost the opening match, 8-6, 6-3, 6-2, before 16,200 fans at Madison Square Garden. But ultimately he beat the aging Tilden, 47 matches to 26.

Vines was considered the No. 1 pro through 1937, winning the World Pro title 3 times. He also won two tours with Fred Perry, who had been Wimbledon champion and the top amateur in the world the year before turning pro.

Yet in the middle of his tennis career--literally in the middle of his tour with Don Budge--Vines quit and joined the pro golf tour, where he also went on to compete successfully at the highest levels.

In his second career playing golf, Vines went on to finish in the top ten in annual golf prize money twice, won a professional tournament, and was a semi-finalist in the 1951 PGA Championship, when it was still a match-play tournament.

Kramer tells the story of Vines sudden departure from tennis this way: "Budge was his all-time peak. Vines meanwhile, takes a golf club to bed with him, is putting up in his hotel room, trying to get 18 holes of golf in the morning, then playing Budge at night."

How great was Vines abbreviated career?

"When the tour was half over, Vines announces to the promoter, I promised Fred Perry that he could play half the tour against Budge, I'm going to go back to my golf game.' And the score was only 21 to 18 at that time in favor of Budge.".

"Here is Vines, he's the top pro in the world, doesn't even like the game anymore, is playing golf every day, and holding the great Don Budge that close; unbelievable. So how good could Vines be? He was surely the best athlete ever in the two professional sports."

But how good was Vine in tennis? He was one of the best servers of all time. He had a wonderful forehand, a classical backhand. He could play serve and volley. He had no weaknesses. Many observers believed that the tennis ball traveled faster when he hit than any player before or since because of the fact that he hit it so perfectly flat.

Pancho Segura summed Vines up this way: "He was the greatest hitter of a tennis ball I ever saw."

Great volleys and an all court game.

Ellsworth Vines probably served more aces per times at bat than anybody in the game's history, averaging 2.5 aces a game in a Wimbledon final against Bunny Austin. Incredibly, this was the same average on his pro tour with Budge.

Shortly after winning the U.S. championship for the first time at the tender age of 19, Elly Vines was honored by a banquet in his hometown of Pasadena. After the obligatory speeches, the master of ceremonies asked Elly to describe the strategy he employed during match play.

"What is your approach to returning service?" the MC asked. Elly replied, "I hit the ball cross court as hard as I can." The MC countered with, "What do you do next?" "I hit the next ball cross court as hard as I can." The MC nodded, "Then what?" To which Elly replied, "That hasn't come up yet."

Ed Atkinson is the producer of Kings of the Court, the amazing historical video that presents intimate profiles of some of the greatest players in tennis history. Kings of the Court features rare and often never before seen footage of players including Big Bill Tilden, Don Budge, Jack Kramer, Lew Hoad, Pancho Gonzales, and Rod Laver, narrated by John Forsythe with an original musical score. Atkinson, a former top college player, is a lifelong member of the Los Angeles Tennis Club, where many of the "Kings" trained and competed in the glory years of amateur tennis.

The Kings of the Court historical video is a must for anyone who loves tennis and wants to understand the history of the game.

Kings of the Court profiles 10 of the greatest champions from Little Bill Johnson and Big Bill Tilden to Don Budge, Jack Kramer, Lew Hoad, Pancho Gonzales, and Rod Laver. Rare footage from tournament play, as well as private never before seen footage available here for the first time. Narrated by John Forsythe with a highly evocative original musical score. Produced by Ed Atkinson. Click here to purchase

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