Class of 2006
World Professional No. 1 (1933)
Bureaucracy robbed Hans Nüsslein from a burgeoning amateur career, but it couldn’t strip him from earning a place among tennis legends in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Plain and simple, the German-born Nüsslein was a tennis prodigy, possessing rare talent matured just a few years into his early teens. At age 15, he parlayed his prodigious talents into what has been described as a meager job as tennis coach, making a few dollars for providing lessons. When German officials got wind of Nüsslein’s endeavor, they didn’t overlook the pay, branded the youngster a professional, and banned him from ever competing as an amateur on the world’s greatest stages.
Nüsslein wasn’t about to stop playing tennis, so he focused on a professional career. Though small of stature at 5-6, he was powerfully built at 176 pounds, fit and fast. His game was technically efficient and devoid of any weaknesses opponents could exploit. To defeat him, an opponent had to rise up a level, match the German stroke for stroke and play with the same intensity and focus that Nüsslein possessed. He didn’t win every tournament, of course, but he did win his share. Splitting his time on clay, grass, or hardcourts and featuring an all-court game, Nüsslein won nine major professional titles. The German tennis book, Tennis in Deutschland (Tennis in Germany From the Beginning to 2002) says that Nüsslein won his first professional tournament at an event played at Beaulieu-sur-Mer on the French Riviera in 1930. In 1931 Nüsslein won the German Pro Championships, dethroning Roman Najuch. From 1931 to 1939, Nüsslein won the event seven times, including four in a row (1933-1936). Bill Tilden, who defeated Nüsslein in 1937, was an honorable champion subsequently bringing his German counterpart to the U.S. to play the professional tour. Tilden described Nüsslein as “a machine with a brain, and the finest player I ever saw.”
The pair had seriously competitive matches, Nüsslein defeating Tilden at the 1933 World Pro (1-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-3); the 1937 Wembley Pro (6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2); the 1938 French Pro (6-0, 6-1, 6-2) and the 1938 Wembley Pro (7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2). Nüsslein knocked off the great Henri Cochet at the 1937 French Pro (6-2, 8-6, 6-3) and played Ellsworth Vines and Don Budge as tough as any opponent on the circuit.
In 1932 he won his only U.S. Pro, defeating Karel Koželuh in the 1934 event, 6-4, 6-2, 1-6, 7-5. He won his first World Pro Championship over American Bruce Barnes in four-sets, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-0 and defended the title in 1933 over compatriot Roman Najuch, in a similar rout, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2.
Noted tennis historian Robert Geist has been widely quoted as saying that Nüsslein “possessed classic strokes, equal to René Lacoste, Henri Cochet, and Koželuh, as well as excellent volleys, magnificent drop shots, and breathtaking half volleys. As consistent as Ken Rosewall, Nüsslein was one of the best players during the 1930s.”
In total, he won the World Pro Championships four times (1932, 1933, 1936 and 1937).
In a non-playing role, he served as a Davis Cup coach to teams from the Netherlands, the United States, Australia, India, Sweden, and Germany.