Class of 1968
World No. 1 (1946)
Grand Slam Results
10-time major champion and 2-time finalist
Member of the US Davis Cup Team 1939, 1946-1947
Member of the US Championship Davis Cup Team 1946-1947
Overall Record 7-2
Singles Record 6-0
Doubles Record 1-2
Jack Kramer doesn’t fit neatly into one singular tennis category. His impact on the game as a player, promoter, and analyst, as well as the name that adorned one of the greatest selling racquets in history places him in the “rarified” tennis category. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone – male or female – who has had a greater impact on tennis than Jack Kramer.
At 6-foot-2, Kramer ushered in an era of a pounding and hard-driving serve and volley game that became the rage in tennis, and led him to a No. 1 world ranking in 1946. Kramer didn’t toil on the amateur circuit his entire career, roughly ten years, because he didn’t see it as a sustainable, livable lifestyle. He was the linchpin in convincing a slew of top players to join his professional tour, which he fostered in 1947, traveling throughout the country to play in such venues as Madison Square Garden. He was a tireless and staunch advocate of Open Tennis, and along with Donald Dell and Cliff Drysdale, founded the Association of Tennis Professionals in 1972.
His ancillary tennis activities, television commentary for the BBC, sought-after analysis on the game’s greatest players of all time, and the name featured on the Wilson Jack Kramer Autograph tennis racquet – which launched in 1948 and became the best-selling racquet of all time with over 20 million models produced over a 30 year period – made Kramer a household name throughout the world.
Raised in Los Angeles, Kramer’s playing career progressed due to expert mentoring and coaching he received from legendary teaching pro Dick Skeen and the czar of Southern California tennis, Perry Jones, who helped launch Kramer’s junior career. In 1936, the 15-year-old Kramer, bolstered by the opportunity to compete and improve his game playing against players such Ellsworth Vines, Joe Hunt, Bobby Riggs, and Bill Tilden, to name a few, won the National Boys Championship and in 1938 won the National Junior Interscholastic Tournament. This catapulted his career in rapid fashion, as Kramer joined the U.S. Davis Cup team in 1939 at age 18 to play doubles alongside Hunt. At the time, he was the youngest ever to play Davis Cup. He’d win Davis Cup titles in 1946 and 1947, both over Australia, in matches that saw him win all four of his singles encounters.
Kramer’s game was built on power, pace, and aggressive play, but outside of those athletic traits, he gradually brought a distinct strategy to his matches, one that saw him tone down his power – especially on his forehand – and incorporate percentages and angles into his game. Kramer didn’t invent that thought process, of course, it’s the very nature of the game to find holes and exploit them, but he was bent on perfecting a “thinking man’s” approach to competition. He thrived on turning an opponent’s weakness into an advantage. He liked to calculate gambles when leading to close out a match, or when so far down it became mandatory strategy. He abhorred losing serve and wanted to place his shots at such acute angles that it would present his opponent with the worst chance to return a winner. It worked more often than not, as Kramer won ten major titles, three coming in singles at the U.S. Nationals (1946, 1947) and at Wimbledon (1947). His doubles titles were earned at those two majors as well (U.S. Nationals in 1940, 1941, 1943, 1947) and Wimbledon (1946, 1947) and one in mixed doubles at the U.S. Nationals (1941).
Kramer ran into several obstacles before he was able to secure his first singles titles. In 1942 he had appendicitis, which prohibited him from playing in the U.S. Nationals. Ptomaine poisoning curtailed him during the same event in 1943, losing to his longtime friend Hunt in the finals, 6-3, 6-8, 10-8, 6-0. The next two years were spent in the Coast Guard during World War II. Playing at Wimbledon in 1946 as the No. 2 seed, he developed severe blisters, but persevered anyway, bandaged and playing with a glove. It didn’t help him overcome Jaroslav Drobný in the fourth round, losing 2-6, 17-15, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Kramer broke through at the U.S. Nationals in 1946, sweeping American Tony Brown, 9-7, 6-3, 6-0, for his first major singles title and successfully defended the following year, coming back from 2-0 sets down to defeat compatriot Frank Parker, 4-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-0, 6-3. After competing so diligently against Drobný at Wimbledon in 1946, Kramer didn’t let a golden opportunity slip away in 1947, convincingly defeating Brown for a second time in a major final, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2.
His tenacity as a serve-and-volley player repeated benefits in doubles competition, where Kramer was a perfect 6-for-6 in the majors, all being won in straight sets. The U.S. Nationals were won with Ted Schroeder (1940, 1941, 1947) and with Parker (1943). Wimbledon titles were alongside Brown (1946) and Bob Falkenburg (1947). His mixed title in 1941 at the U.S. was partnered with Sarah Palfrey.
By the close of 1947, Kramer had earned his fill of major championships and U.S. amateur singles and doubles championships (13) and turned professional. Chicago promoter Jack Harris paired Kramer and Riggs into head-to-head competition that earned Kramer $37,000 and Kramer not only became professional player, but promoter as well, luring top pros to join the tour. With a tour full of talent (Pancho Gonzales, Frank Sedgman, Lew Hoad, Pancho Segura, Ken Rosewall, to name a few), Kramer won the U.S. Pro in 1948 over Riggs, 14-12, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, and the 1949 Wembley Pro over Riggs, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4. He advanced to the 1950 French Pro final.
The gambler on court downplayed his promotion of the professional game, saying, “Anybody with a little gamble in him could have done it.”
But Kramer wasn’t just anybody, he was a keen tennis mind, one who in 1968 devised the Grand Prix, which was a series of tournaments that led to the Masters Championship for the top eight players. In his role as Executive Director of the ATP (1972-75), it was his urging that led to the 1973 Wimbledon boycott that saw 79 players withdraw from competing, including 13 of the top 16 seeds. The unified group was protesting the suspension of Yugoslav Nikola Pilić by the International Tennis Federation, who had refused to play Davis Cup. Longtime tennis journalist Bud Collins put the decision into historical perspective, writing, “The boycott made the ATP. The players’ message to the ITF was clear: they were finally united in an organization to influence their own destiny.”
Kramer’s astute tennis knowledge became the barometer of tennis analysis for both male and female players. Kramer was never at a loss to share his opinion, as he did in his 1979 autobiography, The Game: My 40 Years in Tennis.
Wimbledon: W 1947
U.S. Championships: W 1946, 1947
Wimbledon: W 1946, 1947
U.S. Championships: W 1940, 1941, 1943, 1947
U.S. Nationals: W 1941