Jimmy Van Alen

Jimmy Van Alen

Class of 1965


Career Achievements

Contributions to Tennis

  • President of the Newport Casino 1952
  • Founder of the National Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame 1954
  • President of the National Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame 1954, 1957-1977
  • Inventor of the tiebreak/VASSS
  • National Court Tennis Singles & Doubles Champion
Citizenship: USA Born: September 19, 1902 in Newport, Rhode Island Died: July 3, 1991

In the first round of the 2010 Wimbledon Championships, American John Isner and French qualifier Nicolas Mahut played the longest match in tennis history, measured both by time and number of games. Over the course of three days spanning 11 hours, 5 minutes of play, Isner outlasted Mahut, 6–4, 3–6, 6–7(7–9), 7–6(7–3), 70–68, a staggering 183 games. The players combined to produce 2,198 combined strokes.

Imagine how long that match would have continued without a tiebreaker? The architect of that game-changing invention was Jimmy Van Alen, whose keen foresight and vision also led him to become the founder of the National Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame in 1954. Van Alen was a tireless promoter of his scoring system, first developed in 1958 to end marathon sets and matches. The US Open was the first major to employ tiebreakers in 1970.

Van Alen was a national singles and doubles champion in court tennis, and his progressive thought process led him to make substantial changes in how tennis was scored. As founder of the National Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame, Van Alen was able to use the venue to introduce the Van Alen Streamlined Scoring System (VASSS), electric scoreboards, and night tennis. 

Van Alen died on July 3, 1991. Two days later, in a Wimbledon semifinal, Stefan Edberg lost to Michael Stich, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6. Upon hearing of Van Alen’s death, Edberg said, “If he hadn't lived, Michael and I might still be out there playing.”