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 18, 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 James "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 in his hometown of Newport, Rhode Island. 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 a member of the Newport Casino, home to the National Lawn (now International) 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. 

After a trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the 1950s, Van Alen, along with his wife Candace, realized that there should be a place to enshrine the greatest players and contributors in tennis history. In 1954, James and Candace Van Alen lobbied the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) to sanction the establishment of a tennis hall of fame in Newport. In 1955, the National Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum began enshrining outstanding players and contributors at the venerable Newport Casino. The Hall of Fame welcomed only Americans until Great Britain’s Fred Perry in 1975. and was officially recognized by the International Tennis Federation in 1986. Today, the International Tennis Hall of Fame stands as the true and fitting monument to the game of tennis worldwide.

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.”