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   Chapter 14 FRANCE AND JAPAN

The Art of Lawn Tennis By William T. Tilden Characters: 12578

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07



One of the most picturesque figures and delightfully polished tennis games in the world are joined in that volatile, temperamental player, Andre Gobert of France. He is a typically French product, full of finesse, art, and nerve, surrounded by the romance of a wonderful war record of his people in which he bore a magnificent part, yet unstable, erratic, and uncertain. At his best he is invincible. He is the great master of tennis. At his worst he is mediocre. Gobert is at once a delight and a disappointment to a student of tennis.

Gobert's service is marvellous. It is one of the great deliveries of the world. His great height (he is 6 feet 4 inches) and tremendous reach enable him to hit a flat delivery at frightful speed, and still stand an excellent chance of it going in court. He uses very little twist, so the pace is remarkably fast. Yet Gobert lacks confidence in his service. If his opponent handles it successfully Gobert is apt to slow it up and hit it soft, thus throwing away one of the greatest assets.

His ground strokes are hit in beautiful form. Gobert is the exponent of the most perfect form in the world to-day. His swing is the acme of beauty. The whole stroke is perfection. He hits with a flat, slightly topped drive, feet in excellent position, and weight well controlled. It is uniform, backhand and forehand. His volleying is astonishing. He can volley hard or soft, deep or short, straight or angled with equal ease, while his tremendous reach makes him nearly impossible to pass at the net. His overhead is deadly, fast, and accurate, and he kills a lob from anywhere in the court.

Why is not Gobert the greatest tennis player in the world? Personally I believe it is lack of confidence, a lack of fighting ability when the breaks are against him, and defeat may be his due. It is a peculiar thing in Gobert, for no man is braver than he, as his heroism during the War proved. It is simply lack of tennis confidence. It is an over- abundance of temperament. In victory Gobert is invincible, in defeat he is apt to be almost mediocre.

Gobert is delightful personally. His quick wit and sense of humour always please the tennis public. His courteous manner and genial sportsmanship make him universally popular. His stroke equipment is unsurpassed in the tennis world.

I unqualifiedly state that I consider him the most perfect tennis player, as regards strokes and footwork, in the world to-day; but he is, not the greatest player. Victory is the criterion of a match player, and Gobert has not proved himself a great victor.

Gobert is probably the finest indoor player in the world, while he is very great on hard courts; but his grass play is not the equal of many others. I heartily recommend Gobert's style to all students of the game, and endorse him as a model for strokes.


Another brilliant, erratic and intensely interesting figure that

France has given the tennis world is Laurentz, the wonderful

young player, who, at the age of seventeen defeated A. F.


Laurentz is a cyclonic hitter of remarkable speed and brilliance, but prone to very severe lapses. His service is of several varieties, all well played. He uses an American twist as his regular delivery, but varies it with a sharp slice, a reverse twist of great spin, and a fast cannon-ball smash. Laurentz is very versatile. He has excellent orthodox drives, fore- and backhand, and a competent forehand chop.

His volleying is brilliant almost beyond description, but very erratic. He is very fast on his feet, and anticipates remarkably well. He will make the most hair-raising volleys, only to fall down inexplicably the next moment on an easy shot. His overhead is like his volley, severe, brilliant, but uncertain.

Laurentz is a very hard worker, and, unlike Gobert, is always at his best when behind. He is a fair fighter and a great match player. His defeats are due more to over-anxiety than to lack of fight. He is temperamental, sensational, and brilliant, a sportsman of the highest type, quick to recognize his opponent's good work and to give full credit for it. He is one of the most interesting players now before the public.

He is a clever court general but not a great tennis thinker, playing more by instinct than by a really deep-laid plan of campaign. Laurentz might beat anyone in the world on his day or lose to the veriest dub when at his worst.[1]

[1] It was with deepest regret the news of his death reached us, as this edition went to press.


The New French Champion of 1921 who defeated Andre Gobert most unexpectedly in the challenge round, is an interesting player of the mental type. He is anything but French in his game. His style is rather that of the crafty American or English player than the hard-hitting Frenchman.

Samazieuhl is an exponent of crafty patball. His service is a medium pace slice, well placed but not decisive. His ground strokes are a peculiar stiff arm chop varied at times with an equally cramped drive, yet his extreme mobility allows him to cover a tremendous amount of court, while his return, which is well disguised, is capable of great angles. His volleying is reliable but lacks severity and punch. He makes excellent low volleys, but cannot put away shoulder high balls while his overhead is not deadly.

It is Samazieuhl's clever generalship and his ability to recover seemingly impossible shots that win matches for him. He is a comparatively new tournament player, and should improve greatly as he gains confidence and experience.


One of the most interesting young players in France is R. Danet, who has come to the fore in the past few years. This boy, for he is little more, has a hard hitting brilliant game of great promise.

His service is a speedy slice. He drives with great speed, if as yet with none too much accuracy, off both fore and backhand. His net attack is very severe while overhead he is deadly. His speed of foot is remarkable, and he is a very hard worker. His limitations are in his lack of a set plan of attack and the steady adherence to any given method of play. He throws away too many easy chances, but this will correct itself as time goes on and Danet has f

ought through more tournaments. I consider him a player of great promise.

Max Decugis and Brugnon, the two remaining members of the 1920 Davis Cup team of France, present totally different types. Decugis, crafty, cool, and experienced, is the veteran of many long seasons of match play. He is a master tactician, and wins most of his matches by outgeneralling the other player. Burgnon is brilliant, flashy, hard hitting, erratic, and inexperienced. He is very young, hardly twenty years of age. He has a fine fore-hitting style and excellent net attack, but lacks confidence and a certain knowledge of tennis fundamentals. A few years' experience will do wonders for him.

The French style of play commends itself to me very highly. I enjoy watching the well-executed strokes, beautiful mobile footwork of these dashing players. It is more a lack of dogged determination to win, than in any stroke fault that one finds the reason for French defeats. The temperamental genius of this great people carries with it a lack of stability that can be the only explanation for the sudden crushing and unexpected defeats their representatives receive on the tennis courts.

I was particularly impressed during my visit to France by the large numbers of children playing tennis and the style of game displayed. The sport shows a healthy increase and should produce some fine players within the next ten years.

Keen competition is the corrective measure for temperamental instability and with the advent of many new players in French tennis I would not be surprised to see a marked decrease of unexpected defeats of their leading players.


A new element has entered the tennis world in the last decade.

The Orient has thrust its shadow over the courts in the persons

of a small group of remarkable tennis players, particularly

Ichija Kumagae and Zenzo Shimidzu, the famous Japanese stars.

Kumagae, who for some years reigned supreme in Japan and Honolulu, has lived in America for the past three years. Shimidzu is a product of Calcutta, where he has lived for some years.

No player has caused more discussion than Kumagae, unless it is Shimidzu; while surely no man received more critical comment than Shimidzu, except Kumagae. The press of America and England have vied with each other in exploiting these two men. There was unanimity of opinion concerning these two men in one respect. No finer sportsmen nor more delightful opponents can be found than these Japanese. They have won the respect and friendship of all who have met them.

Kumagae is the speedier tennis player. He came to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else. Kumagae is left- handed, which made his peculiar shots all the harder to handle. He met with fair success during the year; his crowning triumph was his defeat of W. M. Johnston at Newport in five sets. He lost to J. J. Armstrong, Watson M. Washburn, and George M. Church. He learned much during his year in America, and returned to Japan a wiser man, with a firm determination to add to his tennis equipment.

In 1917 Kumagae returned to America to enter business in New York. Once established there he began developing his game. First he learned an American twist service and then strengthened his backhand. That year he suffered defeat at the hands of Walter T. Hayes and myself. He was steadily improving. He now started coming to the net and learning to volley. He is not yet a good low volleyer, and never will be while he uses the peculiar grip common to his people; but his high volleying and overhead are now excellent. Last year Kumagae reached his top form and was ranked third in America. His defeats were by Johnston, Vincent Richards, and myself; while he defeated Murray, S. H. Voshell, Vincent Richards, and me, as well as countless players of less note.

The season of 1920 found Kumagae sweeping all before him, since Johnston, Williams, Garland, and I were away on the Davis Cup trip. Williams barely defeated him in a bitter match, just previously to sailing. Kumagae left America in the middle of the summer to compete in the Olympic games, representing Japan.

Kumagae is still essentially a baseline player of marvellous accuracy of shot and speed of foot. His drive is a lethal weapon that spreads destruction among his opponents. His backhand is a severe "poke," none too accurate, but very deadly when it goes in. His service overhead and high volley are all severe and reliable. His low volley is the weak spot in an otherwise great game. Kumagae cannot handle a chop, and dislikes grass-court play, as the ball bounds too low for his peculiar "loop" drive. He is one of the greatest hard-court players in the world, and one of the most dangerous opponents at any time on any surface.

Shimidzu is to-day as dangerous as Kumagae. He, too, is a baseline player, but lacks Kumagae's terrific forehand drive. Shimidzu has a superior backhand to Kumagae, but his weak service rather offsets this. His low volleying is far superior to Kumagae, while his high volleying and overhead are quite his equal. He has all the fighting qualities in his game that make Kumagae so dangerous, but he has not had the experience. Shimidzu learns very quickly, and I look to see him a great factor in the game in future years.

Both Shimidzu and Kumagae are marvellous court coverers, and seem absolutely untiring. They are "getters" of almost unbelievable activity, and accurate to a point that seems uncanny. Both men hit to the lines with a certainty that makes it very dangerous to attempt to take the net on anything except a deep forcing shot that hurries them.

With such players as Kumagae and Shimidzu, followed by S. Kashio and K. Yamasaki, and the late H. Mikami, Japan is a big factor in future tennis. 1922 will again see Japan challenging for the Davis Cup, and none but a first-class team can stop them. The advent of a Japanese team with such players will mean that this year we must call out our best to repel the Oriental invasion: so competition receives another stimulus that should raise our standard of play.

The probability of journeying to Japan to challenge for the Davis Cup is not so remote but that we must consider it as a future possibility.

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