Years: 1912 - 1924
Logistical problems continued to belittle the Olympic tennis at Stockholm 1912. Again both indoor and outdoor events were held and a mixed doubles competition was added to each, but the outdoor event conflicted with Wimbledon, so none of the leading British, French or American players travelled to Sweden, at least for the men's events.
Interest in the indoor event was so intense that even members of the Swedish Royal Family, who were to become great benefactors to the sport in its developing years, attended daily the matches held at the Royal Courts. Spectators queued for up to three hours to find seats amid the limited accommodation, and some resorted to sitting on rafters.
There was a major surprise in the semifinal of the men's singles when the Briton Charles Dixon beat the New Zealander Anthony Wilding over four sets. In the final, Dixon could not rebuff the confident Frenchman Andre Gobert, who took the gold medal 86 64 64.
Great Britain’s Edith Hannam won the women's singles title without dropping a set, but she only had to play three matches as there were a mere eight competitors. She beat Sophie Castenschiold of Denmark 64 63 in the final after trailing 0-3 in both sets.
There was a summer heatwave in Sweden and, perhaps predictably, it was the South Africans who seemed to enjoy the baking temperatures most of all in the outdoor event. Not only were they more accustomed to playing in such conditions, but their physical strength and overall skill brought Harry Kitson and Charles Winslow to the most memorable match of the competition. Winslow took the gold medal by winning over four exhausting sets 75 46 108 86.
Marguerite Broquedis of France looked in a class of her own in the women's singles, although Dorothea Koring from Germany kept her on court an uncomfortably long time before succumbing 46 63 64 in the final.
The First World War (1914-18) naturally meant that plans for an Olympic Games in 1916 had to be abandoned. In 1920, everyone re-assembled in Antwerp, although with desperately little time or opportunity for the Belgian Committee to gather resources and organise anything other than a rather impromptu event.
In May 1920, an inaugural service was held in the imposing Cathedral of Antwerp to remember all those athletes who had perished in the recent hostilities. The Opening Ceremony of the Games that followed included, for the first time, the public taking of the Olympic Oath by all the athletes. It was also the first time that the Olympic flag with the five-ringed emblem, which is now such a recognised symbol of the event, had been seen at the Games.
Despite the logisitical difficulties, the 1920 Games were for the most part a huge success, if only in that they firmly re-established the Olympics. But tennis had its fair share of the problems. Conditions in a venue within shouting distance of the main stadium – and packed with 30,000 spectators – were noisy, and the facilities generally spartan. No hot water and no towels, for instance.
Yet the sheer enthusiastic delight at competing again put paid to any gripes, and the emergence of "new" tennis countries, like Spain and Czechoslovakia, provided greater interest than ever before. There was a singles draw of 44 men and 21 women, representing 15 countries, although Germany and USA, who had asked for the dates to be changed, were not among them.
South Africa's Louis Raymond eventually took the gold medal, beating his fellow left-hander Ichiya Kumagai from Japan with endless precise dropshots and lobs 57 64 75 64. Conditions were hardly ideal with the surface soggy from the rain that bedevilled the tournament, but the matches were well contested.
The women's singles was triumphant for the singularly exciting Suzanne Lenglen, the pride of France, who became one of the legendary figures in the game. Her extraordinary athletic talent, matched by an autocratic personality and balletic elegance, subdued all other competitors and she reigned supreme. In the final she beat Dorothy Holman from Britain 63 60.
So to Paris in 1924 and an Olympic Games staged amid sweltering heat. Once again tennis seemed to be the exception when it came to the smooth organisation of the event. Instead of allowing the French Tennis Federation to arrange and organise the events at one of the best equipped clubs in Paris, a harassed IOC selected what could only be described as a piece of waste ground near the main stadium at Colombes.
The American team was one of the first to arrive and found, to its horror, courts which were unplayable, and changing facilities which were rudimentary in the extreme. The men's accommodation was half a mile from the courts. The so-called accommodation for the women was a wooden hut that was invariably locked for much of the day.
The pity was that 28 countries had sent between them 142 competitors, 99 men and 43 women, including top players such as France’s Jean Borotra, Rene Lacoste and Henri Cochet, and Vincent Richards of the United States. Although Lenglen was missing, still suffering from the illness which had also kept her from competing at Wimbledon a few weeks earlier, the Americans sent Helen Wills and Hazel Wightman, while the British contingent included the newly-crowned Wimbledon champion, Kitty McKane.
For all the frustrations, much of the tennis was nevertheless of a high quality, with Richards taking the men's singles title 64 64 57 46 62 from Cochet, and Wills taking the women's singles crown and her second Olympic gold medal by winning the final against Julie Vlasto of France 62 62.
- Continue reading... third chapter in the History section: Reinstatement