Lew Hoad

23 Nov 1934
3 Jul 1994
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Lewis Alan (“Lew”) Hoad (23 November 1934 – 3 July 1994) was an Australian former World No. 1 tennis player.

In his 1979 autobiography, Jack Kramer, the long-time tennis promoter and great player himself, ranked Hoad as one of the 21 best players of all time.

For five straight years, beginning in 1952, he was ranked in the world top 10 for amateurs, reaching the World No. 1 spot in 1956.

Hoad was a member of the Australian team that between 1952 and 1956 won the Davis Cup four times. He turned professional in July 1957.

Hoad won four majors as an amateur, and won the 1959 Tournament of Champions as a professional. Rod Laver, writing for the Herald-Sun newspaper in 2012, ranked Lew as the greatest player of the ‘Past Champions’ era of tennis. Laver described his strengths of “power, volleying and explosiveness” as justification of his accolade.

Serious back problems plagued Hoad throughout his career, particularly after he turned professional, and led to his effective retirement from tennis in 1967 although he made sporadic comebacks enticed by the advent of the open era in 1968.

Following his retirement Hoad and his wife Jenny operated a tennis resort, Lew Hoad’s Campo de Tenis in Fuengirola, Spain, near Málaga. Hoad died of leukemia on 3 July 1994.

Lewis Hoad was born on 23 November 1934, in the working-class Sydney inner suburb of Glebe, the oldest of three sons of tramway electrician Alan Hoad and his wife Ailsa Lyle.

Hoad started playing tennis at age five with a racket gifted by a local social club. As a young child he would wake up at 5 a.m. and hit tennis balls against a wall and garage door until the neighbours complained and he was allowed to practice on the courts of the Hereford Tennis Club behind the house. At age 10 he competed in the seaside tournament at Manly in the under 16 category.

In his youth he often played with Ken Rosewall and they became known as the Sydney ‘twins’, although they had very different physique, personality and playing style. Their first match was in their early teens and was played as an opener of an exhibition match between Australia and America. Rosewall won 6–0, 6–0.

Hoad built up great physical strength, especially in his hands and arms, by training at a police boys’ club, where he made a name as a boxer. Hoad was about 12 when he was introduced to Adrian Quist, a former Australian tennis champion and then general manager of the Dunlop sports goods company.

Quist played a couple of sets with Hoad and was impressed by his natural ability. When Hoad was 14 he left school and joined the Dunlop payroll, following the pattern of that ‘shamateur’ era when most of Australia’s brightest tennis prospects were employed by sporting goods companies.

Hoad had just turned 15 when he and Rosewall were selected to play for New South Wales in an interstate contest against Victoria.

In November 1949 Hoad won the junior title at the New South Wales Championships and that same weekend he also competed in the final of the junior table tennis championship in Sydney.

Hoad’s first Grand Slam tournament appearance was at the 1951 Australian Championships held in January at the White City Tennis Club in Sydney.

He won his first match against Ronald McKenzie in straight sets but lost in the following round to defending champion Frank Sedgman. It was the only Grand Slam tournament he played that year.

In 1952 he reached the third round of the Australian Championships, played in Adelaide, and in April he was selected by the Australasian Lawn Tennis Association as member of the team to play in overseas tournaments.

In May, before departing to Europe, he won the singles title at the Australian Hardcourt Championships after a five-set win in the final against Rosewall.

Hoad, who had never played a tournament on clay courts, received a walkover in the first round of the French Championships and lost in straight sets to sixth-seeded and 1947 and 1951 French finalist Eric Sturgess.

In only their second appearance as a doubles team at a Grand Slam event Hoad and Rosewall reached the French semifinal.

Hoad subsequently played the Belgian tennis championships in Brussels in early June and reached the quarterfinal in which he was outclassed by Budge Patty.

Hoad’s first entry at the Queen’s Club Championship in June 1952 ended in the quarterfinal against countryman and eventual champion Frank Sedgman.

A week later he played his first match at the Wimbledon Championships defeating Beppe Merlo in a nervous and unimpressive five-set encounter.

Wins against Rolando del Bello and Freddie Huber were followed by a fourth round loss against second-seeded and eventual finalist Jaroslav Drobný.

Hoad and Rosewall caused an upset when they defeated second-seeded Gardnar Mulloy and Dick Savitt in the third round of the doubles event in a run that ended in the semifinal against Vic Seixas and Eric Sturgess.

After a semifinal result at the Swedish championships in July and an exhibition between Australia and West Germany Hoad and the Australian team traveled to the United States under the guidance of Harry Hopman. As a preparation for his first U.S. Championships he played the Meadow Club Invitational (Southampton), Eastern Grass Court Championship (South Orange), and Newport Invitational before teaming up with Rosewall to reach the semifinal of the U.S. National Doubles Championships in Brookline.

Hoad was the eighth seeded foreign player at the U.S. Championships. He won four matches to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal but due in part to making 64 errors could not overcome his countryman Frank Sedgman who would win the tournament without losing a set.

With Thelma Coyne Long he reached the final of the mixed doubles event, the first Grand Slam final of his career, but they lost in straight sets to Doris Hart and Frank Sedgman. An early loss at the Pacific Southwest Championships in September concluded his first overseas tour. At the end of the year he was jointly ranked No. 10 in the world with Rosewall.

Strength played an important part in Hoad’s game, as he often drove for winners rather than rallying and waiting for the right opportunity. Although he assaulted his opponents, he also had the skill to win the French Championships on the slower clay court.

Hoad played right-handed and had a powerful serve and groundstrokes but his game lacked consistency. At times Hoad had difficulty maintaining concentration.

According to Kramer, “Hoad had the loosest game of any good kid I ever saw. There was absolutely no pattern to his game…. He was the only player I ever saw who could stand six or seven feet behind the baseline and snap the ball back hard, crosscourt.

He’d try for winners off everything, off great serves, off tricky short balls, off low volleys. He hit hard overspin drives, and there was no way you could ever get him to temporise on important points.” Kramer compares Hoad to another great player, Ellsworth Vines. “Both were very strong guys.

Both succeeded at a very young age…. Also, both were very lazy guys. Vines lost interest in tennis (for golf) before he was thirty, and Hoad never appeared to be very interested. Despite their great natural ability, neither put up the outstanding records that they were capable of. Unfortunately, the latter was largely true because both had physical problems.”

Gonzales, who is considered to be among the greatest tennis players of all time, always maintained that Hoad was the toughest, most skilful adversary that he had ever faced. “He was the only guy who, if I was playing my best tennis, could still beat me.” said Gonzales in a 1995 New York Times interview.

“I think his game was the best game ever. Better than mine. He was capable of making more shots than anybody. His two volleys were great. His overhead was enormous. He had the most natural tennis mind with the most natural tennis physique.”

In a 1970 interview he stated that “Hoad was probably the best and toughest player when he wanted to be. After the first two years on the tour, his back injury plagued him so much that he lost the desire to practice. He was the only man to beat me in a head-to-head tour, 15 to 13.”

Kramer, however, had mixed feelings about Hoad’s ability. In spite of calling him one of the 21 best players of all time, he also writes that “when you sum Hoad up, you have to say that he was overrated. He might have been the best, but day-to-day, week-to-week, he was the most inconsistent of all the top players.” In a 1963 article in World Tennis Rosewall judges Gonzales to be a notch above Hoad but stated that “…the latter is the greatest of all time when he is ‘on’.”, an opinion echoed by Frew McMillan.

With his movie-star good looks, powerful physique, and outgoing personality, Hoad became a tennis icon in the 1950s. As Kramer says, “Everybody loved Hoad, even Pancho Gonzales. They should put that on Lew’s tombstone as the ultimate praise for the man…. Even when Hoad was clobbering Gonzales, Gorgo wanted his respect and friendship.”

Hoad proposed to his girlfriend, Australian tennis player Jenny Staley, on her 21st birthday party in March 1955 and they planned to announce their engagement in June in London while both were on an overseas tour.

After arrival in London Jenny discovered that she was pregnant and the couple decided to get married straight away. The marriage took place the following day on 18 June 1955 at St Mary’s Church, Wimbledon in London on the eve of Wimbledon.

They have two daughters and a son. After announcing his retirement in 1967, due to persistent back problems, Hoad moved to Fuengirola, Spain, near Málaga, where he and his wife operated a tennis resort, Lew Hoad’s Campo de Tenis, for more than thirty years entertaining personal friends such as actors Sean Connery, Kirk Douglas, and saxophonist Stan Getz.

Hoad was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia on 13 January 1994 and, in his weakened condition, he died of a heart attack on 3 July 1994 at the age of 59. A book co-written with Jack Pollard and titled My Game (“The Lew Hoad story” in the USA) was published in 1958. In 2002, Pollard teamed up with his widow, Jenny, to write My Life With Lew.

Hoad was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, in 1980 and this was followed in December 1985 by his induction into the Sport Australia Home of Fame.

In January 1995 he was posthumously inducted into the Tennis Australia Hall of Fame together with friend and rival Ken Rosewall. The ITF organizes a seniors tournament in his honor called The Lew Hoad Memorial ITF Veterans Tournament.

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