San Diego has always been one of the greatest hot beds for tennis in the U.S. Testimony for this distinction can be found everywhere, like in its rich club tradition and its small and large tournaments, from Little Mo to the WTA Tour Stop Mercury Insurance Open. More evidence about the unique tennis history of San Diego can be found in Ben Press’s book 100 Years of Tennis at the Hotel Del Coronado. One of the newer traditions in San Diego tennis is the annual induction of tennis personalities into the San Diego Tennis Hall of Fame. The Class of 2011 was inducted August 28 and the list of inductees included individuals who made significant and important contributions to tennis.
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Spearheaded by San Diego business and tennis personality Larry Bellinsky, the methodology for selecting inductees are:
Individuals who have left an indelible mark in San Diego’s rich and abundant tennis history. These individuals serve as representation in the following categories:
- World Class
- College Greats and Junior Stand-Outs
- Coaches, Teaching Pros and Mentors
- Community Service, Philanthropy, Officiating and Media
- Senior Success
The August 28 induction ceremony at Morley Field’s main stadium was MC’d by long-time San Diego Union Tribune columnist and great friend of San Diego tennis Logan Jenkins. Introduced by Hall of Fame Committee chairman Larry Bellinsky, Jenkins’s remarks made the audience think and smile, especially when he reminisced about the old times in tennis. One number was impressive and left the audience puzzled: Jenkins had visited the 14’s and 16’s Nationals a short while ago and noted, “Of the 400 participating Juniors, only one had a one-handed backhand.”
The first inductee in the San Diego Tennis Hall of Fame Class of 2011 was Gretchen Magers. Logan described her as this “Tom boy from Pittsburgh who played tennis since she was 13, became 4 time All-American, 2 time NCAA finalist and winner in 1983, ranked as high as world no. 13, with 10 WTA career singles titles.” Today, avid surfer and guitar player Gretchen Magers is involved in Beach Tennis.
Gretchen showed her appreciation by talking about her beginnings in tennis. “I went to play the Virginia Slims of Oakland with my doubles partner Roz King. In the first round we had to play Pam Shriver and Martina Navratilova, who were on this big winning streak – and we won!” She thanked Steve Dawson of the Fairbanks Country Club for giving her the first job. She also thanked Bob Bacon and Ed Collins. “And I am especially grateful to Ben Press who is such an amazing Ambassador for tennis.”
The next inductee was Harper Ink, Senior (1888 – 1953). It was Karen Schlosse who presented on behalf of her grandfather Harper Ink, Sr. Originally from Ohio, the San Diegan always lamented the fact that one needed to go to Los Angeles to play in a big junior tournament. He wanted one in San Diego, and he wanted it to be free of charge. In 1935 he started the Harper Ink Memorial Tennis Tournament in Balboa Park and it is still being played today at the Barnes Tennis Center. Harper Ink also created the Bob Carrothers Sportsmanship Award in 1940. Schlosse remembers, “Ben Press played in the Harper Ink tournament and didn’t have white Flannel pants, which was a requirement for male players. Her grandfather gave him a pair of his own pants which Ben Press still has as a valued piece of tennis memorabilia.”
One of the most generous tennis benefactors for High School students in San Diego is Angel Lopez. Coming late to the game, he started playing tennis as a senior in High School and then played for the University of Arizona. Bob Bacon was Angel’s coach at San Diego City College. Ex-tour player and doubles world no. 1 ranked Kelly Jones, who coached James Blake, Mardy Fish, and Xavier Malisse after retiring from the tour, had reported that Angel was mentor to some 75 players who went on to be someone in tennis. “He elevated the game of tennis to heavenly heights as both teacher and student.”
Angel Lopez reminisced about his life and proclaimed he was proud to be San Diegan and proud to be American. “I started on my High School team at #22 and ended up on #2 behind my twin brother, who then began his sophomore year at UCSD.” After he won Ojai and State Championships he played for City College and then went on to U of A on a full scholarship “Ben Press gave me free lessons, and I began hitting with Paul at Morley Field. The Redondo’s also hit with me. Virginia Glass gave me free racquets and shoes. But meeting Pancho Segura was a trip for me. He is one of the smartest men I have ever met in tennis.” Lopez is looking back at 32 very successful years at the San Diego Tennis and Racquet Club, where he runs the Angel Lopez Tennis Academy since 1997.
John Martin is an award winning journalist, staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and scholar on the life of Bobby Riggs (1918 – 1995). The former world no. 1 and Wimbledon and US Open Champion is being remembered for his excellence as a tennis player as well as his mastery of hustling for money.
Martin explained that “in the world of sports hustling, San Diego owns the greatest, because Riggs is the most famous loser of all time.” After losing to Billie Jean King in the most famous tennis match of all time, the 1973 Battle of the Sexes, Riggs was reported saying about his immediate gain in popularity “It was like I jumped out of a window and I went up.”
Martin quoted Lorne Kuhle, sidekick of Bobby Riggs for many years, “Bobby’s wife had enough and insisted he went to a Psychiatrist for gambling treatment. So he did every Wednesday and he liked it. Only later did his wife find out he and the psychiatrist played Gin Rummy ever Wednesday and Riggs pretty much cleaned him out.” Hustling was part of his persona. When he moved to San Diego he furnished his house with furniture from the Bellinsky’s. He also played Backgammon with Larry Bellinsky’s mother and reportedly with her mother, as well.
The last inductee in the Class of 2011 was Valerie Ziegenfuss. The former touring pro is most famous for being one of the so-called Original 9 along with eight of her fellow players,who rebelled against the United States Tennis Association in 1970. Their actions brought about the creation of a new tennis tour, the Virginia Slims Circuit, which was the basis for the WTA Tour. She remembers winning the Harper Ink and the National 16’s, being on the tour for 9 years, playing Fed Cup, winning 16 USTA Gold Balls, and being the Player Development Director for the USTA from 1998 to 2002.
Addressing her fellow inductees, Ziegenfuss proclaimed “We are the cool ones this year.” She pointed out her upbringing in a sports family, with her father a baseball and tennis player, and also the Aztek’s basketball coach for 22 years. 52 years ago she played her first tournament at Morley Field, which was the start of a “lifelong journey in the world of tennis.” She also remembered being the first to endorse the new oversized Prince aluminum racquet a long time ago. “I love the game, love being on the court, love watching people play tennis. I have a passion for the game.”
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