A year has passed since the Spencer Gore’s moment of glory at Wimbledon. It was time for the tennis players to get their sneakers and white shirts on for the second edition of the local tournament. Among the competition was a certain Brit, Frank Hadow, on holiday in the area, who decided to enrol on the advice of another participant. Just to see what the fuss was all about, sweat a bit and invent at the same time the very first "lob" in tennis history. Worple Road, 1878. This is his story.
Chapter twoThe years were rolling by, and so was tennis, still the preserve of the upper class of British society. "Players in their prime, with good personal income, a little family money and who didn’t need to do three shifts" says Gilles Destremau, French tennis historian. The organization of the first edition of Wimbledon in 1877 had been a huge success. With 200 people attending the final of the tournament – at one shilling a ticket, the croquet club of the city had made enough to replenish its coffers. Founded in 1869, the club had been in a perilous financial state just a few months earlier. Henry Jones, its founder, then thought that, in the current state of things, it could add its program of activities this tennis game, which seemed to fascinate London society. However, the rules established by the All England Croquet Club remained imperfect. Critics were dwelling on the unbridled hegemony of the service and its master-craftsman. The unpopularity of the offensive game of Gore spurred Henry Jones to plunge headlong into the stats. The comprehensive analysis of the shots played revealed that of 601 games, 376 were won by the server, which is an average ratio of five-to-three. Three modifications to the rules were then considered: to allow only one ball per service, raise the net a little more at the centre - until then drooping significantly - or bring the net closer to the service line. The third option won out. The line of service was set at 22 feet from the net, whose height was reduced to 0.91 m in the middle and 1.44 m (4 feet 9 inches) at the posts. The second Wimbledon tournament could officially begin.
A bald head and impeccable moustacheOnce again that year, Wimbledon was strictly a men-only affair. A notice was still written in lower case on the front door of the club: "Gentlemen are requested not to play in short sleeves when ladies are attending." All of the 33 registered players had their eyes on the final of the tournament which would pit them against the previous year’s winner. At the club, no one had ever seen the bald head and impeccable moustache of Frank Hadow, a farmer from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), then aged 23. We know very little about his tennis activities later but, for four days, Hadow did not lose a set in the tournament, being the only person in the long history of Wimbledon to achieve the feat. On-court, Frank was joined by his older brother, A. A. Hadow, also known to be a good cricketer. The elder of the siblings bowed-out meekly in the second round of the competition, whereas the younger, to general surprise, managed to overcome Erskine in the challenger final to progress to the real final – pitching him against the title holder, the man who no longer needed any introduction: the one-and-only Spencer Gore.
Calm, ill, meticulous and reasonedIt was 4 o'clock sharp and, like the previous year, the summer dampness was stifling in London. "Because of the sun, I had to face Gore with a horrible headache and ice on my forehead when I stepped onto the court" he admitted a few years later. Under such conditions, it is hard to imagine Spencer Gore and his devastating volley giving any chance to this tourist with an arsenal based on technique over strength. Meticulous and reasoned, Hadow did not succumb to panic. He quickly understood that it was pointless to play a game based on power, where his opponent had been king for the past two years. "With such a tall man, with long legs and arms sprawling to the net, the ball came back to me as quickly as I had hit it." A maverick, Hadow pulled out his secret weapon, a shot from another world. He sent the ball high enough for Gore could not reach it, forcing him to scramble back to the baseline and give up, at the same time, his favourite place at the net. "It was a lot of luck to be honest. He lifted the ball, made it rise above him so the other had no chance to catch it: lob! And then he did it again" theorizes Gilles Destremau. He repeated the move incessantly to sweep aside Spencer Gore in three sets (7/5, 6/1, 9/7) and write down his name in the legend of the tournament. The public and the press could not believe it and neither did he. Unknowingly, Hadow had shaken a sport he hardly knew. With what the vox populi gladly baptized in a hint of contempt: "the lob".
A sissy’s game played with a soft ballIt’s true that, at the time, the lob and the volley were doing little to impress the English crowds, they were considered as very small-minded shots, verging on cheating. "The idea came to him because the court was different then: the net was higher, plunging at the centre" says Destremau. For Christian Quidet, the words are even simpler: "This unbelievable victory for Hadow, at least forced to admit that he just invented the lob." Interviewed after his victory, Frank said in good faith to be surprised that no player had the idea before. Even classier, he never played tennis again in his life, stating that it was “a sissy’s game played with a soft ball”. He would nonetheless re-appear on the Wimbledon lawns in 1926, at the invitation of Queen Mary and the organizers for the 50th anniversary of the tournament. “At the time, the non-professional athletes were coming to tennis as nowadays some start to surf” says Gilles. “There was probably a kind of snobbery from these players. Like «this sport is too easy for me, I'll do something else and go to Harvard ». I think it's a very nice gesture to arrive with so much talent and drop everything to have another life.” The deposed champion, Spencer Gore, also stopped tennis in 1878, calling it “a boring exercise”. When a reporter asked him fifteen years later if he was a great pioneer of tennis tactics, he answered, annoyed: "Oh come on! Stop exaggerating! " By Victor Le Grand