Bill Scanlon, false father of the original golden set

Sep 19, 2013, 2:52:22 PM

Bill Scanlon, false father of the original golden set
Who was the first player to achieve a golden set? Discover his identity and history by reading We Are Tennis article on the men and women who managed to not concede a single point to their opponent in six sets...

During a qualifying match at the U.S. Open, Julian Reister won his third set without losing a single point. He became the fifth player in the history of tennis - men and women together - to score a golden set. And the timing couldn't have been better: The men’s tour celebrate this year the thirtieth anniversary of the golden set achieved by the American Bill Scanlon, male pioneer in this field. Retrospective, between wooden rackets and scandalous books.


A genuine feat. In a match against his fellow German Tim Puetz, ranked world 115th, the unknown Julian Reister won the third set of his U.S. Open qualifying match without leaving a single point to his opponent. 24 consecutive points, this is what we call emphatically a golden set. Before him, the American Pauline Betz will remain forever as the first to have inflicted this torture to an opponent. It was in 1940 at the Cincinnati tournament against her compatriot Catherine Wolf. Fifty-two years later, Tine Scheuer-Larsen succeeded the perfect set in a Fed Cup by BNP Paribas match against Botswana. More recently, Yaroslava Shvedova became the first to achieve a golden set in a Grand Slam. On Wimbledon's grass, it took 15mns for the Kazakh to overcome Sara Errani, yet ranked 10th in the world. That day, her feat was scrolling on all the news banners embedded in the bottom of American sports channels. This score attracted the attention of a 55 years old observer, blonde beer in his left hand, lying on a lounge chair at the Riviera Tennis Club in Los Angeles. This happy retiree is Bill Scanlon: a great American tennis player of the eighties. Six titles in singles, two in doubles. But this man is first and foremost the first male player to have achieved a "golden set"! and is wrongly regarded as the original father of this feat: "They only remember me because I’m a man. And tennis has always been a sexist sport. Which is fair to me.» he said in an interview with the New York Times. It happened on the 22nd of February 1983, in the first round of the Delray Beach tournament in Florida against the Brazilian Marcos Hocevar. 29 years later, Bill suddenly felt very old "Wait a second... someone has just made a golden set in a Grand Slam, he told his friends. This person has just buried me for eternity!"


« I'm just scared to death with these new racquets »


On the courts, this player used to be a little crazy, and a bit of a rascal: "I would even be drinking in the morning if I was waking up before noon". A man capable of falling for a young woman in the stands, or to chain incredible series of points. As in the first round of Wimbledon in 1981, in which he only left two points to Victor Pecci in the second set, for a final score of 7-6, 6-0, 6-0. However, when he’s not playing with the little yellow ball, Bill Scanlon is an art lover. Reading, writing, and even drawing sometimes. With style. He’s also the author of a pamphlet, Bad News for McEnroe, a sharp response to the popular success of the autobiography You cannot be serious John McEnroe. It must be said that the two hate each other. The antics of John? "An act, the artificial and ridiculous tactics of someone who would do anything to avoid losing" wrote Scanlon. In 1983, he even participated in the proofreading a book that caused a stir in the cosy world of lawn tennis: Short Circuit, by Michael Mewshaw, an American author who was allowed to follow the biggest stars of men's tour for 6 months, days and nights. Between the lines, Scanlon revealed the bribes and match fixing, the players' daily consumption of drugs and that fateful day of 22 February 1983. A date with scarce details. Scanlon ensures today that the memories of "this golden day" as he says, were lost over time. For others, he's under contract with Wilson. The brand insisted for him to switch to a midsize graphite racquet. The morning of the match against Hocevar, he trained with Rod Laver using, as agreed, this "new generation" equipment. But it just didn't work. « It was so bad that Rod, who’s by the way the nicest guy in the world, came to ask me what was going on" he said. "I answered, 'Oh my God, I'm just scared to death with these new racquets' so I panicked. I got in my car and went back to the hotel to bring back my old wooden rackets. I walked on the court against Marcos without even hitting a ball with them. Apparently, it didn't prevent me to annihilate him. ».  In the first set, Hocevar won a service game to get back to 3-2. From then, Scanlon only left two points to the Brazilian. First set won 6-2. The second? 24 points won consecutively, which, in total, made Scalon win 36 of his last 38 points. "It seems that you haven't lost a point in the second set" the referee told Scanlon at the end of the game, pointing to the scoreboard. "I was so focused on what I was doing, I was in a bubble, I had no idea" confesses the player. This scoreboard, Bill admits to have it locked in a safe. His racquet, too. But what about the video?  « I would love to watch this match to remember. But unfortunately, it was not televised».


By Victor Le Grand