December 14 marks the birthday of two of the greatest tennis player of all time Henri Cochet and Stan Smith. The biographies of both Wimbledon champions and members of the International Tennis Hall of Fame are documented below from my book THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS ($35.95, New Chapter Press, www.NewChapterMedia.com). Enjoy!
Hall of Fame—1976
It could be said that Henri Jean Cochet had as pronounced a gift for playing tennis as anyone who attained world supremacy. A racket in his hand became a wand of magic, doing the impossible, most often in a position on the court considered untenable, and doing it with nonchalant ease and fluency. He took the ball early, volleys and half-volleys rippling off the strings. His overheads invariably scored, though his serve seemingly was innocuous.
He developed his skills early in Lyon, France, where he was born Dec. 14, 1901, and his father was secretary of the tennis club. Henri worked at the club as a ball boy and practiced with his friends and sister when nobody was using the courts. In 1921, he went to Paris where he and Jean Borotra, both unknowns, reached the final of the indoor championship, Cochet the winner.
The next year, he and Borotra played on the Davis Cup team, and in 1923 they joined with Rene Lacoste and Jacques Brugnon in the origin of the Four Musketeers. Cochet won 10 successive Davis Cup challenge round matches from the time the Musketeers wrested the Cup from the U.S. in 1927.
A sensitivity of touch and timing, resulting in moderately hit strokes of genius, accounted for the success the little Frenchman (5-foot-6, 145 pounds) had in turning back the forceful hitters of the 1920s and early 30s. Following a stunning victory over Bill Tilden, 6-8, 6-1, 6-3, 1-6, 8-6, in the quarterfinals of the 1926 U.S. Championships, ending Tilden’s six-year, 42-match streak, and a Cup-snatching triumph over Bill Johnston in the 1927 challenge round, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, the right-handed Cochet established himself in 1928 as the world’s foremost player. Winner of the U.S., over Frank Hunter, 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, and French, over Lacoste, 5-7, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3, that year, and runner-up at Wimbledon to Lacoste, he became more of a national hero than ever as he scored three victories in the Cup defense, 4-1 over the U.S.
With Lacoste’s retirement from international play in 1929, Cochet was France’s indispensable man. He led his country to Cup-holding victories over the United States in the challenge round in 1929, 1930 and 1932, and the British in 1931.
The “Ballboy of Lyon,” as he was called, was champion of France four times after it was opened to non-French citizens in 1925), and won two Wimbledons (1927, 1929) and one U.S. (1928). Probably justifiably, he felt unfairly treated in trying for a second U.S. in 1932. Darkness shut down his semifinal win over Wilmer Allison at 2-2 in sets. He had to complete that victory, 7-5, the following day, and then, after two hours rest, face the final in which the weary Frenchman was no match for a fresh Ellsworth Vines, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
In his last three matches in winning the Wimbledon title in 1927, he was a singular Henri Houdini. No one has concluded a major in such spectacular escapes, and all at the expense of three future Hall of Famers. Down two sets, the No. 4-seeded Cochet beat Frank Hunter in the quarters, 3-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4. Trailing the great No. 2 seed Tilden, three points from defeat at 1-5, 15-all in the third, he reeled off 17 straight points, also survived a service break to 3-2 in the fifth and won the last four games to seize their semi, 3-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3. For an encore magnifique in the final, he lagged again and had to repel six match points to beat No. 3 seed Borotra, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5: hurdling a match point at 2-5, and five more with Borotra serving at 5-3!
He ranked No. 1 from 1928 through 1931. After France lost the Davis Cup to Great Britain in 1933, Cochet turned professional. He did not have much of a career as a pro, however, and after the war, in 1945, one of the most naturally gifted tennis players in history received reinstatement as an amateur, a role in which he had once ruled the tennis world. He continued playing well. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976, he died April 1, 1987, in St. Germain-en-Laye, France.
MAJOR TITLES (15)—French singles, 1926 1928, 1930, 1932: Wimbledon singles, 1927 1929; U.S. singles, 1928; French doubles, 1927, 1930, 1932; Wimbledon doubles, 1926, 1928; French mixed, 1928, 1929: U.S. mixed, 1927.DAVIS CUP—1922, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930. 1931, 1932, 1933, 34-8 singles, 10-6 doubles. SINGLES RECORD IN THE MAJORS—French (38-4), Wimbledon (43-8), US (15-3).
United States (1946—)
Hall of Fame—1987
One of the great Davis Cup competitors, Stan Smith added the U.S. (1971) and Wimbledon (1972) titles to his laurels, and, with Bob Lutz, was part of one of the preeminent doubles teams. Smith, who overcame teenage awkwardness to become a feared 6-foot-3 foe with crashing serves and volleys, may have hit his zenith on alien clay. That was in Bucharest in 1972 as the U.S. won a fifth consecutive Cup, and he supplied the clinching victory—the insuperable third point—for a fifth time. That’s a Davis Cup record to which he added in 1979, with Lutz, in the 5-0 victory over Italy at San Francisco.
Stan was in on seven Cup-settling victories (1968-69-70-71-72, 78-79), tying him with Bill Tilden (1920-26) for a U.S. high. He also had a smaller share of an eighth Cup in 1981, when he and Lutz took a quarterfinal doubles at Flushing Meadows over Czechs Ivan Lendl and Tom Smid, 9-7, 6-3, 6-2. That was the Cup adieu for Stan and Bob.
A notable sportsman, he had to “concentrate so hard I got a headache,” he said after the three-day ordeal at the hands of a loud partisan crowd and overly patriotic line judges in Bucharest. It was an extended, rocky campaign during which Smith won seven of eight singles and, with Erik van Dillen, all five doubles. Stan scored the clinching point in each of five series and nailed down two of the most dramatic singles victories ever by an American in the finale. Romania, loser to the U.S. in the 1969 and 1971 showdowns, appeared the favorite on home earth, but Smith shocked U.S. Open champ Ilie Nastase on the slow court to lead off, 11-9, 6-2, 6-3, and then out-battled the sly, combative Ion Tiriac in a tense five-set struggle, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 2-6, 6-0.
Aware that he had to hit outright winners well away from the lines to make sure of the points, Smith did just that to storm through a last-set bagel and send the U.S. safely ahead, 3-1, in the 3-2 victory.
Born Dec. 14, 1946, in Pasadena, Calif., he grew up there and was an All-American at the University of Southern California, where he won the U.S. Intercollegiate singles (1968) and, with Lutz, doubles in 1967 and 1968.
During an 11-year Davis Cup career that began in 1968, embracing 24 engagements, he was on the winning side 22 times, and 16 times provided the clinching point: three times in singles, 13 times in doubles (nine with Lutz, four with van Dillen). He and Lutz won 13 of 14 Cup matches together. As the U.S. ran up a record Cup streak of 17 victories from 1968 to the finale of 1973, Smith was involved in 14, the clincher in 12.
His 1972 Wimbledon triumph over Nastase, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, was one of the outstanding finals, and his 1971 defeat of Jan Kodes at Forest Hills, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (5-3), was the first U.S. final to conclude in a tie-breaker. Smith and Lutz won the U.S. doubles four times and the Australian once. In a career spanning the amateur and Open eras, he was one of five centurions, winning at least 100 pro titles overall in singles and doubles. Stan hit the century with 39 singles, 61 doubles, and won $1,774,881 career prize money. Eleven times between 1967 and 1980, he was in the U.S. Top 10, No. 1 four years (1969, 71-72-73). Six straight times from 1970 he was in the world’s Top 10, No. 1 in 1972.
MAJOR TITLES (7)—Wimbledon singles, 1972; U.S. singles, 1971; Australian doubles, 1970; U.S. doubles, 1968, 74, 78, 80. OTHER U.S.TITLES (15)—Indoor singles, 1972; Indoor doubles, 1966, 69, with Lutz; 1970, with Arthur Ashe; Clay Court doubles, 1968, with Lutz; Hard Court singles, 1966-67-68; Hard Court doubles, 1966, with Lutz; Pro doubles, 1973, with Erik van Dillen; 1974, 1977, with Lutz; Intercollegiate singles, 1968; Intercollegiate doubles, 1967-68, with Lutz. DAVIS CUP—1968-69-70-71-72-73, 75, 77, 79, 81, 15-5 singles, 20-3 doubles. SINGLES RECORD IN THE MAJORS—Australian (5-3), French (23-9), Wimbledon (45-17). U.S. (39-19).