The Hudlin Induction

On a Saturday morning in late fall of 2012, after having taught several morning lessons, I sat and reflected on how those sessions went. It’s habit. I always replay the hour I spend with a student to assess where they are, but more importantly, what if anything needs to be changed to further their advancement. I make notes…written notes, not keystroke notes. Writing allows scratch outs with the scratched word or phrase still there in case I’d like to revisit it. Deleting by keystroke is permanent, especially if later I don’t remember the specific words or phrase that resonated with me at the time.

For me it’s all about progress. I’m 100% dedicated to that goal. Being a part of a student’s forward leaps is as important as deciphering why he/she isn’t progressing in a timely fashion if that be the case.

On that day in 2012, during that particular ponder session, inexplicably, an image of Richard Hudlin popped into my mind. I sat back, relaxed and allowed the image to transport me back in time to the early 70’s.

That’s when I met him in St. Louis at Fairgrounds Park. He was using two courts while working with a group of kids.

I was hitting against the board. Intermittently I paused to study that group session. I couldn’t help but watch because the scene was so compelling. What appeared to be random pandemonium was in truth a well orchestrated group tennis lesson for beginners.

Kids were scampering around all over, some hitting tennis balls, others trying desperately to catch the things. But there was a “method to the madness.” The kids chasing balls soon replaced the ones hitting and the hitters now became chasers. It had to be done that way because only half the kids had rackets.

Gleeful laughter filled the air. Mr. Hudlin simply chuckled.

I liked what I saw. The kids were not dressed in prototypical tennis attire. Rather, they had on long pants or makeshift shorts created by parents cutting off the lower portion of an old pair of blue jeans. Blue jeans mind you, not Levis.

For the record, I was wearing a pair of my old pocket less basketball shorts, a simple white T-shirt and well-worn running shoes.

Mr. Hudlin was wearing tennis whites, head to toe.

He looked sharp.

Though I couldn’t hear spoken words, I saw motions he made, knees slightly bent, a path with his right hand from behind his back, forward in an arching pattern completed above his left shoulder. He was showing them how to execute a forehand stroke. The kids then tried to emulate with their rackets what he had done with his hand. The results were amusingly variable. Still, after several practice swings, Hudlin, dropped a ball for each kid to take a swipe at.

That’s when all hell broke loose.

Several kids whiffed, didn’t come remotely close to making contact with the ball. Of those, a couple, in their exuberance, did complete 360’s. Hudlin chuckled. One kid made solid contact but the ball went almost directly into the ground before somehow clearing the net on the second bounce.

Another chuckle.

Miraculously, three kids actually sent balls hurtling thru the air across the net. Those waiting tried catching the balls which had no predictable flight except they were traveling north. The catchers skills were, at best, exercises in futility.

Hudlin chuckled again but also clapped.

All three sets of kids laughed merrily. The whiffers laughed at themselves, those making contact laughed at the resulting flight of the ball and the catchers laughed at their inability to snare a ball whether from the air or off the bounce.

I laughed at it all while thinking, “what a great system!”

When it ended, Hudlin gathered the kids in front of him, said a few words and away they went. One little guy stayed and helped gather and deposit the balls into two grocery shopping bags. Hudlin wiped his brow and said something that made the little boy laugh as he skipped away.

After storing the bags and his racket in his car, I noticed him walking back towards the courts. I thought he’d probably forgotten something. But after coming through the gate, he made a beeline west to where I was still practicing. He stopped and waited until I hit the ball I had in hand towards the board and hit the rebounded ball back a second time. I framed it. Naturally, as I felt his eyes on me, the thing sailed over the fence.

He chuckled. I winced.

Mr. Hudlin then spent no more than three minutes demonstrating with his hand, just as he’d done with the kids, the proper path the racket should take to hit a good forehand stroke. He also changed my grip explaining that the one I was using was too extreme. To this day, I still use the eastern forehand grip that he showed me.

Although that was the last information about my tennis that he ever gave, that exchange began my priceless association with him that was to last until his death in 1976.

And so it took me from 1976 to 2012 to have, what I can only describe as “a moment” that prodded me to want to know more about Richard Hudlin.

Of course, I knew that he had coached Arthur Ashe during his senior year spent at Sumner High School. I knew he taught Social Studies at the school in addition to coaching their tennis teams and I knew he had worked some with the great Althea Gibson.

So, to become more knowledgeable, I did a google search but was dismayed to find almost nothing. “How could there be almost no information about a man who briefly coached the only African American male in history to have won Wimbledon?” I thought.

That question led me to do something I hadn’t done in years. I went to the library, main branch, 14th and Olive, downtown St. Louis. I began regular visits during which I would sift through books about tennis history. Some I read cover to cover. Others I leafed through because the index didn’t convince me there might be any pertinent information.

Finally I came across a book which referenced another book entitled, “Blacks at the Net,” volume 1 by Sundiata Djata. There was not a copy in the library so I ordered a copy to own.

After beginning, I was stunned to find on page six, paragraph two, the following sentence. “For instance, Richard Hudlin was the captain of the University of Chicago tennis team and the first black captain in the Big Ten Colleges.”

“What!?” I thought. Mr. Hudlin never told me that. There was no mention of the year so I contacted the University of Chicago Archival Department for verification. They were very cooperative but unable to substantiate it. After some calculation based on Hudlin’s birthday, I asked if they could search from 1920-1930.

Bingo! Three yearbooks were found from 1926, 27, and 1928, each with a photo of the tennis team, all included Richard A. Hudlin. The caption beneath the team photo from 1928 listed Hudlin as captain.

I had struck pay-dirt and from that day forward learned far more in death than I knew of him in life.

Mr. Hudlin’s life was devoted to doing for others. He never spoke of his many and varied accomplishments, so for me it was a no-brainer that he should be recognized for the extraordinary contributions to tennis, especially in St. Louis, in the Missouri Valley.

After gathering all the information I’d amassed, in 2013 I completed the necessary USTA Mo Valley nomination application and submitted a packet to the committee several months prior to the deadline for making a nomination.

A year elapsed in which I heard absolutely nothing in response. I was baffled. I’d been informed by a friend who had first hand knowledge of the system that the nomination was good for three years, still I was concerned that maybe the information hadn’t reached the proper person(s).

Confused but undeterred, I submitted exactly the same set of information to the ATA Black Tennis Hall of Fame, a national organization. I was delighted to receive a swift response from them stating that Hudlin’s induction was assured and that he had received 100% “yes” votes.

It’s been said that, “All good things come in time.” I think that’s true

Richard Hudlin’s induction into the USTA Mo Valley Tennis Hall of Fame is now completed and it came “in time.”Hud's Induction

Yesterday, to commemorate his induction, I made a trip to Fairgrounds Park, walked through the gate straight to the board. I took a ball from my pocket and began hitting forehands, one after another…10, 11,12,…feeling I could continue easily without missing. But then it happened, on number 17, I shanked one. Over the fence it flew!


I bet he would of chuckled.

I did.





Rafa the Resilient!

Superman’s outfit consisted of blue spandex-like attire, red shorts, red boots and with a big red “S” emblazoned on his chest. It was a helluva an outfit, befitting “Superman” the superhero.

Rafael Nadal should re-don the pirate pants (l liked em) and have a big appropriately colored “R,” not arrogantly suggestive of “Rafaman,” but rather of “Resilientman” on the chest of all his tennis shirts.Rafa - Brazil

Just when pundits, fans, non-fans, hopeful rivals and outright haters think that because Rafa has lost a few matches, some surprisingly uncharacteristic for him, he’s torched, his tennis demise imminent, once again, he rises from the ashes to resume kicking major butt.

Looking back, Rafa lost Madrid and he lost in the finals. To say the least, up to that point in time, a loss for Rafa in the finals of any clay court tournament was exceedingly rare. Andy Murray won, and for just the second time in his career on clay.

Rafa’s performance was abysmal, freakishly so.

I mean at times he looked as though he was an average dirt baller. If one were not aware of his astonishing achievements on clay, he could easily have been mistaken for an ordinary player. He was spraying balls all over creation. Hell, he even hit one ball intended to be his patented down-the-line lefty hook shot that, as it left the viewing portion of my TV screen, was still hooking and rising. It had to have landed well into the upper level seats on the south end of the stadium.

It wasn’t a shank either, it was simply a terrible loss of control.

I’ve seen several versions of the nervous Nadal. Under those conditions, his usual heavy topspin ball lands short, often not even beyond the service line, and aggressive players step inside the baseline to obliterate them. Rafa then, is by default, relegated to strictly defensive tennis. And we all know that in modern-day tennis, defense alone cannot win at the elite level.

To further muddle the picture, not only did Rafa lose to Andy Murray in the finals of Madrid, he didn’t even win a tournament during the 2015 clay court season.


That’s right, not a single tournament, not even the French Open which, given the fact he’s won it nine times, may someday be renamed the “Nadal Open At Roland Garros.” It would certainly be fitting. After all, who is likely to usurp that record?


Records are made to be broken for sure, but a mere mortal winning nine or more of the most grueling slam of them all…

Trust me, it ain’t gonna happen!

Still, with historically overwhelming evidence to the contrary, after Rafa lost in the quarters of the French this year, I read an article the very next day stating unequivocally that Rafa was finished.

Finished it said, finite, done, cooked, kaput, broken, through, ruined, never to win another title. Uninformed readers would surely have thought the man was on his tennis deathbed.

But, as in the past, when pronouncements of Rafa’s tennis demise have become most vociferous, he’s always charged back.

Well, he’s done it again, charged back that is…on grass! Just in time for Wimbledon.

Yesterday Rafael Nadal, the same guy who’d been written off a week or so earlier by some ill-informed expert, won the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, Germany…yeah, on grass!

He continues proving his greatest detractors wrong. Have they forgotten so quickly that due to injury, illness and surgery, he played very little tennis the latter portion of 2014? Or are they just so hellbent on writing his tennis obituary that they are blind to what he’s done?

Who knows?

If you look up the word resilience, next to the definition, there should be a photo of a guy in tennis attire with pirate pants on with a big “R” on the front chest portion of his shirt.

It should be a photo of the most resilient champion of the open era.

It should be a photo of Rafael Nadal.




For The Very Best, It’s All About The Test

The 2015 French has ended, the results now historical facts

chronicling many of this slam’s most enthralling acts.

Serena and Stan, the winners this year

throughout the tourney seemed impervious to fear.

But Serena’s matches were not flawless affairs,rena 2

her performance at times drawing gasps and stares.

Match-ups both pundits and fans thought would be easy

at times left “The Queen” looking downright queasy.

When Serena’s play is not compellingly strong,

those witnessing the event feel something is wrong.

“Unprofessional” she quipped critiquing her own play

following three-set matches requiring hard work to hold sway.

But in each she persevered leaving vanquished foes in red dust

as if in each battle she thought “dammit, it’s all now or bust!”

In the semis while battling an untimely virus,

a lethargic Serena again showed us

the grit and resolve that’s made her champ of them all

as in the final set she unleashed full wrath on the ball.

In that match against Lucie Safarova,

from the first ball struck, all knew it was over.

All credit to Lucie as she stayed the course

while unable to stop such a dominant force.

And now America’s best, our own drama queen

leaves behind the old number nineteen.

She’s now won her twentieth singles slam title

proving yet again she has no true rival.

Serena now needs calm days of rest

to continue on her calendar year quest

for all four slams…God it could be done!

but only by the women’s world number one.

As I’ve said so often in years gone past, “I now hoist a brew,

to America’s tennis queen, this one’s for you.”

Now on to Wawrinka, Stan that is,Wawrinka

who stole Nole’s thunder and made it his.

Long did he lurk in the shadow of “The Fed”

until the belief he could win was entrenched in his head.

He emerged from that shadow like none before

with strength, agility and weapons galore.

Most speak of his backhand as being best in the game,

but in my eyes his forehand seems much the same.

So off both sides the ball he does pound

running the best of the best round and around.

Through Ihan, Lajovic, Johnson, Simon, Fed and Tsonga he stormed

leaving dejected players spent and disarmed.

And in the final which Nole was favored to win,

Stan simply did what he’d done once again.

He’s proven now beyond any shadow of doubt

that the other Swiss player packs plenty of clout.

So to Serena and Stan, you put on one helluva show,

and from this fan to you winners, “way to go!”











Today, for the eighth time, Serena Williams captured the Miami Open.SW Miami

It’s not just another tournament. It’s a Masters 1000 event. What’s that mean? Just that the very best male and female players on the planet participate and there are a lot of ranking points and a heap of money to be won. It might as well just be considered a fifth slam.

All pros want to play it and all would love dearly to win it…just once for Christ’s sake! But once clearly wasn’t enough for Serena. Neither was three, or five, or seven. No, no, she just had to have eight. The woman has an insatiable appetite for Miami Open trophies. What, are they made of gold or something?

It looked like glass to me. Hell, if I was ever to win any event, in any sport, or non-sport as for that matter, even a fraction as prestigious as that tournament, I’d want more than a hunk of glass. But that’s just me…

Oh wait, right, right, I forgot, in addition to the hunk of glass, Serena got a really big check, really big!

Personally, I’d just accept the check and give the glass to a relative in need of a nice vase. I mean, come on, it must be a logistical nightmare trying to find space at home for all the hardware.

I know, I know, she’s got more than one house. Two, three, four? Who knows? Maybe she’s got eight and needed one of those particular trophies for each home. So, that means if she wins again next year, she either will have bought another home or she’ll have to rush out and buy another in which to park the 2016 vase, er, trophy.

Regardless, winning the same premiere event eight times is mind boggling.

To put it in perspective, it’s downright Nadalish!

Rafas’ won the French nine times.

It becomes necessary for me to compare Serena’s accomplishment to something comparable, Rafa’s nine, in order to wrap my mind around it.

It’s staggering!

It took Serena a mere 56  minutes to dispatch a terribly over-matched Carla Suarez- Navarro in the final.That’s a really short period of time for a final competition in tennis.

In 56 minutes, a spectator could leave his seat, make a run to the restroom, finish the work, wash his hands, manage his texts, stop at the concession stand, buy a cold one, grab some popcorn from another stand, thread his way through throngs of folks back to his seat only to witness Serena being handed the hunk of glass.

That’s how fast the match, if a 6-2, 6-0 bludgeoning can be called a match, lasted. I suppose it would be similar to buying a ticket to a heavily hyped boxing match, finding your seat, getting situated when suddenly, one minute into the first round, one guy bonks the other squarely on the chin knocking him out cold.

It’s over and you’re left screaming, “get up, dammit, get the hell up and fight some more…please! I paid good money for this seat!”

Navarro tried, she simply had nothing with which to hurt Serena, no jabs, no hooks, no body blows, hay makers, nothing…nothing at all.

The most interesting match was the Serena/Simona semifinal. Lil Halep “the fighter” was the only true test for Serena.

As has become her signature, Halep refused to give up even after being absolutely pummeled throughout the first set. It looked as though it would be a short out for her. But, to her credit, somehow, she won the second set and pushed Serena the distance.

But at the end of the day, once again, Serena Williams has furnished us with more evidence that she is the greatest female to ever play the game.

And, lest we forget, she’s got another really nice vase, a lot more money and an even firmer grasp on the title…

World Number One

and still having fun!

When You Play “lil” Simona, Odds are You’re A Goner

If after a first set 2-6 loss and down a break 3-2 in the second of yesterday’s Indian Wells final, you’d have said  Simona Halep would win, I’d have implored you for a bit of whatever you were smoking.Simona H

Though the match may have left some feeling it lacking in quality, incontrovertibly it was emotionally compelling.

While Jelena Jankovic continually jabbered to her box, so much so that she received a warning from the chair umpire, Halep displayed obvious displeasure with her own game. On several occasions, she vented frustration by executing triple racket swipes perilously close to the court surface.

She even tossed her stick at one point. Though I understood the reasons for that behavior, I’d never seen it from her before.

Clearly, she was, how shall I put it, not out of control but definitely, “out of sorts.”

She was at a loss for her “A” game. Hell, I’d be hard pressed to say she even had a solid “B” game. B- maybe, C+ at best. Yet, somehow she managed to claw, scratch and fight from a most precarious trailing position much of the match to ultimately hoist a heavy trophy for this very weighty event.

Jankovic, had a clearly defined game plan. She was determined to leave her comfort zone (defensive counter-puncher) to play a more offensive brand of tennis. She often played inside the baseline, relentlessly moving forward at crucial moments taking points or forcing mistakes from Halep.

And while Jankovic was the clear aggressor, and did indeed execute her plan, Halep made an uncharacteristically high number of unforced errors.

That happens. It’s simply impossible to always have your very best stuff when you need it most. But what Halep showed the world yesterday is that, she never gives up…never!

That will to win, that willingness to fight on regardless of how hopeless the situation appears is a quality that only true champions possess.

If I were ever somehow drawn into a bar-room brawl, Halep was present, and I had an option to pick between a big brawny guy and Halep to help me through the confrontation, Simona would be my selection cause I know, beyond doubt, that she would fight and I mean fight for all she’s worth, to the bitter end.

She’s little but tough,

strong but not gruff.

A big heart in a small frame

hell bent on winning each game.

She’s got guts, panache and immense appeal

She’s Simona, a champion, and clearly the real deal.

Little Halep Packs a Big Wallop

According to player stats, Simona Halep is 1.68 m tall and weighs a mere 60 kg. For metric-system-challenged Americans (most of us), that translates to 5′ 6″ and 132 lbs. While that’s not tiny, compared to most female tennis professionals she is most definitely on the smallish side.Sim Halep

But even at a diminutive size, Halep has a very big game. Just ask the women who succumbed to her skills at the Dubai Championships.

In “order of slaughter,” there was Tsvetana Pironkova, Ekaterina Makarova, Caroline Wozniacki and finally, Karolina Pliskova. They’re all taller and heftier than Halep. But if you were to ask them, I’d bet they would swear she’s bigger than she appears.

Well she is, as far as heart goes. What she lacks in size she compensates for with fierce determination, grit and an obvious aversion to losing.

She’s a relentless battler, never goes away, never surrenders.

Throughout the tournament, Halep appeared at times headed for elimination. But somehow, on each occasion, she managed to extricate herself from dire straits. And keep in mind, she was the number one seed. There’s always added pressure when you are expected to prevail.

Just examine results of last year’s Australian open and the number of top players that fell victim to their own nerves once they were in solid position to win and were expected by most, including themselves, to do so.

So far, Halep has proven impervious to nervous “fails.” When her back is to the wall, man, that little lady fights. She’s a very tough out.

The 6′ 1″ cleaning-hitting, ball-battering Karolina Pliskova found out just how tough it is to put Halep away. She had multiple ops in the second set in which there were repeated service breaks, to gain the upper hand but was turned back each time.

There could not have been a more tense second set tiebreak. It went back and forth until the very last point. And while Halep failed to serve out the match twice (credit to Pliskova who came up with punishing winners), she didn’t allow that to deter her.

She simply continued to fight.

Ultimately, that tiebreak came down to which player had the most heart.

Pliskova has nothing to be ashamed of. She played a great match, actually a winning one.

But big things often come in small packages. That’s what Pliskova met in the Dubai final-a big player in a small frame.

Simona Halep.

Gumby Flummoxes Murray

Novak “Djoker” Djokovic is the the number one player in the world at this time. Winning the first slam of 2015, the Australian Open, further solidified his hold on that ranking.Novak 2015

He was seeded number one and played to that seeding, so I guess his victory is not surprising. He simply fulfilled what was expected of him…right?

Right, no argument there.

I’m not surprised that he won but I am astonished at how relatively easily he did it.

There was simply no resistance until the semis against defending champ, Stan Wawrinka. And though they went five sets as they did in the two previous editions of this event, the fifth set was simply an act of “going through the motions.” Djokovic won 6-0.

Murray’s route was fairly straightforward as well. I thought Australian phenom (I use that term loosely), Kyrgios might present some difficulty, but hell, he should send Murray a check for the lesson he received. Murray thumped him in straights.

He then rather routinely dismantled, what appeared to me to be an improved Berdych who was creaming everyone he played prior to his semi with Andy.

And then came the final. Djokovic vs Murray.

Both guys entered the stadium on top of their respective games. There were no injury reports circulating, no known emotional issues with which either was dealing. Djoker is a happily contented new daddy. Murray reached the final with female coach Amelie Mauresmo in a comprehensively mellow way, silencing many who questioned his choice of coaches after having broken through the slam barrier under the tutelage of the great Ivan Lendl.

In short, the stage was set for a great match.

The first set, by all standards, was phenomenal tennis. Djokovic squeaked by in a tiebreak. Murray returned the favor in the second, also by tiebreak.

But their was something odd about the second set which caused me to utter, “uh oh, here it comes.”

A fan or just a person, I don’t know which, charged onto the court to demonstrate in favor of what I can only assume was some political agenda. Play was halted until the intruder was removed by security.

But that wasn’t what gave me “cause for pause.”

During that period, both players were sitting getting a much-needed breather. The play had been stratospheric in quality and physically demanding.

Now, in that second set, Djokovic appeared to be injured, sick, exhausted, wobbly, weak I dunno, something. Then, a member of his team summoned a ball kid over to the players box and handed him two bottles of liquid to deliver to Novak.

Listen, I don’t know what the stuff was but I want some of that potion.

Gimme some of that magic juice!

I certainly don’t think it was anything illegal. That would have been way, way too brazen to have been done before an international audience on such an important day. But after having some sips of the stuff, all of a sudden Djokovic was a new man. It was as though he hadn’t played those many grueling points.

I just don’t get it, but then I’ve expressed my opinion before about whether Djoker is really 100% human flesh and blood. He’s just too rubbery, too flexible, too loose, too I dunno…freakish?! I mean, the guy’s body can contort in ways that defy explanation. What’s more, the thing withstands all the acrobatic contortions and doesn’t break.

I’d like to see some x-rays of his joints, some analysis of his muscle fibers, you know, whether there is a preponderance of fast or slow twitch fibers, or maybe, just maybe, additionally, some “other worldly” fibers.

I’m telling ya, the guy ain’t right. And by the way, have you ever noticed how when he is about to return serve, he opens his eyes really wide, bug-eyed for an instant. I think when he does that, he’s able to access from a remote region of his brain, some additional pixels that add super clarity to the incoming ball. I mean come on, look how well he returns serve. He’s the best returner in the game.

How the hell does he see 130+ mph balls so well?

It’s those added pixels man!

I’m telling ya, it ain’t natural!

He’s got an unfair advantage over the rest of the guys, what with the the “gumbyism,” magic elixir, extra pixels, the “f**k it mode” where he just swings away with reckless abandon and the balls result in flat-footed winners against the fastest players on the planet.

He used it all on poor Andy Murray and by the third set, you could see Murray beginning to surrender to the inevitable.

He was had.

Gumby got him.