In case you haven’t noticed, Wimbldon is going on right now. It’s always such nice grass.
What aren’t they playing barefooted?
There’s really no reason they couldn’t play barefooted. It’s not against the rules.
I’ve mentioned before that I play barefooted. Here’s some older footage of me doing exactly that (indoors, on a hard surface).
I don’t claim it’s good tennis, but it is tennis.
And then we had a bit of barefoot tennis when Martina Hingis was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame last summer.
But that was so she wouldn’t play in heels.
How about professional tennis.
Supposedly, Big Bill Tilden occasionally played tennis barefoot. Here’s a line from “Big Bill Tilden: The Triumphs and the Tragedy,” by Frank Deford:
The other equipment was relatively primitive. In the middle of matches Tilden would often switch and go barefoot or play in his stocking feet because he could get more traction that way than in the rudimentary sneakers of the time.
That would have been in the 1920s. There were two interesting stories in the 1940s, though.
In the first we are introduced to Dinny Pails, of Australia. All we get is the picture and the caption. This is from December, 1945.
I guess if somebody was going to play tennis barefooted, it would be an Australian.
The second story involves Davis Cup play at Forest Lawn, again on grass. This is from September, 1947.
OK, that really intrigues me. Ted Schroeder played against Dinny Pails, to whom we were just introduced at a barefoot player. But by 1947, Dinny is wearing shoes, and his opponent is barefoot?
That’s just weird.
Here’s a bit of a longer story:
Tennis Stars Win Davis Cup
FOREST HILLS, N. Y., Sept. 2. —Once more the Davis cup belonged to the United States today, saved by California’s tennis buddies, stubble-haired Jack Kramer and shoeless Ted Schroeder, in a 4-1 triumph over the challengers from Australia.
It may be a long, long time before the tennis world sees another singles battle like the one yesterday in which Schroeder outlasted Dinny Pails to apply the clincher to the five-match series.
For 71 games the two players fought, with Schroeder discarding his shoes half the time and Pails missing several chances at victory, before the American finally won out, 6-3, 8-6, 4-6, 9-11, 10-8.
It was the longest singles match ever played in a Davis cup challenge round.
The match, which lasted three hours and 10 minutes, completely captivated the holiday crowd of 9000 and turned the finale in which Kramer crushed John Bromwich, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, into an anti-climax.
In the 13th game Ted kicked off his shoes and continued in his bare feet.
Well, that’s certainly enlightening. I did find one other story that went into a bit more detail.
Schroeder’s footwear attracted as much attention as his great game. He started off with the conventional rubber shoes but was skidding so much he discarded the shoes and played for a while in two pairs of socks. Then one pair, then barefoot (he wants to try this at Mandeville on the cement courts as I did one year to my sorrow). Finally, he shod himself with spiked shoes.
I’m not sure spiked shoes are allowed any more. Maybe they just make better soles these days.
Of course, none of the players these days would even consider playing a match barefooted. After all, nobody else does it—there’s that social acceptance thing. Also, tennis these days is such a money-driven sport with intense pressure to win, I doubt that any of the players would just try something new, particularly without training that way. (Notice in the story above that the writer had trouble on cement.)
But on grass I would think that it would be fairly easy to remove the shoes, even without training. The only thing, though, that I think might drive a player to do so is if they had some sort of blister that was really bothering them and had no other choice but to go barefoot to continue. (If you have ever seen tennis players’ feet, they are in awful shape from all the motion inside their shoes.)
So, we might see some small shot of barefoot professional tennis again.
But don’t hold your breath.