LOS ANGELES, CA– The last live professional tennis tournament he saw was the one he created, the Los Angeles Open.
Jack Kramer, perhaps the man most responsible for shaping modern professional tennis, died Saturday September 12 from cancer of the connective tissues. He was 88.
A pioneer, Kramer took players from amateurs paid under the table to pros paid prize money.
In 1947, he won Wimbledon. In ’46 and’47, back-to-back U.S. Championships, the precursor to today’s U.S. Open. Kramer also held seven other Grand Slam doubles titles.
Before he went into his last U.S Championship final, Kramer decided to turn pro because, quite frankly, he said he needed the money. The tennis world had to sit up and take notice after his city-to-city tournaments attracted better and better players and more and more fans. That was the beginning of the ATP, the American Tennis Professionals.
And, in a backhanded way, Kramer is also responsible for the WTA, the Women’s Tennis Association. He never thought the “ladies” could attract as big of crowds as the men and therefore should not earn as much. That’s when another legend, Billie Jean King, defected and started the Virginia Slims Tennis Tour.
Kramer also led the way in sports endorsements. Practically an entire generation of tennis players cut their teeth on the ‘Wilson Kramer” racket. Selling more than 30 million, it became the most popular racket ever made. Earning 2.5 percent of the profits, Kramer eventually renegotiated the deal with the sporting goods giant because he said he was making more than the company president.
He used some of that money to buy the Jack Kramer Tennis Club in Rolling Hills, on the Palos Verdes Peninsula near Los Angeles, where tennis greats like Pete Sampras and Tracy Austin grew up playing.
Born in Las Vegas, Kramer knew how to play the odds and used that in his tennis game. He played “percentage” tennis; making the shots he had the best chance of winning. Kramer was also known for his aggressive serve and volley game.
Five sons survive him. One son, Bob Kramer, still runs the yearly summer tournament his father started at UCLA.