HARRY MEISTRUP's HISTORY - page
Friday, July 08, 2005
THE GREATEST TENNIS PLAYER OF ALL TIME
Greg Moran | BIO
A while back I received an invitation from a popular tennis magazine to participate in a survey they were conducting to determine the greatest tennis players of all time.
Enclosed with the invitation were two ballots, one for men and one for women. Each ballot contained roughly twenty names and next to each name was a short description of that player’s accomplishments. The names were all familiar and the achievements impressive.
Bill Tilden, winner of 138 out of 192 career tournaments immediately caught my eye, as did Rod Laver, the only two-time Grand Slam winner in tennis history. The lists continued with names like Roy Emerson, Jimmy Connors, Pete
Sampras, Suzanne Lenglen, Helen Wills Moody, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf.
Each name on both ballots was a true tennis legend and could certainly be considered "great," however, the survey wanted the "greatest," and that was altogether a different issue.
Greatness is a term we throw around entirely too freely in the world of sports, so much so in fact that the term has become watered down. I decided that if I was going to do justice to this survey I would have to come up with a definition for "great" so I asked myself, "what is true greatness?"
I put the ballots aside, sat in a quiet corner of the house (which with two children is not easy to find) and thought about what makes a player great, and then, what makes one the greatest of the great?
Is it a player who has produced the highest level of their sport although perhaps for only a very brief time? If so, then certainly John McEnroe could be considered one of the greatest players of all time for he was a true artist on the court and displayed some of the greatest (oops, there's that word again) tennis we have ever seen, though over a relatively short period of time.
Or perhaps, should greatness be tied to longevity? The ability to perform at a high level for an extended period of time is certainly a "great" achievement and if one ascribes to this definition, Jimmy Connors, Ken
Rosewall, Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King top the list.
All four were among the top players in the world for over twenty years and Connors and Rosewall are still competing today.
What it boils down to is which definition do you prefer: level or longevity? I’ve always been impressed with longevity. Talent is a god-given gift and says something about a person’s gene pool.
Longevity is all about effort and that says something about a person’s heart and soul. I’ve always admired longevity and felt that it’s better to stick around a bit too long than to leave too soon.
Longevity displays not only dedication, but also a genuine, lifetime love of the sport. These are the qualities I respect and thus, the criteria I decided to use when choosing my list of "greatest player of all time"
I grabbed my copy of Bud Collins Tennis Encyclopedia and began going through the records of all the usual suspects. I put together my list, but stopped when I reached the top spot--the space reserved for the greatest tennis player of all time.
Tough call. Who is the greatest of the great? Fortunately there was a space for a write-in vote and I took advantage of it by writing in the name of the player that I feel is the greatest to have ever stepped on a tennis court----Harry
Who is Harry Meistrup? He is a gentleman from Denmark who has never won a Grand Slam title. In fact, he’s never even competed in a Grand Slam or professional event. However he is, by my definition, the greatest tennis player in the history of the game due to the fact the he’s been playing, and loving, tennis for ninety years!
That’s right, 90. Harry Meistrup is 104 years old and is the world’s oldest tennis player. The Guinness Book of World Records says so.
Harry started playing in 1912 at the age of 13. He’s played through two World Wars and, ninety years after first picking up a racket, still takes the court two or three times a week.
He usually trades strokes with players in their 30’s and 40’s because opponents in their 60’s can’t keep up with him.
When Harry was born in 1899 tennis, and the world, were far different. The telephone, electric lighting and the automobile were the latest innovations and the game of tennis itself was a mere 25 years old.
Tennis has come a long way in the past 103 years and Harry Meistrup has seen it all. He sites Bjorn Borg and Martina Navritilova as his favorite players and feels that the tremendous amount of power in the game today has lessened its appeal.
“The serve has become too powerful”, Harry told tennis writer Paul Fein. “That has produced too many aces, and the points are over too quickly. When that happens, tennis lacks strategy and finesse and becomes less interesting.”
Harry says that playing tennis has been “especially significant” in his longevity. “I think that people who play tennis get more out of their lives than many other people. They live a more healthy life because the sport demands it.
When they get older it means a lot, that they have friends. I have many good friends, who keep me in form, as I became older. I had to be able to move around to play with them. We have had a wonderfully good fellowship and comfortable time after we play tennis.”
Spoken like a true Mortal Tennis Player.