Thursday, September 14, 2017

An Annotated Look at Sports Illustrated's 90 Tennis Covers

After writing my post about Sloane Stephens being on the cover of Sports Illustrated, I went through the entire archives of the legendary magazine -- dating back to Aug. 16, 1954. And while I don't know anything about its leadership over the years, a few things jumped out at me.

Tony Trabert was the first tennis cover back on Aug. 29, 1944. He was your typical "all-American" white guy. But the next cover featured an Australian (Lew Hoad) and then Althea Gibson, the first great black female player. Hoad then shared a cover with rival Pancho Gonzales, who was a dark-skinned Mexican-American. From there, Peruvian-born Alex Olmedo, who helped the U.S. win the Davis Cup in 1958, was featured on Sept. 7, 1959.

A couple more white guys were featured -- including handsome Dennis Ralston, who later coached Chris Evert -- then Arthur Ashe graced the cover on Aug. 29, 1966 ...

and again when he won Wimbledon in 1975, was named Sportsman of the Year in 1992 and yet again when he died of complications of AIDS in 1993.

Evonne Goolagong, an Australian Aboriginal, was featured twice -- and before Americans Billie Jean King or Chris Evert ever appeared. I got the feeling that whoever was in charge in the 1970s didn't care much for Chris, too. Because when she did finally make the cover, it was one of those fold-out deals featuring Jimmy Connors and her -- only she was on the part that wasn't visible when the magazine was folded on the newsstand. When she won Wimbledon in 1974, she again had to share the cover with her then-beau. (In 1976 they ran another Goolagong cover with the headline, "Does Evonne Have Chrissie's Number? Goolagong Wins Again.") I mention much this because I got the sense that the editors made a conscious effort to feature a diverse group of athletes -- and certainly not just American ones -- which seems like the exception to the rule in U.S. media at the time.

Unlike later years when Federer, Nadal and Djokovic weren't considered very coverworthy, the 1970s/early '80s editors loved a European master, putting Bjorn Borg out front time and time again. Wimbledon and U.S. Open winners were most likely to get the cover. But Borg even landed it when he won the 1981 French Open, which would turn out to be his last major. They also couldn't resist his bizarre wooden-racket comeback -- who could forget "The Curious Case of Bjorn Borg" cover from 1991?

Perhaps the three most iconic covers of my childhood were when Tracy Austin became the youngest winner of the U.S. Open ...

This one of Borg, which I may have used in the bathroom a few times ...

And when Ivan Lendl finally got his moment in the sun -- only to have the coverline eclipse him!

To continue reading my annotated look at all 90 Sports Illustrated tennis covers, click HERE.

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