Jack Kramer, the Wimbledon and two-time United States singles champion who became one of the most influential figures in tennis history as a powerful promoter and innovator, has died. During the broadcast of the Rafael Nadal-Juan Martin Del Potro semifinal at the Open, ESPN’s Cliff Drysdale reported the death and Pam Shriver confirmed that the family was aware of the network’s announcement.
Known for his “big game” — a serve-and-volley attack complemented by his stinging forehand that presaged the modern attacking style — Kramer emerged as a marquee amateur player in the years following World War II, Richard Goldstein writes in an obituary that will soon be published on nytimes.com.
John Albert Kramer was born in Las Vegas on Aug. 1, 1921, the son of a brakeman for the Union Pacific Railroad. He learned to play tennis in the Los Angeles area as a teenager when his family moved there. His idol was Ellsworth Vines, the former United States Nationals and Wimbledon champion, whom he played against in workouts.
Kramer won the 1946 and 1947 men’s singles title at the United States Nationals at Forest Hills, the forerunner to the United States Open, and he captured the Wimbledon singles in 1947. He won the United States doubles championship four times and the Wimbledon doubles twice and played on Davis Cup teams that defeated Australia in 1946 and ’47.
Kramer showcased the professional game as a player and a promoter in the two decades leading up to the arrival in 1968 of ”open” tennis, when pros were finally allowed to compete for prize money in tournaments previously open only to amateurs. He turned pro with a memorable match against Bobby Riggs, the defending pro champion, at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 26, 1947, before a crowd of 15,114 that trudged through a 26-inch blizzard. Kramer lost to Riggs in four sets but succeeded him as champion by decisively besting him in a series of one-night stands across the country in 1948. He retained his championship by defeating Pancho Gonzalez, Pancho Segura and Frank Sedgman, respectively, on tours in the three seasons after that.
“He put more continuing pressure on an opponent than any other player I ever saw or played against,” Ted Schroeder, Kramer’s partner for two United States doubles championships, told The Associated Press in 2002. “That goes all the way back to Bill Tilden.”
Kramer took over as promoter of the pro tour in 1952 and expanded it into an international operation, the players transporting a portable court in a host of one-night stands. In a 12-day period in 1957, Kramer’s entourage made 11 appearances in 8 cities, from South Africa to the Philippines.
Kramer offered lucrative contracts to stars like Gonzales and Segura and the Australians Sedgman, Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver in raids incurring the wrath of amateur-tennis officials. Kramer, in turn, viewed the men who ruled the amateur game as more concerned with maintaining their power than enhancing the sport and corrupted by undercover payments to players.
Kramer competed on his pro tour into the late 1950’s, when injuries forced his retirement, but he continued to run it until 1962. He was named to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1968, and a panel of tennis experts voted him as the fifth-best player of all time in 1969.
Hardly finished as an influential figure with the arrival of “open” tennis, a concept he had long advocated, Kramer devised the men’s Grand Prix, which debuted in 1970. It endured for two decades as a series of tournaments leading to a Masters Championship and a bonus pool of earnings for a host of leading players.
In 1972, Kramer helped found the Association of Tennis Professionals, the men’s players’ union, and he became its first executive director. The organization’s boycott of Wimbledon in 1973 over issues of player independence spurred the movement that freed players from the control of national tennis associations.
Wilson Sporting Goods sold millions of Jack Kramer-autographed wooden rackets, Kramer receiving a percentage of the sales revenue. He was a longtime commentator for American network broadcasts and for the BBC at Grand Slam events.