Last week a package arrived from Sam Howe. Inside were two DVDs: twelve minutes of old 8mm footage from two matches. Black-and-white, no sound. Both were shot from overhead, a reminder of the pre-glass-wall limitations of old.
One video, taken by PJ Smith, was of the finals of the 1964 men’s singles club championship at Merion Cricket Club. In it, Diehl Mateer, clad as usual in his traditional white flannel pants, faced off against Howe. I loved seeing Mateer pause before serving, eyeing the from wall and then the long sweep of his lob serve. They often played each other in the tournament; Howe won it that year.
The other video was made by Raoul de Villafranca at the finals of the 1970 National Singles at Penn. It was Anil Nayar v. Howe. They had played each other the year before in Rochester—Howe had saved a match point in the fourth game and at 13-all in the fifth, he lost a contact lens and Nayar won the next two points. At Penn, Nayar came back from a 2-0 deficit to win 15-11 in the fifth.
Again, neat to see Nayar and how he choked up, like a softball player, on his racquet. His quickness. Howe’s power. The film includes them shaking hands at the end of the match. Ted Friel, like everyone else in a suit, handed out the trophies afterwards.
Both videos forcibly reminded me of the old custom of painting the floors white. That was the norm in North America up until the late 1980s. It made for slippery surfaces at times (you can see Howe wiping the soles of his sneakers with a towel before the match) but did enable the ball to be seen better.