Clifford S. Sutter
August 31, 1910-May 24, 2000
March 6, 2013 By Billy E. Crawford
Clifford Sutter was born in New Orleans and resided on Loyola Street. The family members, along with friends, built two grass tennis courts next to their property during the early 1900′s.
In his interview with Nancy Gill McShea for induction into the USTA Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame in 1991, Sutter said, “I started playing on those courts when I was five. My whole family played, including brothers Eddie and Ernie; my mother and sister wore long skirts and big bonnet hats.”
Sutter traveled on the USTA junior tennis circuit when he was 12, ranking as high as No. 8 nationally.
In 1930 & 1932 he was the NCAA Tennis Champion. The 1930 victory was the first Tulane individual national tennis championship.
He was the Southern Conference Singles Champion in 1929 & 30 and Southeastern Conference (SEC) Champion in 1932. He was #1 Doubles Conference Champion with playing partner Maurice Bayon in ’29 &.30, and with brother Ed in 1932. The SEC was formed in 1932 when 13 members of the Southern Conference left to form the new conference.
From 1929-33, Mercer Beasley was the tennis coach. Emmett Pare’ became coach at Tulane for the 1934 season.
Cliff Sutter & Julius Seligson @ Merion Crocket Club 1930 NCAA
The 1930 tournament was played at the Merion Cricket Club. Sutter defeated Julius Seligson of LeHigh University in the finals. Seligson had won 66 straight matches before losing to Sutter in the National Finals.
In 1930 along with his long time doubles partner Maurice Bayon, they won the doubles title at the Cincinnati Masters. They defeated George Jennings and William Braudt 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. In this same year, he defeated Emmett Pare’ in the second round of the U.S. Open 6-2, 6-0, 8-6. Also in 1930 at the age of 19, he beat the 37 year-old Bill Tilden in an Eastern Grass Court Championships at Rye, N.Y. Sutter was leading 6-0, 4-1 in the two out of three set quarterfinal match when the gallery began chiding Tilden for his temperamental behavior. Tilden defaulted, citing an old knee injury as the reason. Sutter had defeated Fred Perry 6-3, 6-3 in round 2, Fritz Mercur 6-2, 6-0 in round 3, then Barkeley Belll 6-4, 6-3 in the Semi, and then defeated Gregory Mangin in the finals 4-6, 8-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1. A week later at Newport, the two were again paired, and Sutter faked a limp when he saw Tilden; Tilden yelled, “I never said it was my knee, Cliff..!” to which Sutter responded, “I’ll finish this match anyhow, even with my bad knee!” Tilden beat Sutter 8-6 in the fifth.
In 1931 Sutter was the Cincinnait Masters Singles Champion, defeating Bruce Barnes 6-3, 6-2, 3-6. 6-3. He and Bayon lost in the finals to Barnes and Karl Karnrath 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. Barnes and Karnrath also won the 1931 NCAA Doubles Championship for the University of Texas. Also this same year he was a member of the U.S. Davis Cup team in the Americas Inter-zonal finals, played at Chevy Chase, Maryland on clay. He defeated Guillermo Robson of Argentina 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
In the New York Times in 1931, Bill Tilden described Sutter’s game as “steady, sure, and accurate.” Helen Hull Jacobs, the U.S. women’s champion in 1934, praised the “highly developed grace and rhythm of Sutter’s strokes and footwork.” Once a friend remarked, ” Cliff was so elegant in long flannel trousers, you thought it almost indecent if he donned white shorts.” Opponents, however, who thought elegance and competitiveness couldn’t go together made this mistake at their peril. Yes, the crease in his pants as sharp as a razor but so was his fighting edge.”
Maurice Bayon, Coach Beasley, Cliff Sutter
In 1932 he lost to Ellsworth Vines at Forest Hills in the longest semifinal match, in number of games, in the history of the U.S. Championships. The scores were: 4-6, 8-10, 12-10, 10-8, 6-1. A prominent tennis analyst wrote: ”In one of the greatest semifinal matches of all time, Vines ran into Sutter, a young player of consummate style and consistency. Sutter won the first two sets and came within a stroke of match point three times in the third set and once in the fourth. The packed (Forest Hills) Stadium went wild when it ended. Sutter’s magnificent challenge was the highlight of the tournament.”
In 1933 he became the only male New Orleans native to play the main draw at Wimbledon, where he beat Germany’s Baron Gottfried Von Cramm (who would later win the French Open twice, 1934 & 38, reach the finals of Wimbledon twice, 1935 & “38, and U.S. final once, 1937.) Also in ’33 he was a member of the U.S. Davis Cup in the N&S America Semifinals against Mexico. He defeated Ricardo Tapia 6-1, 3-6, 7-5, 2-6, 6-1.
Sutter was a semifinalist and four-time quarterfinalist at the U.S. Nationals, during which time he ranked in the U.S. top ten five times-1930-’34.
Sutter joined the New York’s business commuters in 1933 at age 23, eventually becoming a vice president and account supervisor with the advertising agency BBDO. He was later the marketing manager of Bancroft Sporting Goods until he retired in 1975. During those years he was involved in USTA tennis administration, as chairman of the Amateur Rules Committee and advisor to Russell Kingman (ETA president 1934-35; USTA president 1951-52.) ”The game was getting a bad image due to press reports of under-the-table payments,” said Sutter, who served as ETA president in 1962-63. “We worked to give tennis a better image and we did…Then the whole game changed registered players and open tennis.” This information was included in the USTA Eastern Hall of Fame article by Nancy McShea.
The lives of Cliff and fellow ETA Hall of Fame inductee, Frank X. Shields, intertwined during their playing days and later. Sutter first met Shields at a junior tournament in Chicago when Shields, 16, hitched a ride with Sutter, 15, to New York. In 1931 the pair, together with Sidney B. Wood, Jr. defeated Argentina 5-0 in a U.S. Davis Cup match. Sutter and Shields were later married to sisters-Rebecca (Billy) and Suzanne Tenney, respectively, and Shields introducted Suzanne to Cliff.
HALL OF FAME
Tulane Hall of Fame
Louisiana Tennis Hall of Fame
Greater New Orleans Hall of Fame
Intercollegiate Hall of Fame
Southern Tennis Hall of Fame
Eastern Hall of Fame
In 1961 he and his brother won the U.S. Veteran’s National Seniors Doubles Title. Ernie was wounded in North Africa in 1943 during World War II, which curtailed his tennis career.
The following article was written for Sports Illustrated (SI Vault) on March 21, 1960.
“Why stay indoors in winter?”
Clifford Sutter won his first big title, the intercollegiate tournament as a sophomore at Tulane 30 years ago. Just the other day, with some smashing help form his wife Suzanne, he captured his latest: the national platform tennis mixed doubles championship. The Sutter’s victory came in a fast-growing game which is half tennis, half squash, played in the winter (when tennis courts are apt to be soggy) on fenced wooden courts, with bank shots off the mesh a main tactic. “Why stay indoors in winter when there is a sport like this?” says Sutter, now a New York advertising executive, who has been playing this game with his wife for 20 years. ”It’s fast and exerting; yet, demands more fitness than strength, so women can play it well.”
The Sutters played well indeed in the championship match at South Orange, N.J. If Cliff was calm, as a four-time national men’s doubles winner might be, Suzanne was plainly thrilled. ”I just can’t wait to tell the five children.”
New York Times Obituaries Written by Susan B. Adams
Clifford S.Sutter 89 ”A Star Who Brought Tennis to Parks”
Clifford S. Sutter, the graceful, world-ranked stylist of the 1930′s and tennis populist of the 1960′s who sought to expand the game from its country club base into the public schools and parks as the President of the Eastern Lawn Tennis Association, died last Thursday in Barnstable, Mass. He was 89. The cause was cancer, said his wife, Suzanne Sutter. In his matches with the Titans of the 30′s, who included Big Bill Tilden, Ellsworth Vines, Fred Perry, and John Van Ryn. Sutter relied on precision over power, fitness over speed, a placid demeanor over flamboyance. Although he was more often the semifinalist than champion at the end of the day-his 4-6, 8-10,12-10, 10-8, 6-1 loss to Vines at Forest Hills in 1932 remains the longest semifinal match, in number of games, in the history of the United States Championships.