Q Billy. Where were you born?
A. Lester. I was born and grew up in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and attended Clarksdale High School
Q. How old were you when you started playing tennis?
A. About 9 or 10 years old. Living in a small town, I participated in all sports, including tennis, basketball and football, but very little tennis. I played practically no junior tennis and just started over when I went to Tulane.
Q. What was the first tennis tournament you won?
A. It was the Mississippi High School State Championship in mixed doubles. My partner was Diana “Sissy” House.
Q. What was your first racquet?
A. A Bancroft, which my father gave me.
Q. What racquet do you use now?
A. A Wilson Hyper Hammer 4.3” in a 4 5/8 grip
Q. Was there one person who inspired you to love the game of tennis?
A. Yes, Emmett Pare’, former touring professional and tennis coach at Tulane University
Q. Why did you choose to become a student at Tulane?
A. I knew that Tulane had a good academic program and a good tennis program. Coach Pare’ was widely known for being an excellent teacher and coach so, I decided to walk-on at Tulane.
Q. Did Coach Pare’ have a teaching method/style?
A. Yes, he taught you exactly how to hit a stroke, that is, the mechanics of the forehand or backhand or serve. Let me qualify that by saying if a player could hit a ball well their “own” way he would not try to change the stroke. We had an advantage since we were able to practice year-round in New Orleans, where most of the rest of the country had to stop because of cold weather as there were so few indoor courts at that time. He was not a “drill” coach as he believed in having us play, watching and later correcting the player’s mistakes then working with you on your weaknesses and on strategies. By playing constantly, he could measure your progress. I remember practicing against a superior player from Birmingham my freshman year. At first I could hardly win a game, but by the following spring I was able to hold my own and even beat him. Not that I was anything special but, I just listened to Coach Pare’ and tried 100% of the time!
Q. What are some of the “high-lights” of your tennis career at Tulane?
A. I played on the varsity for three years (freshmen could not play varsity). We were SEC Champions all three years (’56,’57,’58).
Won the SEC #1 doubles in 1958 with Ron Holmberg; reached the Round of 16 in NCAA singles in 1958; reached Quarterfinals in NCAA Doubles With Ron in 1958. In this three- year period I lost only three matches in singles, twice to Harry Thompson from Georgia Tech and to Terry Todd from University of Texas (was later able to beat those players handily).
Q. After graduating in history and psychology from Tulane, what were your next career steps?
A. I went into the service, the Marines, then returned to Clarksdale. In 1977, I left farming again and became a pro at the Racquet Club of Memphis, and I was there from 1977-1982. In 1982, I returned to New Orleans as Tennis Director at the New Orleans Lawn Tennis Club, staying till 1996.
Q. Your have been inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame(1991), Mississippi Tennis Hall of Fame(1994), Louisiana Tennis Hall of Fame(2009) and the Southern Tennis Hall of Fame(2005). Lester–if you will please share you feelings/emotions of being honored with these distinctions.
A. Am indeed honored and proud to have been selected the various Halls, however, when I received the letter regarding the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, I actually got “goose bumps”! To be in the company of the outstanding football, basketball, and track athletes that have come out of Mississippi has a very special meaning!
Q. You have been participating in USTA and International Tennis Federation World Championships for a number of years. Are you training for an upcoming event?
A. Yes. My next tournament will be the National 75 Hard Courts Tournament, a Category I beginning May 16 in Rancho Santa Fe, California.
Q. How have you been doing in tournaments this year?
A. This year, my first in the 75s age division I have played in and won three Category II National Tournaments and was a finalist in the Nat. 75 Indoors, a Category I national tournament
Q. How many Silver and Gold Balls (Finalist and National Championship awards).
A. Three Silver Balls and One Gold Ball. I won the National 45 Clay Courts and was runner-up in the 35 and 50 National Clay Courts as well as the Nat. 75 Indoors.
Q. Would your mention a few of the most skilled tennis players you played against in your career?
A. There have been many. I played Roy Emerson in the third round of the French Open. Others include John Newcombe, Ken Rosewall, Alex Olmedo, Ron Holmberg, Tony Roche, Ham Richardson.
I played against Arthur Ashe, when he was 17 years of age, on grass in South Orange, New Jersey. I played “Bitsy” Grant, in the finals of the Georgia State Open in 1960 winning the first set 6-4, losing the second 0-6, and winning the third 6-4. Did I fail to mention Bitsy was 48 years old and I was 25! Ron Holmberg and I won 1965 Canadian Open Doubles Championship and I lost in the singles final in five sets to Holmberg in the same tournament.
Q. Do you have any books related to tennis you would like to recommend to our readers?
A. A HANDFUL OF SUMMERS by Gordon Forbes; THE GAME, My 40 YEARS IN TENNIS by Jack Kramer; BIG BILL TILDEN by Frank DeFord, A TERRIBLE SPLENDOR by Marshall Jon Fisher.
Q. What is your profession?
A. Realtor with Latter & Blum