Q. Billy. Where were you born?
A. Ron. Brooklyn, New York, on January 27, 1938
Q. Where did you learn to play tennis?
A. I learned the game in my native Brooklyn at Fort Greene Park and progressed through the N.Y.C. Parks system.
Q. Who were the persons who inspired you at a young age to love the game of tennis?
A. First, when I was 12 years old, I met teaching pro John Nogrady. He was a tremendous help, especially with match-play strategy. Also, during my formative years I was very lucky to have worked closely beginning at age 13 with some of the all time greats: Pancho Segura, Bobby Riggs, Jack Kramer, and Emmett Pare’. All of these playing professionals took me under their wing and remained good friends throughout my career.
Q. What were the first tennis matches you participated in? How old were you?
A. At 12 I won the 18 and under Fort Greene Park Championships, reached the semis of the Brooklyn Borough Championships, and reached the second round of the New York City Championships, all 18 and under. At 13, I played my first USTA tournament and lost to a 15 year old, Carl Norgauer. Three years later, at 16 I beat him 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 in the finals to become #1 in the 18 and under in the East. At age 15, I won three out of four U. S. National Boys’ titles. At 15 years and 7 months, I played in my first U.S. National Men’s Championship at Forest Hills (United States Open). I won the first match in five sets.
In 1956, I won the Junior Finals at Wimbledon, considered to be the Junior World Championship.
Q. Which racquet did you use during these years of success?
A. I played my entire career with TA Davis racquets and Victor Gut strings. The models were the TA Davis Silverstreak, the Davis Imperial, and the Davis Classic.
Q. I am sure you were highly recruited by all the universities noted for successful men’s tennis programs. Why did you choose Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana?
A. I had numerous full scholarships and my final two choices were UCLA and Tulane. Tulane was better than UCLA academically, as UCLA was better that Tulane tennis wise at the time. Emmet Pare’ was the main factor that tipped the scale in Tulane’s favor. I figured that possibly that I could be a piece in the puzzle to help Tulane eventually win the NCAA Team title. It happened in 1959.
Q. What was your major at Tulane?
A. Political Science with minors in Psychology and Physical Education.
Q. What were some of the “highlights” of your tennis career at Tulane?
- Crawford Henry and I were two of the top freshmen in the Unites States, 1956.
- At that time NCAA rules prohibited freshmen from competing at the varsity level.
- Coach Pare’ would take us on away trips with the varsity and set up matches for us to compete against good players at local clubs, to get experience.
- As a sophomore, being on the SEC Championship team for the first of three successive times while personally winning the SEC singles and doubles championship.
- Winning two NCAA doubles championships in 1957 and 1959.
- Winning the NCAA team championships for Tulane in 1959, fulfilling, so to speak, the reason I was recruited by Tulane.
- Probably the most satisfying memories came from our everyday practices with Pepe Aguero, Crawford Henry and Lester Sack.
- The icing on the cake was Coach Pare’; he was wonderful to me, a great coach, mentor and friend.
- Practices on the weekends at New Orleans Lawn Tennis Club where many of the old members are still friends today.
- The Men’s Sugar Bowl Invitation, who invited the top eight men players available in the US; and I always did well.
Q. I was a high school teacher and basketball coach in my early years in education. I have read that basketball was a true love of yours, as it was with me. Were you able to “shoot some hoops” along with your tennis practice and playing? Do you think playing basketball helped your tennis game?
A. I played at every opportunity and I believe it was very beneficial in strengthening my hands, arms and shoulders, which helped serving. Obviously, the running full court never hurt. The terrific aspect of playing with good basketball players (much better that I ever was) such as Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight, and John Andariese made that form of working out FUN; they are all close friends to this day.
Q. You were selected to be a member of the U.S. Davis Cup team four times, including winning for the U.S. against Canada in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1956. Who were your fellow team members? Please share with such your feelings and emotions representing the United States of America?
A. My team members were Barry MacKay, Vic Seixas, Herb Flam and Gardnar Mulloy with Bill Talbert as Captain.
There is no greater thrill that representing your country and hearing “Game United States”, instead of “Game Holmberg” especially when winning. I still get emotional at basketball and football games when the National Anthem is played remembering the feeling of playing Davis Cup; you still get chills from the memories.
Q. You had a highly successful 19 year career on the” International Pro Tennis Circuit.” What were some of your more notable matches; and which players were your most skilled opponents?
A. Notable Matches:
- Winning a pivotal doubles match against Canada in Davis Cup at 18 years old with Barry MacKay after being down 2 sets to 1.
- Winning the Junior Championship at Wimbledon.
- Reaching the Mens Semi-final of the US Open, ’59.
- Reaching the Mens Quarter final of the French Open Championships in Paris, ’61.
- Winning the US National Indoor Doubles Championships, ’61, and being a finalist in ’62.
- Winning the Caracas Mens Invitational, ’64, defeating in succession, Pilic, Osuna, Santana and Emerson, four of the Top 10 players in the World at the time.
- Winning the Canadian Open Mens Singles Championship, ’65 and the Mens Doubles Championship, ’65 (with Lester Sack) and ’69 with John Newcombe.
- Reaching the finals of my first WCT tournament, ’69, defeating Emerson and Pancho Gonzalez.
- Playing the 2nd longest doubles match (in time), 6 hours and 23 minutes -losing in the Quarter finals of the US National Mens Indoor Championships, 26 -24, 17 -19, 30 -28.
- Winning the 5th longest Singles match at Wimbledon against Marty Riessen, 14-16, 11–13, 6-4, 6-2, 10-8.
Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, Rod Laver (whom I consider to be the best of all time), Roy Emerson, Pancho Ganzalez, Pancho Segura, Vic Seixas, Ham Richardson, Barry MacKay, Chuck McKinley, John Newcombe, Tony Roche, Arthur Ashe, Charlie Pasarell.
Q. Ron, among others, you have been inducted into the Intercollegiate Tennis Hall of Fame (1993), The USTA Southern Tennis Hall of Fame (2011), the USTA Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame (1990) and the Louisiana Tennis Hall of Fame (2006), along with fellow inductees Steve Carter and Donald Frilot. How has winning such prestigious awards affected your outlook on life, and how you live each day?
A. Since I am going full-tilt most of the year, I don’t sit and reflect quite yet. The eight Halls of Fame are all great honors, I don’t take for granted. I feel they all carry a responsibility to “give back to the game.” Maybe, if and when I actually retire one day, I’ll be able to look back and enjoy the memories of what got me inducted; the wins and even the losses. ‘Til then I figure, why stop, since I love what I do and still can – and most of all, I can still help people.
Q. You are widely known and respected for your many years of supporting different charities, especially those supporting young people. What past efforts are you most proud of, and what are your present projects?
- For many years I directed the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Pro-Celebrity event in Las Vegas and Houston which raised money for “Jerry’s Kids”.
- Directed the Pro-Am- Celeb for the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor Healthcare System.
- Coached underprivileged kids in New York City for the NY Junior Tennis League.
- Directed the Pro-Am-Celeb for the Good Shepherd Hospital in Allentown, PA.
- For 19 years participated in the Carl Reiner Pro-Am-Celeb to raise money to open schools for mentally and physically challenged children.
- Presently working on a project I cannot speak of until it is further along.
Q. I understand you and your wife, Sylvia live in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York a portion of the year, and in New Orleans for a portion. I learned your home here in New Orleans was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Have you been able to rebuild?
A. After the September, 2005 flood and 10 feet of water for 4 weeks, the house had to be totally gutted and rebuilt. But since it was only about 7 years old, it was structurally sound. We were able to move back into the house in November, 2007.
Q. When I called you this week via phone you were leaving your home to go teach tennis. Will you share what you teaching schedule is like; as well as upcoming functions you and your wife will be attending in the promotion of the great game of tennis?
A. Up here, in the northeast I am on the court teaching about 4 – 5 days a week, approximately 15 – 20 hours a week. Sylvia and I travel a fair bit, usually to all US Davis Cup Matches; also, to corporate outings where I give a presentation, give a clinic, and am hands-on with the people on court and at dinner. I just finished one in Vermont and coming up, is an Arthur Ashe Aids Foundation outing in New Jersey. An outing in Lake Placid and another in Maine are both scheduled. Next comes the US Open with a Junior Tennis League dinner in New York City, three days of corporate participation and finally enjoying the matches and the ‘Final 8 Club’ gathering. Following the US Open is the USPTA National Convention in Florida.
I am always interested in working with people both kids and adults who are looking to improve their game. I work by appointment only and “I GUARANTEE IMPROVEMENT”. People who are interested can leave me a message at 504-488-4746. I can also be reached through the USPTA, 800-USPTA4U.