History of Berkeley

When Berkeley Tennis Club formed in 1917, it was the first club to welcome minorities; interested in sport rather than social pretension, Berkeley's tennis playing members became a forerunner of progressive thinking and civil rights. Over the decades, great players have graced Berkeley's clay courts, from Champions Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson to Dick Savitt, Bobby Riggs and Aaron Krickstein.

"All Roads Lead to Berkeley" explains why a small group of affluent men at the tail end of World War I bypassed the ritzy ambiance of popular tennis to build a Spartan facility with six clay courts in a residential, middle-class neighborhood. Berkeley's pure tennis venue attracted top players. Edition 2 details the COVID-19 Pandemic's impact on Berkeley.

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Excerpts from "All Roads Lead to Berkeley" 
- by Art Fredman, Club Historian

Located in the City of Orange, New Jersey, Berkeley is a 100+ year-old premiere tennis venue on the western rim of the Greater Metropolitan Area. This small city of 32,000 is situated between the large metropolis of Newark and the fashionable Essex County suburbs of South Orange and West Orange.

Berkeley members are proud to share its rich legacy and almost mystical appeal of a pure and luxurious clay court surface which served as a magnet for world famous players from the 1920s through the ‘60s. Among them were John Van Ryn, Weller Evans, Bill Tilden, William Donald McNeill, Jack Kramer, Dick Savitt, Pancho Segura, Althea Gibson, and Arthur Ashe. The late 1930s to mid-1950s can be considered the Championship Era of Berkeley.

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During this period, Russell Kingman, President of the Board, used his influence to bring the New Jersey State Championships to the Berkeley Tennis Club. This tournament would serve as a preliminary for the US Open, at Forest Hills Tennis Club, New York City.

According to conversations with Dick Savitt, America’s best tennis players came to Berkeley to prepare for the New Jersey Tournament and the United State Championships, at Forest Hills. Among these players were Jack Kramer, Bobby Riggs, Tony Trabert, Bill Talbert, Pancho Segura, Don McNeill, Vic Seixas, Frank Kovacs, Frank Guernsney, Hamilton Richardson, J. Edgar Palty, and Gardner Mulloy.

Gerard “Jeff” Podesta, of Montclair, joined Berkeley in 1936. A year later, No. 1 ranked Don Budge visited Berkeley for an exhibition match with John Nogrady, who was ranked second in the United States Professional Championships to Welby Van Horn, in 1943 and 1945. Budge called Nogrady the greatest player in the world who had never won a major tournament. After the exhibition, Budge invited Berkeley member Jeff Podesta to be his partner in a doubles exhibition match.

National Champion Don McNeill, originally from Oklahoma, joined the exhibition. McNeill, a Berkeley member, held the prestigious French and United States Championships in 1939, 1940, and 1944, in singles and doubles.

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Through the earlier years, Berkeley served as home base to numerous New Jersey State Champions: Gerald Barrack, Bayonne, 1951; Pablo Eisenberg, Millburn, 1950; Ed Moylan, Trenton, 1939; Dick Savitt, Orange, 1943; Alan Fleming, East Orange, 1937; and John Van Ryn, East Orange, 1923. Three former Berkeley members are in the National Hall of Fame, Newport, Rhode Island: John VanRyn, Don McNeill, and Dick Savitt. McNeill had been French singles and doubles champion in 1939. He was United States singles and doubles champion in 1940 and 1944 and doubles finalist in 1946.

In 1939, McNeill followed Don Budge as winner of the French championships and was one of only seven Americans to have won that event. From 1951-1959, Dick Savitt, of Orange, a member of Berkeley Tennis Club, held USTA rankings from No. 2 to No. 6. He captured a Wimbledon Title and the Australian Open, in 1951.

In 1957, Dr. Johnson guided Arthur Ashe, a rising young player from Virginia, to compete in a tournament at Berkeley Tennis Club. Even as of that date, custom and, in some cases, law, prevented players from many areas of the South from playing at establishment clubs and in area tournaments.

Today, Berkeley continues its tradition of providing the best in clay court tennis to players of all levels of accomplishment and interest.

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