Allen Fox: My College Tennis Story

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My College Tennis Story — Allen Fox
Dr. Allen E. Fox (born June 25, 1939) is a former world class tennis player in the 1960s and 1970s who went on to be a college coach and author. He was ranked as high as U.S. No. 4 in 1962, and was in the top ten in the U.S. five times between 1961 and 1968. (Wikipedia)

My family had very little money, and a tennis scholarship put me through my undergraduate years at UCLA. I had always been a good mathematician, and so I majored in physics, graduating with my B.A. in four years. It wasn’t difficult. Taking a full course load of 15 units meant that I only had a class for three hours a day. It was easier than high school.

I have to admit, however, my major interest was my tennis. Yes, it’s only a game, but it’s a very compelling one. And I was hooked. As a junior, I was good but not great, ultimately winning the Southern California Junior Championship as well as the junior doubles at Kalamazoo and getting ranked #7 nationally. But at UCLA I was up against the best junior and college players in the country. Although I had a great practice every afternoon, my high-powered teammates forced me to improve or be left behind.

I was not a great athlete, so to stay up I spent every spare minute practicing.

On weekends I set up practice matches for most of the day, and I improved by leaps and bounds. By my sophomore year, I shared the number one position on the team with Norm Perry, and UCLA was the best team in the country, although we could not compete that year in the NCAA championships because UCLA was banned from postseason play because of rule infractions by the football team.

As a junior, however, a newcomer on the team, Larry Nagler, took over my #1 spot by beating me in the finals of the three big intercollegiate tournaments in California. Larry had been one of my closest friends ever since we were 14 years old, and, to my regret, I had convinced him to go to UCLA. Of course, when I talked him into it, I hadn’t figured on him beating me every time we played! Larry was the great athlete that I wasn’t, and I was psyched out by his speed on the court, his physical abilities, and his ferocious competitiveness. (He also played first string on the freshman basketball team under legendary coach, John Wooden.)

Our team won the NCAA team event that year; Larry won the singles, beating Whitney Reed in five sets in the finals (Whitney was ranked #1 in the USA the following year.); and we won the doubles. But it was a very frustrating year for me and an unhappy one on the court. For the first time, my national ranking went down. I even thought about foregoing the tour in the summer and getting, perish the thought, A JOB. In those days nobody turned pro and the college players were among the best players in the country.

Every summer, since I was 18 years old, I had played the circuit in the east. This involved a half dozen clay tournaments in the mid-west (Cincinnati is the only one left.) and another half dozen grass tournaments on the east (Newport is the only one left other than the national championships.), ending up at the National Championships at Forest Hills. That summer I tried working for a few weeks, but ultimately joined the tour for the last few tournaments.

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In my senior year, however, everything changed, possibly as a result of my years of extra practice hours on court. In the first spring intercollegiate tournament I beat Rafael Osuna in the semis (Osuna had already won the Wimbledon doubles, and he won the US singles Championship at Forest Hills two years later.) and my nemesis, Larry Nagler, in the finals.

Suddenly, I was back to #1 on the team and, ultimately, I became the best college player in the country, winning the NCAA singles at the end of the season, and UCLA repeated with a win of the national team title. Afterward, I won the Athlete-of-the-Year Award at UCLA, an extraordinary achievement for someone like me who had limited athletic ability.

That kicked off a huge jump in my game, my position in tennis, and my confidence. During that summer I won Cincinnati, Southampton (a major grass-court tournament on the eastern circuit), the national hardcourts, and I was named to the Davis Cup team.

Suddenly, I was a “Player!” But without the pressure to improve as a member of the UCLA team, it would never have happened.

I remained at UCLA for the next 5 ½ years in grad school to get my Ph.D. in psychology, practicing with the team in the afternoons (Arthur Ashe and Charlie Pasarell were on it.) and playing the tour on the east coast and in Europe in the summers. Those were happy years for me, and the friends I made, like teammates Larry Nagler, Norm Perry, Roger Werksman, and Charlie Pasarell have remained my dear friends to this day.

My UCLA experience has formed the center of my life.

The wonderful education I received while playing the sport I loved would not have been possible with the limited financial resources of my family. UCLA has enabled me to make a living at coaching, writing, consulting, and speaking about the sport I love. In fact, my latest book on the mental game, “Tennis: Winning the Mental Match,” is available at Tennis Warehouse, Amazon, and my web site, allenfoxtennis.com, as well as electronically on Kindle, and players can sign up for personal consulting on my web site as well. (Please excuse this shameless bit of self-promotion, but it’s hard to pass up this excellent opportunity.)

And my dearest friends have nearly all come from tennis, mostly from my college days. Even my dear wife, Nancy, is a tennis player. And her family, all tennis players too, were happy to see us get together because they had followed my tennis career at UCLA and afterward. What more could I ask for from college tennis and from the game itself??

— Allen Fox, UCLA Men’s Tennis 1961

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