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Tennis | More Tennis

© Gallo Images

Larsen's death recalls Ellis Park epic



Art "Tappy" Larsen has died in the United States at the age of 87 after a career in which it was stated "his prodigious tennis talent was only matched by his eccentricities."

He will be recalled by South Africans for his epic final in the 1950 South African Open at Ellis Park against the legendary Eric Sturgess.

When Larsen, credited with being one of the game's greatest entertainers and comedians, succumbed in four sets against arguably South Africa's most accomplished tennis player, he was ranked No 1 in America.

His nickname "Tappy" stemmed from the fact that he superstitiously tapped almost anything he could get his hands on while playing - from the umpire's chair, to the net, a ball boy or an unsuspecting linesman on the head.

He avoided stepping on the court lines in between points as if they were the plague and had spectators in stitches with his antics.

Sturgess won 10 of the 11 men's singles titles in the South African Open tournaments staged between 1939 and 1954 - proving well-nigh invincible against even some of the world's outstanding players on his favoured Ellis Park clay courts.

His deadpan expression and immaculate groundstrokes contrasted markedly to the stream of humour and trick shots which emanated from Larsen.

The inimitable American was forced to retire from tennis in 1956 following a motor scooter accident in Castro Valley, California, in which he was partly-paralysed and lost the sight in his one eye.

He intimated he only took up playing tennis seriously to try and banish the memories of the horrific experiences he had encountered while serving in the United States Army during World War II.

Larsen was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1969 - and will be remembered fondly by all those whom he entertained at Ellis Park during his visit to South Africa.

Sturgess, who died in 2004 aged 84, reached three grand slam singles finals, won six men's doubles and mixed grand slam doubles titles and reached a world ranking of No 4.

Like Larsen, he served in World War II, as an airforce pilot and spent time at the notorious Stalag Luft III Concentration Camp in East Germany after being shot down over Italy.

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