Chris Lewis was the number one junior tennis player in the world in 1975, winning the 1975 Wimbledon Junior title. In his 12 year career, Lewis reached the final of ten major professional tournaments in singles (winning three) and sixteen major tournaments in doubles (winning eight). On tour, Lewis, who was coached by legendary Australian coaches, Harry Hopman and Tony Roche, was widely regarded as the fittest player of his era.
Highlights of Lewis’ coaching career include coaching Germany’s Carl-Uwe Steeb from outside the world’s top 100 to number 14 in the world (Steeb was the ATP’s most improved player in 1989) , and coaching former world number one, Ivan Lendl, from 1991-1993.
Currently Chris Lewis coaches some of the USA’s most promising young tennis players at the Woodbridge Tennis Club in Irvine, California.
Today Chris Lewis is a guest of our tennis blog.
You played on the tennis pro level for many years. What are some of your favorite memories from that time?
My first major trip outside New Zealand was to Europe when I had just turned seventeen. I got off the plane in London, checked into a cheap hotel in the city and headed straight to Wimbledon (it was April) to see what the place I had dreamed about for years actually looked like. That was almost forty years ago; however, the memory and the impact it had on me are still so vivid it seems like yesterday.
As does being approached by Harry Hopman, the legendary Australian coach, who, immediately after I won Junior Wimbledon in 1975, invited me to train at his academy in Florida any time I wanted.
Another favorite memory is, when still a junior, walking onto the court in front of a packed indoor stadium to play Ilie Nastase, who was the biggest name in the game at the time. Nastase was the ultimate showman; he was an entertainer, a clown, a comedian, a tantrum thrower, and one of the greatest talents the game has ever seen. Playing against him wasn’t like anything I’d experienced on a court before. It truly was like being thrown in at the deep end.
I also have fond memories of winning my first ATP title — the Austrian Championships in Kitzbuhel — in which I beat Jose Luis Clerc and Guillermo Vilas, losing a total of nineteen games in the tournament (and the final was best of five). I also won the doubles that week.
Every minute that I spent on the court working with Tony Roche, whether it was on his private court at his beautiful home in Sydney or when he was the coach of the New Zealand Davis Cup Team. It was no accident that during my association with him, New Zealand made the semi-finals of the Davis Cup in 1982 (losing to France in France in a tie that came down to the wire), and I made the final of Wimbledon the following year.
Speaking of which, my most unforgettable moment on a tennis court was when, serving at match point at 7-6 ad-in in the 5th in the 1983 Wimbledon semi-final, I looked up to the players’ box (for the first time in the match) to acknowledge Tony and my traveling coach, Jeff Simpson, for their efforts in preparing me for the tournament. I served…and the next thing Kevin Curren’s crosscourt return landed in the alley. For the only time in my tennis career, I raised my hands in triumph having now made it through to the Wimbledon final. The feeling was indescribable.
My professional playing career spanned from the mid-seventies to the mid eighties when tennis was dominated by Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl. It was a time when tennis players were accorded rock star status; a time where the late Vitas Gerulaitis, a charismatic, flamboyant personality, would turn heads everywhere he went, but especially in his home town of New York when driving his canary yellow, convertible Rolls Royce in the middle of Manhattan, perhaps on his way to or from the infamous Studio 54. It was a time when Bjorn Borg emerged as a 17 year old superstar who required heavy police protection at Wimbledon to prevent crazed throngs of teenage girls from mobbing him. In one incident, he was attacked on his way to the Wimbledon Village by hundreds of young girls who had him pinned to the ground for a good fifteen minutes before help arrived.
It was a time when racquet technology made more progress than any other period in tennis history (from wood to composite, from head sizes of 62 sq inches to 110 sq inches, and nothing in between); a time when controversy and drama ruled (for details see Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe); and when tennis would very often end up on the front pages, not in the middle of the sports section.
Looking back, life on the tennis pro tour was extraordinary. What could possibly have been more appealing and exciting than dedicating yourself to finding out just how good a tennis player you could become while traveling the globe, playing on the center courts of the world’s most famous tennis stadiums against the world’s most recognizable tennis players and getting paid handsomely to do it?! If given the chance, would I do it all over again? You bet!