Guest |  | Forgot password

The early Russian Lawn Tennis Championships (1907-14)

idzznew 21-02-2012 16:32:40

By Mark Ryan:


One of the earliest mentions of lawn tennis occurs in Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel “Anna Karenina”, which was published in serial form in the years 1873-77. Tolstoy himself was known to be a keen player of the sport and had at least one lawn tennis court on his estate at Yasnaya Polyana. The sport had originally been imported by British diplomats and students, and Russians returning to their native country. As in other countries, it was initially played by the mainly wealthy and titled; Tsar Nicholas II would become a keen player of the sport.

The Neva Lawn Tennis Circle was formed in Saint Petersburg in 1860, while the Saint Petersburg Tennis and Cricket Club was established in 1868. In 1878, the “Manifesto on the All-Round Development of Lawn Tennis in Russia” was published in Saint Petersburg. These facts prove that the true birthplace of lawn tennis in Russia was Saint Petersburg. By the end of the nineteenth century lawn tennis courts had also been laid in several other cities, including Moscow, Kiev, Odessa and Taganrog.

The National Association of Russian Lawn Tennis Clubs was founded in 1907 and had 48 member clubs by the end of 1908. When the International Lawn Tennis Association was formed in Paris in March 1913, Russia was among the seventeen nations invited. It was alloted two of a possible maximum five votes on the new council.

The first truly international lawn tennis tournament to be held in Russia took place at the Krestovsky Lawn Tennis Club in Saint Petersburg in the summer of 1903. The foreign entry was modest, although the English player and writer Frederick Payn won the men’s singles title over an Austrian diplomat, Georg von und zu Franckenstein, who later became a baron. Payn wrote a review of the tournament, which was published in the English magazine “Lawn Tennis and Badminton” in August 1903. The following is an excerpt from the article in question:

“[…] The Krestovsky Lawn Tennis Club lies in the middle of a wood on a large island in the Neva. The courts are hard and fast, very much like those at [Bad] Homburg, with a loose ‘top-dressing’ of sand, which causes a volleyer at the net to make movements like skating. The pavilion is a model of comfort and good taste, and forms a striking contrast to the sort of hutch which the players often have to use in England. This arises from the fact that in Russia nearly all residences, etc., are built of wood, so that a club pavilion is like ‘shelling peas’ for their builders.

“There are about seven tennis clubs in and around Saint Petersburg, but the Krestovsky Club is the largest, with a membership of a hundred, which might, it appears, be increased to two hundred immediately if desired.

“The tournament was played off in about four afternoons under excellent climatic conditions until the final day. At one o’clock on that day, in the pouring rain, a long string of vehicles, mostly full of members of the English and German colonies, rattled through the long, leafy glades of the woods which flourish in the warm, damp climate about Krestovsky. […] The rain soon went and the sun shone out without a cloud for the rest of the day. The day was nominally Sunday July 13, but it was explained that, according to the Russian rules of scoring dates, it was really about June 30.

“The best player of the colony is without a doubt an Englishman by parentage, named [George] Bray. On the previous day he lost the first set to the writer in the open singles, won the second at 6-4, and then retired on his laurels. He afterwards won the handicap, although a prince of a Tartar-like aspect won a set from him and offered a hard resistance.

“The Moscow Club sent over a pair of brothers called Bell to compete in the doubles. As they were handicapped by travelling all night they went down somewhat easily to the writer and an English resident generally known as ‘Teddy’, who thereby reached the final. In the final of this event Raffalovich, who was well backed up by his partner, played very well, although he was short of practice and experience.

“There were not enough lady players for any ladies’ events. The final of the open singles was somewhat hollow as Fran[c]kenstein, of the Austrian Embassy, was unable to play up to his form.

“[…] Barring the tedium of a railway journey of fifty-six hours, there is in fact every enticement for players to visit the Saint Petersburg tournament. There are plenty of good courts, an abundance of hospitality and vodka, and also there is […] the privilege of having one’s name inscribed on the challenge cups…”

The Krestovsky Lawn Tennis Club had been established in 1894. One of the key figures in its establishment and in the establishment of lawn tennis and other “foreign” sports in Russia in the early days was Arthur MacPherson, who was born in Saint Petersburg of Scottish ancestry circa 1870. (More information on Arthur MacPherson and his family is provided below.)

The first Russian Lawn Tennis Championships were held in 1907, the venue again being the Krevstovsky Lawn Tennis Club. It was held there every year, except 1910, when the venue was the Moscow Society of Lovers of Lawn Tennis in that city, and 1912 and 1914, when the venue was the Saint Petersburg Circle of Sportsmen, located in the Tauride Gardens in the centre of Saint Petersburg, close to the seat of the Russian Parliament.

The Russian Lawn Tennis Championships were closed to foreign players until 1910 and there were no events for women until 1909. The tournament was held outdoors, in mid-summer, clay, or clay-like, courts. The final results from the main events at the Russian Championships in the years 1907-14 are reproduced below, in addition to information on some of the participants, lawn tennis clubs, etc.

Due to the political upheavals in the country, the Russian Lawn Tennis Championships were discontinued in 1914, with the sport as a whole going into a decline for a number of years.

Russian Lawn Tennis Championships results (1907-14)

20-22 July 1907, Krestovsky Lawn Tennis Club, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Clay)

FI: George Bray d. Vladimir Bray 6-2, 6-1, 6-3*

* The two finalist were brothers.

DF: Robert Ventselli/Rudolph Ventselli d. Alexander Beers/Edward Beers 6-3, 7-5, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4*

* The men’s doubles final was between two pairs of brothers. The Ventsellis were from Moscow, while the Beers were from Saint Petersburg.

19-22 July 1909, Krestovsky Lawn Tennis Club, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Clay)

FI:  George Bray d. Vladimir Bray 6-2, 6-3, 1-6, 6-0

FI: Katerina Hirschfeld d. Natalia Sievers 6-2, 8-6*

* In 1909, women took part in the Russian Championships for the first time.

DF: George Bray/Vladimir Bray d. Albert Bray/P. Lepach 8-6, 6-8, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3*

**Albert Bray was the cousin of George and Vladimir Bray. P. Lepach’s first name is not known.

21-29 July 1910, Moscow Society of Lovers of Lawn Tennis, Moscow, Russia (Clay)

FI: Count Mikhail Soumarokoff-Elston d. Alexander Alenitsyn 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4*

The runner-up, Alexander Apollonovich Alenitsyn (29 November 1884, Saint Petersburg-5 October 1922, [Cheka prison]), was another of the top early Russian players and a member of the Krestovsky Lawn Tennis Club, of which he eventually became chairman. He committed suicide in prison in 1922 after being arrested and tortured by the Bolsheviks for “having contacts with other countries”. Mainly a baseliner, he was also a keen analyst of the sport.

FI: Nadezhda Martinova d. Vera Martinova 8-6, 6-1*

** The two finalists were sisters, with Nadezhda arguably being the best of the early Russian women players. This photograph, taken around 1910, features Nadezhda Martinova seated, and standing, left to right, George Bray, Count Mikhail Soumarokofff-Elston and Vladimir Bray:

DF:  George Bray/Vladimir Bray d. Edward Beers/L. Parbury, walkover*

* The exact identity of L. Parbury is unclear.

From “Lawn Tennis and Badminton”, 28 July 1910: “The fourth All-Russian Tournament was held in Moscow this year for the first time, at the Moscow Lawn Tennis Club. The meeting proved very popular, and there were 232 entries. The weather was ideal, with exception of a heavy fall of rain on the final day, which, however, did not prevent the finals all being played off…”

9-17 July 1911, Krestovsky Lawn Tennis Club, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Clay)

FI: Count Mikhail Soumarokoff-Elston d. George Bray 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4

FI: Nadezhda Martinova d. Natalia Sievers 4-6, 6-2, 6-1

DF: George Bray/Vladimir Bray d. Albert Bray/Ambrose Petrocochino 6-3, 6-0, 6-0*

** Ambrose Pavlovich Petrocochino was a member of a family with roots which spread across Europe. At one point he was attaché to the Greek Legation in Saint Petersburg. After the October Revolution, he went into exile in 1918.

28 June-7 July 1912, Saint Petersburg Circle of Sportsmen, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Clay)

FI: Count Mikhail Soumarokoff-Elston d. Harold Kitson (GBR) 6-3, retired*

**In 1912, the Russian Championships were opened up to foreign players for the first time. Harold Kitson was born in England, but would later emigrate to South Africa.

FI: Nadezhda Danilevskaya* d. Ludmila Isnar** 6-3, 7-5

* The married name of Nadezhda Martynova. She married the Russian writer Andrei Dmitrievich Danilevsky, a cousin of hers, in 1912. They would have a son, Yuri, with whom they would leave Russia after the October Revolution.

** Ludmila Isnar was probably the second-best of the early Russian women players. She emigrated to Paris after the October Revolution, having played in some of the tournaments on the French Riviera before World War One. She spent the last years of her life in the United States.

DF: Count Mikhail Soumarokoff-Elston/Count Ludwig von Salm (AUT) d. Harold Kitson (GBR)/A. Parbury 6-3, 0-6, 6-4, 7-5

XDF: Count Mikhail Soumarokoff-Elston/Katerina Hirschfeld d. Count Ludwig von Salm (AUT)/T. Elrich (AUT) 6-4, 7-5*

* This was the first time a mixed doubles event had been held at the Russian Championships. Count Soumarokoff-Elston becomes the first player to win three events open to men. There was no women’s doubles event at the early Russian Championships.

11-22 July 1913, Krestovsky Lawn Tennis Club, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Clay)*

FI: Count Mikhail Soumarokoff-Elston d. Charles P. Dixon (GBR) 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0

* In an article entitled “With the English Team in Russia”, published in “Lawn Tennis and Badminton in August 1913, the top English player and runner-up in the men’s singles event at the 1913 Russian Championships, Charles P. Dixon, noted the following: “Mr Arthur H. MacPherson, the President of the Russian Lawn Tennis Association, hardly ever left us from the day of our arrival to the day of our departure. He was kindness itself, and under his charge we saw almost everything that was worth seeing in Saint Petersburg.

“The Krestovsky Lawn Tennis Club, besides boasting nine excellent courts, has a sumptuous pavilion, containing reading and writing rooms and a most spacious dressing room, which even at the busiest times is never crowded. A tastefully decorated balcony outside, where it is possible to view some of the matches in progress, completes the picture.

“The club possesses nine hard courts, eight of which were used for the tournament, composed of a mixture of sand and clay, fast and true.”

FI: Ludmila Isnar d. Natalia Sievers 6-3, 7-5
20-22 July 1908, Krestovsky Lawn Tennis Club, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Clay)

FI: Leo Urusov d. Vladimir Bray 6-3, 6-3, 2-0, retired

DF: Charles P. Dixon (GBR)/Albert D. Prebble (GBR) d. Max Decugis (FRA)/Maurice Germot (FRA) 6-3, 8-6, 1-6, 6-3

XDF: Count Mikhail Soumarokoff-Elston/Ludmila Isnar d. Arthur MacPherson, Jnr./Natalia Sievers 10-8, 7-5

3-13 July 1914, Saint Petersburg Circle of Sportsmen, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Clay)

FI: Count Mikhail Soumarokoff-Elston d. Heinrich Kleinschroth (GER) 6-3, 6-3, 6-2

FI: Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Natalia Sievers 6-3, 6-1

DF: Arthur MacPherson, Jnr./Robert MacPherson* d. I. Moravian/Count Mikhail Soumarokoff-Elston 6-0, 3-6, 1-6, 6-2, 6-2

* See Appendix below.

XDF: Heinrich Kleinschroth (GER)/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Count Mikhail Soumarokoff-Elston/Ludmila Isnar 6-0, 6-1

Appendix – The MacPhersons

Arthur MacPherson, Jnr. and Robert MacPherson were the sons of Arthur MacPherson, Snr. (b. circa 1870), whose paternal grandfather, Murdoch MacPherson (1813-1879), a native of Perth, in Scotland, emigrated to Russia circa the late 1830s. Murdoch MacPherson was a civil engineer by profession and owned a small shipbuilding yard on the Clyde.  In his capacity as a shipbuilder, Murdoch MacPherson served the Imperial Family in Russia for a number of years before, circa 1850, founding the Baltic Iron Works and Shipbuilding Yard in partnership with an English resident of St. Petersburg.

In 1841, Murdoch MacPherson married Julia Elizabeth Maxwell (b. 1824), a native of Nithsdale in southern Scotland. Julia had come to Saint Petersburg with her parents several years earlier. They had a total of fifteen children, ten of whom survived (five boys and five girls). One of the boys was David MacPherson. He was born on 22 February 1842 in Saint Petersburg, but apparently not baptized until December 1843, the baptism taking place in the British Chaplaincy in the same city.

David MacPherson had at least four children, all boys – Charles, Wilfred, Arthur and Kenneth. Although his name is sometimes written as Arthur H. MacPherson, the Arthur in question was christened Arthur David, his second name being the same as his father’s first name. Arthur MacPherson became the father of Robert MacPherson and Arthur MacPherson, Jnr, and of at least one other child, a daughter, probably called Elinor.

In 1903, Arthur MacPherson, Snr. had helped organize the first international lawn tennis tournament ever to be held in Russia, at the Krestovsky Lawn Tennis Club in Saint Petersburg. He also facilitated the entry of the Russian Lawn Tennis Association into the International Lawn Tennis Federation. In 1914, for his services to sport in Russia, he was awarded the Order of Saint Stanislaus (3rd Class) by Tsar Nicholas II. This was the first time that anyone had been decorated for services to sport in Russia. Arthur MacPherson, Snr. was involved in the business of real estate and a member of the stock exchange in Saint Petersburg.

A piece in the London “Times” of 27 November 1919,  published when it was feared that Arthur MacPherson, Snr. was already dead, states the following: “Mr Arthur H. MacPherson was one of the best known and most popular figures in Petrograd [formerly Saint Petersburg] in pre-revolutionary days. He took a very keen interest in all forms of sport and did more than anyone else in Russia towards its encouragement and development. He was president both of the Russian Lawn Tennis Association and the Russian Rowing Association since their formation and was at one time president of the Petrograd Football League.

“Mr MacPherson was president of the Petrograd Arrow Boat Club, probably the oldest sporting organization in Russia, and for 24 years was also president of the Krestovsky Lawn Tennis Club in Russia [Saint Petersburg]. He was instrumental on several occasions in arranging international lawn tennis matches between Russia and England and France, and the well-known British and French players who took part in those games will doubtless remember his great hospitality and invariable courtesy.”

After the October Revolution, Arthur MacPherson, Snr. was arrested by the Bolsheviks and imprisoned before being released then rearrested and reimprisoned. The following piece appeared in the London “Times” on 3 December 1919: “Mr MacPherson was arrested in the summer [of 1918] for no other reason than that he was working for the Relief of the British Colony in Petrograd. Advantage was apparently taken of the fact that he became a Russian citizen before the war to shoot him…”

Arthur MacPherson, Snr. was not shot, but died of typhoid fever in a Moscow prison hospital, probably in the latter half part of 1919. The following unsigned piece appeared in the London “Times” on 5 April 1920: “I was able to ascertain the facts in connexion with Mr Arthur MacPherson’s tragic end. It was reported some weeks ago that he had been murdered. His death amounted to the same thing. In an already weakened state he was conveyed from Petrograd to Moscow Gaol, where he succumbed to typhus, no medical assistance being rendered. His body then disappeared. Some weeks later, three British soldiers, who had obtained permission to look for it, discovered it in one of the prison cells, buried beneath 40 others. They recognized it, as, before his death, Mr MacPherson had pasted a piece of paper around his wrist, bearing his name.”

Arthur MacPherson, Snr. was buried in the Lutheran Smolensk Cemetery in Saint Petersburg. The Russian inscription on his gravestone bears the name Arthur Davidovich MacPherson and the dates 1870-1919. This inscription and a photograph of Arthur MacPherson, Snr. can be seen here:

Robert MacPherson (1897, Saint Petersburg-5 June 1916, at sea) joined the British Army (Navy) in 1915, and reached the rank of Second Lieutenant in the 8th Cameron Highlanders. He was a member of the staff of Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener, British Secretary of State for War, when Kitchener sailed on a diplomatic visit to Russia on board HMS Hampshire on 5 June 1916. He was probably due to act as an interpreter during the visit. Shortly before 7.30 pm, during a force 9 gale, HMS Hampshire struck a German mine to the west of the Orkney Islands and sunk. Most of the passengers and crew on board, including Kitchener and 19-year-old Robert MacPherson, were killed.

Like his younger brother, Arthur MacPherson, Jnr., (b. 1 February 1896, Saint Petersburg) also joined the British Army in 1915. He also obtained a commission in the Cameron Highlanders and later served on the staff of the North Russian Expeditionary Force in Murmansk and Archangel, surviving World War One.

It appears that he worked as a spy for the British Secret Service for a period of time after the war and that he lived in exile, initially in Riga (Latvia), where he joined the consular service and was Consul in Riga and elsewhere. He also took part in a number of lawn tennis tournaments in Latvia (he was several times champion of that particular country). After leaving Latvia he appears to have lived in Finland for a period of time before finally emigrating to the United States circa 1930. His first post in the United States seems to have been as Russian interpreter.

Lawn tennis records in fact show that Arthur MacPherson, Jnr. had first taken part in the singles event at the US Championships at Forest Hills for the first time in 1917, when he reached the third round before losing to the Californian John Strachan, 6-1, 2-6, 6-0, 6-3. Arthur MacPherson, Jnr. also reached the third round of the singles event at Wimbledon in 1920 and 1923. Theoretically, this made him the first Russian-born player to play at Wimbledon. However, the MacPherson sons stated on more than one occasion that they considered themselves to be British.

From 1930, Arthur MacPherson, Jnr. was something of a regular participant in lawn tennis tournaments on the east coast of the United States, including, again, the United States Championships at Forest Hills, in 1930-32, 1934 and 1936. He enjoyed success in both singles and doubles, mainly at smaller tournaments on the east coast.

He settled in New York with his wife, Helen (née McAuley), who appears to have been American. They had no children. Arthur MacPherson, Jnr. became an investment broker and was a partner in the company Fahrenstock & Co. In 1941, Arthur MacPherson, Jnr. won the national senior singles championship at the United States Championships and, with Watson Washburn, of the United States, the national doubles title in 1942 and 1944.

Arthur W. MacPherson, Jnr.  died in New York City on 12 September 1973 at the age of 78. He was survived by his wife and by a sister, Mrs Elinor Zaleska.

About us