July 04, 2008

Tennis, Anyone? Hockey's Connection To Wimbledon

Tennis is a great game. For me Tennis will always be about Boris Becker back in 1985, Snoopy, Mmm...Maria Sharapova and streakers.

This weekend is the finals of one of the world's greatest sporting spectacles - Wimbledon. The best tennis players in the world will be taking to the grass at center court at the All England Lawn Tennis And Croquet Club, where they play tennis since 1800s but not croquet in over 100 years. This is 'The Championships' 131st year!

On the women's side The mighty Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, not only meet each other to decide the singles finals, but they also team up play for the women's doubles championship. Both finals are on Saturday

In the men's draw will face Canadian Daniel Nestor and his Serbian partner Nenad Zimonjic will face Jonas Bjorkman and Kevin Ullyett in the men's double finals. In the main event top seed Roger Federer will seek his 6th straight Wimbledon championship. He will play Spaniard Rafael Nadal, the world's #2 seed.

Now, you might think it would be pretty hard to tie Wimbledon together with hockey history. But actually, it is very easy. One of the greatest hockey players of all time also happens to be a regular Wimbledon competitor and your 1954 Men's champion!

I want you to meet one of the most interesting hockey players/tennis players you'll ever get know.

Jaroslav Drobny

Center Jaroslav Drobny was born on October 12, 1921 in Prague, Czech Republic. He was a very industrious center with a good touch for the net. He was strong and very creative. Good skater. He began playing for CLTK (Cesky Lawn Tennis Klub) Prague as a youngster and went on to play 11 seasons in the Czechoslovakian league between 1938-49.

He represented Czechoslovakia 31 times, scoring 36 goals. He played in the 1939 World Championships, scoring 6 goals in 9 games, as well as 1947, winning a gold medal while he scoring 15 goals in 7 games. He also participated in the 1948 Olympics, scoring 9 goals in 8 games and capturing a silver medal.

He was described as "an excellent skater with great technique." He was a bit of a soloist, but was said to be be good at setting up plays after showing off his puck skills a little bit. Some hailed him as Josef Malecek's successor as the greatest Czech hockey star. Though he had many opportunities to join better club teams, he would never leave the small CLTK Prague team because his father was a caretaker at the arena.

Bruins Wanted Him In '49

So good was Drobny that he could have become the first European to play in the National Hockey League. In 1949 the Boston Bruins put him on their reserve list and offered Drobny $20,000 to cross the Atlantic. Drobny refused, preferring amateur hockey over the pro game, and unwilling to give up his chance to travel the world and play international tennis.

He Was Better At Tennis

Drobný was also a world class tennis player at this time and combined his hockey with the tennis. In the winter it was hockey, and in the summer it was tennis. He even began competing at Wimbledon prior to World War II.

Life Changed In Moments

But Drobny would soon make a desperate choice that would see his hockey career end.

It was during one of the tennis tournaments in 1949 that his life changed drastically as he decided to emigrate from Czechoslovakia. Drobný himself remembered that moment and the circumstances very well.

"On July 11, 1949 I travelled to Gstaad in Switzerland together with my friend Vladimir Cernik (whom he played in the Davis Cup together with) to participate in a tennis tournament there. Together with Cernik I figured that we would stay there for about a week. So I put 50 dollars into my pocket and really looked forward to the tournament because some of the worlds best tennis players were going to be there.

After two days when the tournament had already started we received a message from Prague that told us to withdraw from the tournament and get back home. We refused. We were in a very uncomfortable situation. The hosts of the tournament had invited us to play and we couldn't just let them down. We were one of the main attractions in the tournament and our absence could have meant financial losses for the organizer.

Later on two gentlemen representing the Czechoslovakian foreign ministry showed up in Gstaad. Again they told us to go back home, and they did it in a very arrogant way. When they went back home, Cernik told me that he would not return back to Czechoslovakia. I still hadn't made up my mind. I had never thought about defecting from my country. But my human instinct and fear struck me as I was thinking about it further. If I would return back home, would they ever let me play again ? Would I be able to travel everywhere that I wanted ? At that time I had a tennis tournament ahead of me in USA and I was afraid that they wouldn't let me go there.

Freedom At Any Price

I was afraid that I would never play abroad again. That they would not let me travel freely. And I didn't agree with the way politics and sports was mixed. So I finally told the organizer of the Gstaad tournament, a Mr. Scherz, that I wouldn't return back to Czechoslovakia. I decided to stay in Switzerland.

I worked two years in Switzerland as a hockey trainer but I wanted to go to USA where my girlfriend was. (Rita Anderson Jarvis whom he married later on). The problem was that I was traveling on Swiss documents since my Czechoslovakian passport was revoked. If I had come directly from Czechoslovakia then I could have stayed in USA. But in my situation I would have to wait five years for a permanent stay.

I of course was really missing my home. To be able and visit my local favourite pub or to eat moms donuts. I was all alone, My real friends were back home, my mom and dad. But that was the price I had to pay for freedom."

Off To Egypt, And Wimbledon

A couple of years later the left handed Drobný was invited by the Egyptian King Faruk and became an Egyptian citizen. He represented Egypt when he played tennis. He lost the Wimbledon final in 1949 in five sets, but in 1954 he won the Wimbledon title by beating Ken Rosewall. Drobný also won the French Open twice and the Italian Open three times. In total Drobny participated in 17 Wimbledon tournaments, always sporting his trademark tinted sunglasses as an old hockey injury affect his eye sight. He also participated in 43 Davis Cup matches, winning 37 of them.

Jaroslav Drobny was a world class hockey and tennis player who unfortunately was robbed of his best hockey years. Drobný was a truly legendary hockey player and an even bigger tennis star who chose freedom ahead of everything else.

Drobny died in 2001 at the age of 79.

(Special thanks to Patrick Houda)

No comments:

  © Blogger templates Newspaper III by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP