October 21, 2021

Sport Heroes Who Served: Tennis Star Served in Coast Guard During WWII

Sports Heroes Who Served is a series that highlights the accomplishments of athletes who served in the U.S. military.

John Albert “Jack” Kramer was a World War II Coast Guard veteran who became a major tennis star in the 1940s. For several years, he was ranked No. 1 in the world.

Some of his many wins included:

  • 1940: U.S. Open (grand slam doubles)
  • 1941: U.S. Open (grand slam doubles and mixed doubles)
  • 1943: U.S. Open (grand slam doubles)
  • 1946: U.S. Open (grand slam singles); Wimbledon (grand slam doubles); Davis Cup (team competitions)
  • 1947: Wimbledon (grand slam singles and doubles), US Open (grand slam singles and doubles), Davis Cup (team competitions)
  • 1948: U.S. Pro
  • 1949: Wembley Pro

In the 1950s and 1960s, he was the leading promoter of professional tennis and a relentless advocate for the establishment of open tennis between amateur and professional players. 

Kramer also created the Men’s Grand Prix points system. In 1972, he helped found the Association of Tennis Professionals.

He was particularly known for his powerful serve and forehand, as well as his ability to play “percentage tennis.” This strategy maximized his efforts on certain points and in certain games during the course of a match to increase his chances of winning. The key was to hold serve at all costs, which was one of many things that made Kramer one of the greatest players of all time.

Born Aug. 1, 1921, in Las Vegas, Kramer enlisted in the Coast Guard during World War II in 1943 and was attached to a commissary supply depot in Long Beach, California. 

In early 1944, he transferred to New London, Connecticut, for Officer Candidate School at the Coast Guard Academy.

During his Coast Guard duties, Kramer played tennis matches to raise money for war bonds. A match against Army Air Force tennis player Don Budge raised $2.5 million in war bonds.

In late March 1944, Kramer was commissioned a Coast Guard ensign. He was assigned to Alameda, California, and then to Brisbane, Australia, in January 1945. In the summer of 1945, he embarked on a cutter in the Pacific. He was honorably discharged from the Coast Guard as a lieutenant in January 1946.

Kramer wrote his autobiography “The Game: My 40 Years in Tennis” in 1979. In it, he calls Helen Wills Moody the best women’s tennis player that he’d ever seen.

Kramer died from cancer on Sept. 12, 2009, at his home in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles. He was 88.

In the 2012 Tennis Channel series “100 Greatest of All Time,” Kramer was ranked the 21st greatest male tennis player of all time.