Dr. Weir, George Stewart, and the Luck of the Draw

      Dr. Reginald S. Weir is best know as the first black male to compete in the U.S. National Championships.  This occurred on August 29, 1952.  I mention the precise date because just 24 hours later another pioneering black, male player, George Stewart, played his first round match in the same tournament. 

            And this is where the luck of the draw comes in.  In the early rounds of the grand slams half the singles draws are played each day.  Dr. Weir happened to be in that half of the draw that was played first.  Had he been in the same half of the draw as George Stewart, both would have gone down as pioneers.  Had they each been in the opposite half of the draw, Stewart would have garnered the honor.

            But such matters should not depend on luck.  Both men deserve to be recognized as the first.  The two were standouts in American Tennis Association tournaments, the ATA being the black tennis association organized in 1916 in response to the USLTA’s refusal to permit blacks to enter USLTA tournaments.  Stewart won the ATA title seven times.  Weir won it five times, and holds the truly singular distinction of being the first black to play in a USLTA national tournament, having participated in the 1948 U.S. National Indoor Championships, winning his first match and loosing to Billy Talbert in the second round.  Another of the indicia of Dr. Weir’s tennis prowess came in the same tournament the next year when he took 20-year-old Pancho Gonzales to three sets, Gonzales prevailing 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.  Dr. Weir's power and versatility earned him the sobriquet of the “Black Bill Tilden."  

            Weir was 41 when he played the U.S. Nationals.  Stewart was 29.  Both lost in the first round, Weir falling to William Stucki, 11-9, 5-7, 8-6, 6-1, and Stewart to Bernard “Tut” Bartzen, 6-3, 9-7, 6-0.  A few years later Bartzen would rise to the top of the national rankings, .

            Weir and Stewart were two outstanding tennis players who would have gained considerably more renown had they been able to play on a level court.

AuthorDavid Popiel