John Van Ryn
Born: June 30, 1905
Died: August 7, 1999
Town: South Orange
John William Van Ryn was born June 30, 1905 in Newport News, Virginia and grew up in South Orange, New jersey. His family moved north when he was a boy and joined the Berkeley Tennis Club in the Seven Oaks section of Orange. There John learned the game and distinguished himself as a quick and clever player. He was a particularly good volleyer. His ability to return serve and press toward the net distinguished him throughout his career.
John attended East Orange High School, where he and another boy, Fred Appell, made the varsity tennis squad one of the best in the state. In 1922, John and Fred captured the interscholastic doubles championship at Princeton. They repeated as champions in 1923, with John also taking the singles crown. The following year both were admitted to the University, where they continued to star for the tennis team along with Paul DeForest Hicks, who would go on to fame as a platform tennis pioneer.
In 1927, John and Fred won the intercollegiate doubles championship. John’s bid for the 1927 singles title was derailed by Wilmer Allison, a scrappy player from the University of Texas.
Soon John and Wilmer Allison were teaming up on the tennis tour. In 1929, they won the Wimbledon doubles championship, defeating Colin Gregory and Ian Collins in a thrilling five-set final. The pair would go on to defend their title in 1930, defeating John Doeg and George Lott. They also won the 1931 U.S. doubles crown at Forest Hills.
Prior to that tournament, John and George Lott had won the French and Wimbledon finals. That made John the first player to win the U.S., French & Britich doubles in the same season, and the first American to win a Wimbledon title three years in a row.
John fared less well in singles competition, although he scored a notable win over Bill Tilden in his prime. His serve was never a major weapon, and his ability to manage points by moving opponents out of position was not a skill that won tournaments. He never got past the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam. That being said, in Davis Cup play he was nearly unbeatable. In his eight singles matches he lost only once. The Van Ryn–Allison team was almost as good, going 14–2 in Davis Cup doubles. John and Wilmer won their final Grand Slam tournament in 1935 at Forest Hills.
John was married twice. In 1930, he tied the knot with Midge Gladman, a young star from Southern California. The marriage did not last. John enlisted in the Navy during World War II and achieved the rank of Lt. Commander. In 1946, he married Cornelia Drake, the daughter of a Princeton alum whose family had built the first railroad in South Florida. They lived together until his death in 1999, and endowed assistant coaching positions for the Tigers’ men’s and women’s tennis teams. Like John, Cornelia was an avid tennis player.
John was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1963. By then he had moved to Florida, where he was a member of the Palm Beach Bath & Tennis Club, as well as The Everglades Club. John managed the Palm Beach office of Merrill Lynch.