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Caswell Tennis Center part of city's sports heritage

Center where Andy Roddick learned to play also played host to myriad stories

Michael Barnes
mbarnes@statesman.com

Long before Andy Roddick became the world's top-ranked player, Austin was a hotbed for tennis. In the 1920s and 30s, Austinites were winning Wimbledons, U.S. Championships and Davis Cups. Despite the dearth of first-rate courts, players like Berkeley Bell, Bruce Barnes, John Van Ryn and Marjorie Gladman joined legendary coaches like Tom Holland, Daniel Penick and Wilmer Allison in bringing home the glory.

A giant in his field, Allison married Ann Caswell, daughter of businessman, sports enthusiast and parks builder W.T. Caswell in 1930. It was Caswell, noting the poor condition of Austin courts after World War II, who pushed Mayor Tom Miller to raise money through a 1946 bond election for the Caswell Tennis Center, part of a larger greening project that included Pease Park and the Shoal Creek Greenbelt. Caswell donated the dollars for the clubhouse.

Although a city-owned center, Caswell's clay courts were run partly on a membership basis and were shared with University of Texas athletes, according to an Austin History Center report by Bernie Leggett. Musician Blondie Pharr, author of UT's fight song, was perhaps the center's best-known pro.

Later, synthetic surfaces were added and the courts were renovated periodically, including an extensive redo in 2003. In the past, controversies arose over city control, restricted membership and violent fighting in the pro shop.

Things are calmer now. The game is foremost at one of the state's oldest tennis centers. Hey, Roddick learned to play there.

Austin Untold Stories