Little Giant Felicisimo Ampon
World's Best Player 'Pound-for-Pound'
The Pan-Am event was the first major championship finals for Ampon. Although he was consistently reaching the quarters and the semis of elite tournaments, he needed to put a string of match wins against the top players to be able to etch his name on one of the major trophies. The little giant had already beaten several top players in the world from 1946 until 1949.
Felicisimo claimed solid wins during the 1949 Eastern Grass Court Championships in Orange, New Jersey, including one over Vic Seixas, who went on to become the 1953 Wimbledon Singles champion and World No.1.
In the same event Ampon also posted a victory over Eric Sturgess, the 1948 Pan-Am finalist including winner of 1947 French Open in Roland Garros and the British Hard Court Championships. Felicisimo edged Sturgess in the quarterfinals 4-6, 6-0, 7-5. In the semis, Ampon lost a marathon five-set match to Art Larsen 10-8, 5-7, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1.
Also in 1949, Ampon had again defeated Seixas to reach the semis of the Newport Hall-of-Fame Grass courts in Rhode Island before bowing out to tennis great Pancho Gonzales, the singles winner of the 1948 and 1949 U.S Championships at Forest Hills. Felicisimo had also previously beaten his Pan Am finals opponent Tom Brown also at the Eastern Grass Court event earlier in 1946.
It was just a matter of time before Ampon would get his opportunity. The Pan American Championship was a major stop won previously by World’s No.1 Jaroslav Drobny in 1947 and 1948; U.S. No.1 Frank Parker in 1949; and Pancho Segura (Pan Am winner ’43-’44) who had turned professional to join a handful of players led by Jack Kramer and Bobby Riggs’ fledgling US Pro tour in 1947.
Also earlier that year in 1950, Ampon had reached the third round of the U.S. Championships, and again reached third round in Wimbledon with a second round win over great Dane Torben Ulrich (father of Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich) before losing to Drobny.
This time it was the little giant’s crowning achievement. At 30 years of age, Ampon’s performance had peaked. When Ampon decimated Tom Brown in four sets 6-3, 6-8, 6-4, 6-3 in the finals, many observers had thought it was an upset. It was not.
Little David had become Goliath himself as Talbert had earlier surmised, “Ampon’s presence on the court was big. In a sense that he may lack the length and overall power of his bigger opponents such as Pancho Gonzales, Budge Patty, Art Larsen, Herbert Flam but Ampon made up for it with ball control, balance, great recovery and mental toughness.
“Felicisimo would make his opponents work where he will run them out of position and win points with the drop shots, lobs and a solid ground game along with pin-point accurate shots,” added Talbert. “Nobody could really over-power "the little Maestro" since he countered by using his opponents’ power”.
A Happy Reunion of the Greats
Bill and I had already walked outside the players’ lounge and on towards court No.5 where Jimmy Connors, that year's champion, was signing autographs to a throng of admirers. Mr. Talbert still had not given the information I needed. Instead of needling him about it, I found myself asking the difference between the modern game now (this was 1982), and during their era.
“Time, money! Although there was no money then, we made time for the game. We played all the events including doubles, mixed, it was an occasion,” continued Bill. “Now it is all business and nobody has time to say hello. There’s too much money and the best players are just playing singles except for John McEnroe." Big Mac was a tournament promoter’s dream because he would still play doubles until the event’s final day even if he was out of singles. McEnroe was ranked World No.1 in both Singles and Doubles in 1982.
As my thoughts wandered off trying to imagine those early years of tennis when suddenly, just behind Mr. Talbert, a recognizable figure appeared from about twenty feet out.
Lo’ and behold! It was Felicisimo Ampon himself.
Speaking of the devil! That time I was sure Mr. Talbert wouldn’t mind being interrupted, “Guess who’s right behind you,” I said.
As Bill turned, Mr. Ampon was standing as if he was getting ready to serve. Bill was flabbergasted to meet his old peer and nemesis again after almost three decades. The ever amiable character Bill gave Felicisimo a “long lost-and-found-friend bear-hug”.
Felicisimo, who reached the tournament’s singles round of 16 (Rd 4) in 1952 and third round in both 1949 and 1950, had come to New York to watch his son Melecio to play the tournament.
Felicisimo’s son, Melecio, is a scholar-athlete and a comprehensive planning in design graduate of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
Mel, currently a successful teaching tennis professional in Illinois, was just as talented a player who earned a spot on the Philippine Davis Cup team in 1973. Then only 16, the younger Ampon beat his father’s younger partner another Raymundo Deyro, the 1958 Asian Games singles and doubles Gold Medalist, to earn a slot on the elite DC squad.
As Bill and Felicisimo were locked in a conversation reminiscing about the good ol’ days, I was worried I would miss the players’ bus back to the hotel. I had to rush and bid both gentlemen good-bye audible enough to get their attention but not to distract them.
After reaching for my tennis bag and having taken several paces towards the gate, Mr. Talbert turned around and said, “Mr. Sison, make sure you pick up your prize money and be here first thing every morning.”
I waved to both of them and went on my way. “What? Prize money for the qualifying rounds?” I thought. Later on I learned that Mr. Talbert was instrumental, together with the ATP World Tour and the International Tennis Federation, in distributing prize money to qualifiers which was normally given to main draw players only. It was unprecedented. Although not very much, the amount was good enough to cover three nights of expensive hotel in New York. It was the start of the prize money boom in tennis.
Before leaving the grounds, I turned and took one last look at the two gentlemen in deep conversation. Yes, indeed. It was a real pleasure seeing those two together. It would be the last time I would see both tennis greats. Felicisimo would pass on October 12, 1997 at the age of 76 in Chicago and Bill would follow on February 1999.
When I retired from the tour in 1984 and took the helm as the head pro in Basel LTC in Switzerland, one of the first club members I met was Herrn Max Albrecht. Albrect, who played Davis Cup for Switzerland and led BLTC to numerous national league titles in the 1950s, actively played the European circuit and witnessed Felicisimo dominate several tournaments.
After confirming all what Mr. Talbert had said, Herrn Albrecht paid a fitting tribute to Felicisimo by saying, “A player of vast phenomenal skills but most importantly he represented the game well. He was a gentleman.”
Writer's note: Felicisimo won over 30 internationally sanctioned tournaments in his career and played competitively in Asia including the Davis Cup Asian Zone until he was 50 years old in 1970. Below are selected major events which would be considered by the ATP World Tour standards as Super Series besides the Grand Slam events namely Australian, French - Roland Garros, Wimbledon and US Open. The players he defeated are mostly enshrined at the International Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island - a place where he should also belong. Beeyong Sison
Pan American Championship Results:
Mexico City: October, 1950 Source: ALT
Quarterfinals: Straight Clark d. Herbert Flam (6-2 6-4 4-6 0-6 6-0); Felicisimo Ampon d. William (Bill) Talbert (3-6 6-4 6-1 6-2); Art Larsen d. Gustavo Palafox (5-7 6-3 6-3 10-8); Tom Brown d. Pancho Guerrero (6-3 6-1 6-4) Semifinals: Ampon d. Clark (6-1 6-2 6-2); Brown d. Larsen (3-6 6-3 2-6 7-5 8-6) Final: Ampon d. Brown (6-3 6-8 6-4 6-3)
Past Winners 1943 - 1955 Pan American Championship
1943 Pancho Segura
1944 Pancho Segura
1945 Frank Parker
1946 Frank Parker
1947 Jaroslav Drobny
1948 Jaroslav Drobny
1949 Frank Parker*
1950 Felicisimo Ampon
1954 Tony Trabert
1955 Art Larsen
*(Ampon was semi-Finalist to Parker, Drobny as Runner-up)
Selected Tournament Results of Felicisimo Ampon (1946 – 1953)
1946 Eastern Grass Court Championships
Round 2 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Mathey, Dean (6-3 6-0)
Round 3 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Martin, Alistair Bradley (6-2 6-1)
Round 4 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Brown, Noel (6-0 6-0)
Quarterfinals Ampon , Felicisimo d. Brown, Tom (6-3 2-6 6-4)
Semifinals Mulloy, Gardnar Putnam d. Ampon , Felicisimo (6-3 7-5 6-0)
1946 Pacific Southwest Tournament
Round 1 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Sisson, John E. (6-0 6-2)
Round 2 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Clark, Straight (6-0 6-0)
Round 3 Brown, Tom d. Ampon , Felicisimo (6-3 11-9)
1946 US Open
Round 1 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Brown, Noel (6-1 6-3 6-1)
Round 2 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Pero, George (8-6 6-3 6-1)
Round 3 Flam, Herbert d. Ampon , Felicisimo (6-4 3-6 6-1 8-6)
1946 US Clay Court Championships
Round 1 Ampon , Felicisimo d. DuPont, Henry J. (6-0 6-0)
Round 2 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Pero, George (6-4 6-2)
Round 3 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Thomas, Bruce (6-4 6-1)
Round 4 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Larned, Gardner (10-8 6-1)
Quarterfinals Talbert, William (Billy) d. Ampon , Felicisimo (6-2 6-2 6-4)
1948 US Open
Round 2 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Brown, Geoffrey Edmund (6-1 6-4 3-6 7-5)
Round 3 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Weiss, Juan (6-3 6-2 6-4)
Round 4 Cochell, Earl d. Ampon , Felicisimo (6-2 6-0 6-2)
Round 1 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Bartroli, Jaime (6-1 6-0 6-1)
Round 2 Van Swol, A.C. (Hans) d. Ampon , Felicisimo (8-6 6-2 7-5)
1949 Roland Garros
Round 1 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Hyks, B.P. (7-5 6-4 6-1)
Round 2 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Avidan-Weiss, Arie (6-1 6-4 6-2)
Round 3 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Chatrier, Philippe (6-4 6-4 6-1)
Round 4 Patty, Jesse Edward (Budge) d. Ampon , Felicisimo (7-5 6-3 6-4)
Round 1 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Mansell, J. Roy (6-0 6-2 6-2)
Round 2 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Jackson, Guy P. (6-2 7-5 6-1)
Round 3 Brown, Geoffrey Edmund d. Ampon , Felicisimo (6-4 6-2 7-5)
1949 US Open
Round 1 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Wood Jr., Sidney Burr (6-2 6-0 9-7)
Round 2 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Steiner, Leonard L. (6-1 6-3 6-4)
Round 3 Mulloy, Gardnar Putnam d. Ampon , Felicisimo (6-3 6-2 6-0)
1949 Eastern Grass Court Championships
Round 3 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Seixas, Elias Victor (Vic) (3-6 6-1 6-4)
Quarterfinals Ampon , Felicisimo d. Sturgess, Eric William (4-6 6-0 7-5)
Semifinals Larsen, Arthur d. Ampon, Felicisimo (10-8 5-7 1-6 6-3 6-1)
1949 Newport Hall-of-FameTournament
Quarterfinals Ampon, Felicisimo d. Seixas, Victor (Vic) (6-4 4-6 6-4 7-5)
Semifinals Gonzales, Pancho d. Ampon, Felicisimo (8-6 6-4 6-3)
1949 Pacific Southwest Tournament
Quarterfinals Gonzales, Pancho d. Ampon, Felicisimo (6-3 6-3 6-3)
1949 Pan American Championship
Quarterfinals Ampon , Felicisimo d. Cochell, Earl (6-0 6-1 6-0)
Semifinals Parker, Frank Andrew d. Ampon , Felicisimo (6-2 3-6 6-0 6-1)
1950 US Open
Round 1 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Main, Lorne (5-7 6-3 7-5 6-4)
Round 2 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Match, Samuel (Sam) (6-2 6-4 6-1)
Round 3 Schwartz, Sidney d. Ampon , Felicisimo (4-6 6-2 10-8 7-5)
1950 Roland Garros
Round 1 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Sanglier, Jacques (6-1 6-3 6-2)
Round 2 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Horn, M.D. (Tim) (6-1 6-2 6-1)
Round 3 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Worthington, George Allan (6-3 6-3 6-2)
Round 4 Talbert, William (Billy) d. Ampon , Felicisimo (3-6 7-5 6-1 6-3)
Round 1 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Rinkel, Ivo F. (6-1 6-1 6-0)
Round 2 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Ulrich, Torben (6-8 6-3 6-0 6-4)
Round 3 Drobny, Jaroslav d. Ampon , Felicisimo (6-3 6-4 6-2)
1950 Pacific Southwest Tournament
Round 1 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Kroesen, James (6-1 6-1)
Round 2 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Bassett, Glenn N. (6-2 6-3)
Round 3 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Match, Samuel (Sam) (0-6 8-6 6-3)
Quarterfinals: Larsen, Arthur (Art) d. Ampon, Felicisimo (6-4 8-6 6-3)
1950 Pacific Coast Championship
Round 2 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Anderson, Arthur (6-1 6-2)
Round 3 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Catton, Conway (6-1 6-2)
Quarterfinals Ampon , Felicisimo d. Brink, James (6-0 6-2 6-4)
Semifinals Larsen, Arthur (Art) d. Ampon , Felicisimo (6-4 6-3 9-7)
1951 Nations' Cup
Poule Drobny, Jaroslav d. Ampon , Felicisimo (4-6 6-3 6-2)
1951 British Hard Court Championships
Semifinals Ampon , Felicisimo d. Sturgess, Eric William (6-3 6-0 6-1)
Final Drobny, Jaroslav d. Ampon , Felicisimo (6-4 6-2 6-0)
1951 Cologne International
Final Ampon , Felicisimo d. Drobny, Jaroslav (2-6 6-1 6-0 6-1)
1952 Roland Garros
Round 1 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Jalabert, Paul (6-2 6-3 6-2)
Round 2 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Skonecki, Wladyslaw (6-4 6-1 5-7 1-6 6-1)
Round 3 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Destremeau, Bernard (5-7 6-3 7-9 6-3 7-5)
Round 4 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Trabert, Marion Anthony (Tony) (7-5 6-1 6-1)
Quarterfinals McGregor, Kenneth(Ken) d. Ampon, Felicisimo (6-1 6-1 6-2)
1952 US Open
Round 1 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Carver Jr., Alexander H. (Zan) (6-2 7-5 6-0)
Round 2 Ampon , Felicisimo d. McDonald, Ian A. (6-3 6-1 6-1)
Round 3 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Hagist, Fred (6-3 6-4 6-4)
Round 4 Savitt, Richard (Dick) d. Ampon , Felicisimo (8-6 6-0 6-0)
Round 1 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Richardson, Hamilton (1-6 5-7 6-2 6-3 6-0)
Round 2 Candy, Donald William (Don) d. Ampon , Felicisimo (6-4 4-6 7-5 7-5)
Round 1 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Pilet, Gerard (6-1 6-1 6-1)
Round 2 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Katona, Zoltan (6-4 6-3 6-1)
Round 3 Worthington, George Allan d. Ampon , Felicisimo (6-2 6-2 8-6)
Note: Ampon Won Wimbledon Plate (2nd week event for 1st -3rd rd players)
1953 Roland Garros
Round 1 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Zeppenfeldt, Mario (6-2 6-1 6-1)
Round 2 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Perreau-Saussine, Xavier (6-0 4-6 6-2 6-1)
Round 3 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Grandet, Christian (6-1 6-3 6-3)
Round 4 Ampon , Felicisimo d. Patty, Jesse Edward (Budge) (6-4 6-2 6-4)
Quarterfinals Rosewall, Kenneth (Ken) d. Ampon, Felicisimo (6-2 6-1 6-1)
Willie Hernandez Sr, 50 Years of Philippine Tennis 1902 - 1952 PCA Library
Jess M. Sison, World Tennis Magazine Collection 1953 - 1978, Los Banos, Laguna
Francisco 'Paquing' Aguinaldo, 'Conversations ITS'
Vic Buencamino Jr., 'Conversations ITS'
Looking Back 'Philippine Tennis History'; & Tour Notes 1979-84 ITS B.Sison