The rites of passage in junior tennis include a pilgrimage to the Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships, according to Hall of Fame tennis journalist (and former Orange Bowl participant) Bud Collins. It’s part of the education.
For many foreign players, their first visit to the United States is to play in the Orange Bowl. For many American players, the tournament is their first taste of international competition.
The Orange Bowl tournament was founded in 1947 by Eddie Herr of Miami Beach. When his daughter Suzanne began playing as a junior, Herr discovered there were few tournaments in the area. He decided to launch the Orange Bowl event at the nearby public clay courts at Flamingo Park, where it stayed for 51 years. Suzanne, 13, won the first girls’ 18s doubles title with Joan Johnson of Wyandotte, Mich., who also won the singles championship. Lew McMasters of St. Petersburg, Fla., captured the first boys’ 18s title.
The caliber of competition increased quickly as word spread about the tournament. Melita Ramirez of Mexico won the girls’ 18s title in 1948, but no other foreign player won until Carlos Fernandez of Brazil in 1956. Since then, the Orange Bowl’s list of champions has reflected the international scope of tennis. Over the years, winners have come from more than 20 nations – from Australia to Cyprus to Sweden.
The list of champions could comprise its own Hall of Fame and includes Bjorn Borg, Jim Courier, Elena Dementieva, Chris Evert, Roger Federer, Mary Joe Fernandez, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Andy Roddick and Gabriela Sabatini. Other participants include Arthur Ashe, Boris Becker, Jennifer Capriati, Jimmy Connors and Yannick Noah.
The Orange Bowl spawned several other international junior tournaments, most notably the Eddie Herr International Junior Championships, which is annually contested the week before the Orange Bowl.