The little-known Orlando gem hosted a game of tennis greats


I can not pretend to have ever been an athlete, even though I stumbled through 10-km races long ago when I lived in the San Francisco area, where high temps prevail in the high 60s. In my youth in Orlando, I played a bit of tennis and followed the sport.

When I read that the Orlando City Clay Court Championships took place at the Orlando Tennis Center this month, it reminded me of this historic establishment, one of the hidden gems of the area that was nearing the end of its reign just before its demise Fairgrounds of the city.

The address of the Tennis Center is now 649 Bentley St. in the area, which is still referred to as "Sunshine Park" on some maps. Until the construction of the Creative Village, the address for the courts was 649 W. Livingston.

With plans progressing rapidly, the Tennis Center is expected to move to a new city park on Princeton Street and the John Young Parkway in 2020 and leave the location where it has been since 1932.

In the years since it opened with four clay courts (it's much larger now), tennis greats include Bill Tilden, Don Budge, Fred Perry, Jack Kramer, Bobby Riggs, Fred Stolle, Rod Laver, Pancho Gonzales and Pancho Segura, John Newcombe and Ken Rosewall and the tennis legend Roger Pharr from Orlando, who began playing in 1945 as a teenager on the courts.

Thanks to Clarence Varner

The history of the dishes is honored by Clarence Varner, another Orlando sports legend who highlights both tennis and softball in the City Beautiful.

Varner arrived in Minnesota in 1926 with his wife, Gladys (a longtime teacher), and was promoted to City Director of Orlando – a role he played until 1958, before moving to Rollins College for ten years.

"His biggest concern was always the kids," Gladys Varner told a reporter in 1987. "He made sure they learned to play tennis."

Varner also started the tradition of the famous show bouts as he lured "Big Bill" Tilden to Orlando. Tilden was the number 1 in the world from 1920 to 25. He and several other well-known players exhibited public places in Orlando in January 1933. Tilden also gave a talk on sports in downtown Sears, Roebuck and Co.

In the 50's and 60's, the Orlando Tennis Center flourished as a premier tournament operation. Bob Gould, city director from 1962 to 1979, invited Segura, Laver, Gonzales, Newcombe and others to exhibition tournaments.

"Orlando has always been a great tennis center," Segura said in 1987 to a Sentinel writer. "It has always been a favorite of mine. I loved the red tone because I had a good drop shot. We played for peanuts back then, and I still loved it. "

Renowned for his powerful two-handed strokes and his compact 5-foot 7-inch stature, Segura died in 2017 at the age of 96. He was also known for training Jimmy Connors.

For more information about the city's dishes, visit

Morse Museum Open House

An annual Easter will be back next weekend when the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park invites visitors to enjoy the museum for free from 19 to 21 April.

The Open House will start on April 19th from 9:30 am to 8:00 pm with music by classical guitarist Joshua Englert at 5:00 pm. until 8 pm Admission is also free on April 20 from 09:30 to 16:00. and on the 21st of April, Easter Sunday, from 1pm. until 4 pm

The Morse Museum houses the world's most comprehensive collection of works by American artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933). The chapel that Tiffany created for the Chicago World Fair in 1893 is a highlight of a visit during the open door on the Easter weekend.

You can reach Joy Wallace Dickinson at, or by sending a good old-fashioned letter to Sentinel, 633 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, FL 32801.

Historic neighborhood rocks open garden gates again »


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