Dinny Pails

by rod on May 20, 2010

Born in Nottingham UK in 1921, Dennis Pails arrived in Australia at the age of 1 and began his boyhood in Enfield, Sydney. Like many players in the late 1920′s, he learnt tennis by playing against that most consistent competitor, the brick wall.  His mother seeing the passion for this pastime, bought him a second hand racquet affectionately known as the “onion bag” and with this racquet he progressed from backyard hitter to playing on a proper court in junior competitions. Without coaching or strategy advice, Dennis did find he could hold his own against the local competition.

His name conversion to “Dinny” came about due some poor handwriting on his part when completing a tournament entry card. He signed the card Denny Pails however it was misread as Dinny and the name stuck.Dinny Pails

By 1936, aged 15 he was playing A Grade tennis against men in their 30′s. He was soon earmarked in junior development programmes and joined a junior coaching clinic conducted by Pat O’Hara Wood (1920′s champion player and doubles specialist) along with Bill Sidwell and others. Dinny quotes from his book “Set Points” that he felt he wasted the 4 weeks in Melbourne because Pat wasn’t checking grips and offered more advice than practical instruction.  Upon checking this coaching lesson with Bill Sidwell, Bill actually recalls learning a lot because the advice given was about strategy and game play which Bill maintains today did greatly assist him to become a very successful doubles player in his own right.  In an article written by Pat O’Hara Wood, about the juniors clinic he picked Dinny as having great promise, so perhaps the grip and shot making techniques Dinny was hoping to improve were not evidently in need of major repair.  But that was Dinny’s point. Because he had had no formal coaching, he was looking for some fundamental methods to help him improve his shot making. He was particularly conscious of his backhand which he considered his weakness and had to work hard on developing his all round game. Two players who picked up on Dinny’s high bounce backhand weakness were Viv McGrath and Bill Sidwell so he rarely defeated them. Yet, against John Bromwich, Dinny often won, where Bill Sidwell found Bromwich very hard to beat, which is telling about how different styles and strategies can work against some players and not others.

Dinny, like Bill commenced work with Slazengers where youngsters were given the opportunity to develop as players through exhibitions and tournaments at which company products were also promoted. In 1938, Dinny and Bill were attempting to get to the Wimbledon Junior championships, however the ALTA decided upon a policy of trying to prevent “burn-outs” in juniors and so what would have been a 4 month trip was cancelled.

In 1943 Dinny married Mavis,coincidentally on exactly the same day that Colin Long married Florence, so the couples didn’t just have tennis as a common bond and they all remained life long close friends.

In 1946, Dinny came runner up to Bromwich in theAustralian Championships 5-7,6-3,7-5,3-6,6-2, although in 1945, Pails beatBromwich in the NSW Championships 6-1,6-2,6-4. Dinny had a really good year in 1946, having won theManly Seaside Championships, County of Cumberland, Western SuburbsChampionships, Northern Suburbs HC and West Australian Championships.

Dinny played at (post-war) Wimbledon in 1946. Amazingly at 25, Dinnyhad never played a major competitive match against a noted overseas player, due to the war years halting most international tournament events. The ALTA weren’t evenintending to send representatives in 1946, but having won many local statetournaments the Western Suburbs Hard Court Association fund raised on behalf of Dinny, as did the Catholic Association for Geoff Brown.   You need to understand that the ALTA and the English LTA worked hand in hand to permit amateurs to travel only if confirmed by their respective country tennis associations. Sometimes they travelled privately, funding their own expenses, although most often expenses were paid for by the National association. In the case of Dinny and Geoff, the ALTA had to be approached to sanction their right to receive and use the funds raised to enter the Wimbledon tournament.

Despite the political difficulties, the decision to go was fully justified.  Although in good form at home, Dinny found the experience at Wimbledon psychologically difficult due to the high expectations on him from both the media and well wishers at home, most of whom were predicting him as a real chance for taking the title. He also admitted being over anxious to do well which is hardly surprising. Despite not showing the form he had hoped, he did make the singles quarter finals to be beaten by the eventual winner Yvon Petra (Geoff Brown made the final) and in doubles he and Geoff lost the grand final to Kramer and Tom Brown. All in all a great result.  During this first Wimbledon trip an incident may have rattled Dinny immediately prior to his match against Petra. Normally reviewing the tennis court he was meant to play on pre-match to gain some pre-knowledge on wind, light and court conditions, on this day he had missed the underground train to the stadium and became only the second player in history to be late for a match (Susanne Lenglen was the other). On his arrival 8 minutes late he was chastised by  the organising committee and there was conjecture over whether he should forfeit the match. After the rebuke he was permitted to play but what a distraction on the major stage.

1946 also saw Australia defending the Davis Cup for the first time without New Zealand, having won the pre war challenge in 1939 Challenge Round as Australia (only) in the USA. The team comprised Pails, Quist and Bromwich.  The Quist and Bromwich selection was a surprise choice, largely due to the LTAA’s belief that Quist and Bromwich who had helped win the cup in 1939 should help defend it. While Brown had lost to Petra in the Wimbledon finals, Dinny had  had asensational year in 1946 beating many of the top names including Brownand was included in the team on that basis. Meanwhile, the support squad comprising Sidwell, Brown, Long and Brodie could argue better recent performances especially compared to the ageing Quist, hence there were some quarters that felt the team was not as strong as it should have been.  Dinny’s involvement in the Australian 1946 team was well deserved,however the English Davis Cup selectors also had their eye on Dinny fortheir 1946 team, since he was English born. Rejected out of order by the UK committee chairman on the basis that we (they) would  “upset the entire tennis world”,  Pails was quoted as being flattered but unequivocally pleased to be joining the Australian team later in the year.

At the Menzies Hotel in Melbourne where they practised in the weeks leading up to the Sydney Davis Cup Challenge round against the USA,  Australian team officials strictly enforced a healthy three big meals per day regime and Dinny felt like a “prize porker” gaining 7lbs to be the heaviest he had ever been.  In his match against Kramer he only felt his serve improved due to the extra weight behind it and he aced Kramer many times, however he couldn’t keep pace in the rallies. The team managed by Gerald Patterson lost 5-0.

After the Davis Cup loss, Dinny joined the Americans on an Australian exhibition match tour and found the regular, top international play sharpened up his game immensely.  Typically, exhibition matches required constant travel and the boys had a lucky escape from car roll over accident in which only minor injuries were sustained.  Dinny in top form and having lost the weight gained pre the Davis Cup, beat USA #2 Tom Brown in the semis of the 1947 Australian Championships and John Bromwich in the finals to take his only major title in another grueling 5 set final 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, 8-6

In 1947, the Davis Cup team comprised Dinny,Colin Long, Geoff Brown and John Bromwich. From Dinny’s perspective he felt the team unity was an issue with he and Colin travelling to the USA by plane and Geoff and John travelling by boat.  Bromwich had always disliked the thought of flying and had travelled by boat always. While critical of Bromwichs attitude to what matches he would and wouldn’t play and the way administrators pandered to him, Dinny was very impressed with the winning performance of Bromwich and Long against Kramer and Schroeder in the challenge round.  Dinny played Kramer in the first match and was beaten 6-1,6-1,6-2 , Bromwich lost to Schroeder.  Although, the strategy was to win the doubles and the two singles against Schroeder losing the first two singles and winning the doubles was going to leave them a difficult task.  In the second singles match Dinny had a match point against Schroeder but couldn’t capitalise so the Australians ended up losing 4-1.1947 Davis Cup Team

After the Davis Cup Dinny, aware that Kramer was going to turn professional, entered discussions with Kramer to join him on the pro circuit.  Foreseeing an average career path as a junior employee within a sporting goods company that would only last while he was playing top class tennis, he decided to join. This was the beginning of an entirely new era between professional touring players and amateurs, and Dinny led the way which many other top Australian players would follow. Naturally he was concerned about joining so young for it meant being prevented from playing in major tournaments, but he weighed up the options in favour of the professionals and his family’s financial future.

His leaving Australia for the first tour in the USA was clandestine, for he was fearful that his LTAA contract, still in force after arrived home from the Davis Cup, could prevent him from joining Kramer in the USA. Rather than risk the fight, he decided to book his November flight out under an assumed name ” Billy Jones”. With a sense of being a criminal his true identity was uncovered by customs officials checking his paperwork. Although, he had taken only one sporting writer for the Sydney Morning Herald into his confidence, someone rang the press who raced to the airport and next day there were photos of him sitting on the plane prior to departure. Dinny’s decision caused controversy in Australian tennis circles, yet Norman Brookes, in charge of the LTAA, simply wished Dinny well.  There had been rumours from October in the press about Dinny contemplating turning professional and in November Brookes was even quoted as being opposed to holding Dinny to his contract should he decide to turn pro.

The first US professional tennis troupe comprised Bobby Riggs, Pancho Segura, Jack Kramer and Dinny, and was managed by Jack Harris. The first match was played on December 26th 1947 at Madison Square Garden on a freezing night, yet with public transport halted due to heavy snowfalls, 16,000 people braved the icy conditions to watch the matches.  Segura and Pails were the support act and after winning the first set 15-13 (Dinny won) their match was called off so Kramer and Riggs could play. In the first 30 days they played 21 matches travelling through out the night by road and rail.  It was a very successful tour.

From the US they travelled to South America to Segura’s home.  In one particular match against Segura, Dinny did not receive any crowd support for any point well played save for one lone woman who, as it happened, was an Australian married to the US Consul based in Guayaquil. He beat Segura in straight sets, a lonely experience in front of a 6000 strong, very biased crowd. As a wage while in the US both Pails and Segura were being paid $300 per week from which they paid their own travelling expenses. Outside the US tours they were to pick up10% a piece. The tour promoter Jack Harris fell out of favor with theplayers and they decided to manage future tours themselves. In the new deal, after travelling expenses were deducted from gross proceeds, Dinny and Segura ended up with 17.5% each, Riggs 25% and Kramer 40% so a much better deal all round.

They decided to tour Australia in October 1948 and Dinny flew home to organise the event which saw them play in all the major cities and large country centres. Spectator reaction was not as good as in the USA mainly because people didn’t believe the matches were being played on a “Fair Dinkum” level, yet reputations and pride were at stake (plus winning also had financial implications in future tour negotiations). During the Australian tour Kramer started the concept of running junior tennis clinics pre the matches to explain the strokes and techniques, so there may be many tennis fans out there still who might recall meeting the first Australian pro tour players with fond memories.

In 1949, they travelled the UK and Dinny tells of his best tennis experience not just on the specially laid wooden court at Wembley stadium, but for the fact that the night featured an orchestra playing before the event and between sets while dinner was served to the guests. The tour continued throughout Europe.

He moved into full time coaching throughout 1950 starting a clinic at Holmescourt Tennis Courts in Sydney and was employed to train with visiting Davis Cup squads.   In 1951, managed by Charlie Sam, Dinny organised an Australia New Zealand pro tour comprising himself, Don Budge, Pancho Gonzales and Frank Parker.

Although, Dinny started with Slazenger, he stayed only a short while before going to Spalding. In 1951, Dunlop introduced a “Dinny Pails” International Model Maxply and later he also joined Hedleys who produced one of the only locally made player photo decal racquets.


Dinny Pails

Dinny with the Hedley photo decal racquet


While attending the 1951 Linton Cup tournament at Kooyong, Dinny wrote a newspaper article expressing great interest in two young 15 year olds lads from Sydney, Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall. He said that these two were better at aged 15 than any former Davis Cup players he could recall, so a telling prediction.  His media exposure was also enhanced by a regular tennis spot on radio station 2FC in Sydney.

In 1953, Dinny travelled to Italy all expenses paid, to train the Italian Davis Cup team,so he certainly enjoyed seeing the World in his career.  One of my colleagues tells the story of Dinny playing in Rome wearing a Scotch College (Melbourne) tennis jumper he purchased in Melbourne prior to leaving. When quizzed that my friend couldn’t recall Dinny at Scotch he had to advise that it was simply a lovely tennis jumper. I gather badging oneself in school colours wasn’t the done thing in those days. Fancy being ‘caught out’ miles away in Rome.

On the home front Dinny, wrote newspaper articles regularly for the Argus.  In 1953, he started to publicly promote pro tennis in a polictical battle with the LTAA. You can imagine the Norman Brookes raised eyebrows when Dinny’s  headline ” The LTAA is out to kill pro tennis” hit the news stands.  The issues related to revenue splitting between the club and pro’s and venue club member entitlements to free or discounted tickets. Often, the pros ended up playing at velodromes and other non traditional venues.

Also reaching the papers in 1953 was the public desire for a “tennis prize fight” between Pails and Frank Sedgman who had also turned professional and was playing the US tour with Kramer. Frank’s response to news reports that Dinny was keen for the challenge was “I’ll accept that when I get a chance and if I can’t beat Dinny then I will give up”!

They both met on a 1953 European pro tour and without all the scores, we think Frank took the honour and again in November 1954 they met in Perth at Australia’s first Professional Tennis Singles Championship, conducted at Subiaco Oval, West Australia.  The tournament included local player / organiser Max Bonner, Ken McGregor, Frank Sedgman, Dinny, Richard Gonzales and Pancho Segura. Frank one the event, defeating Dinny along the way 6-3,6-3, yet Dinny and Sedgman both beat Gonzales which was no mean feat.

Dinny continued to play tennis into the late 1960′s and also worked as a coach including a Nestle sponsored junior development programme.

Dinny aged only 65, died in 1986.

Although many tennis fans will know little about Dinny, if he hadn’t turned pro so early in his career he may well have won quite a few Australian titles. His skill and talent as a self taught player certainly took him to the heights of Kramer, Gonzales & Segura and co. and deserves a prominent place in Australian Tennis.

As a quick “Dinny” tip to players suffering from blisters on the feet, he used Friars Balsam pre match and found that he never experienced the blisters again.

Thanks to Margaret, Dinny’s daughter for assisting with photos and stories.


Dinny Pails Set Points

Dinny’s book Set Points, My Tennis Story.
Currawong Publishing 1952










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