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Titanic: The Tennis Story

Survivors square off in match

May 5, 2012
By REGINA M. ANGELI - Books Writer , The Daily News

As this past month of April has marked the one hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, there have been many books and articles relating to this tragedy.

Yet for sports enthusiasts, and tennis fans in particular, there is one more interesting chapter related to the doomed ship.

Lindsay Gibbs has penned a novel based on the story of tennis players Dick Williams and Karl Behr, who had survived the greatest maritime disaster in history and went on to play each other in the quarterfinals of the U. S. Nationals tournament, the forerunner to the United States Open.

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Her book, "Titanic: The Tennis Story," relates one of the most extraordinary stories in the annals of tennis. (New Chapter Press Publisher,, 242 pages)

In what is her first novel, author Gibbs blends the factual accounts of Messrs. Behr and Williams with a deft stroke of imagination to produce a very readable story of survival and triumph over tragedy.

Karl Behr had been a member of the 1907 U.S. Davis Cup team and had played at Wimbledon when he boarded the Titanic. His relationship with Helen Newsom (his future wife) became the tabloid fodder of the day as papers couldn't get enough of the tragedy.

Karl made it into a lifeboat after helping a number of women, including Helen and her mother into the craft. Dick Williams survived the sinking by clinging to one of the collapsible lifeboats.

The ordeal left him with such extreme hypothermia and frostbite that a physician aboard the rescue ship Carpathia suggested that he should have his legs amputated to save his life. Williams refused and doggedly worked his painful limbs, refusing to give up his athletic career in deference to his greatest supporter, his father, who had perished in the tragedy.

Just six weeks from this dire prognosis, he would be playing in a tennis tournament. As fate would have it, Williams would meet Behr in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Nationals in 1914.

Her revelation that the ship was going 75 knots when it encountered the iceberg must be a misprint as that is simply too fast for such a vessel. Nonetheless, Gibbs has made a very decent literary debut in this tale of the Titanic tragedy and tennis.



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