South African duo Winslow and Kitson were both friends and foes during the 1912 Games – winning the outdoor doubles tennis competition together but going head-to-head in the final of the singles event.
The British-born Kitson, in particular, was a highly experienced player. He had just turned 38 when the tournament in Stockholm began and had competed at London 1908, falling in the second round of the singles to Great Britain’s George Caridia and seeing his doubles partnership with Victor Gauntlett thwarted at the quarter-final stage. In addition, he had won three South African championships. Winslow, who had also been born in Great Britain before emigrating, was just 23 but came of good sporting stock – his father, Lyndhurst Winslow, had been a cricketer for Sussex.
The singles and doubles events were played simultaneously between 28 June and 5 July. They had originally been scheduled to begin a day later but were moved forward, according to the Official Report, “in order not to be obliged to hurry the matches and unnecessarily fatigue the players”. No British players took part in the outdoor events, as the event clashed with the Wimbledon championships.
Winslow and Kitson both won their first-round singles matches in straight sets, with Kitson repeating the trick in the second round. Winslow was given a small scare by Dane Axel Thayseen, but progressed to the third round in four sets and faced another Danish player, Vagn Ingerslev. He defeated Ingerslev in straight sets, sealing a place in the quarter-finals, while Kitson achieved the same when comfortably beating the German Heinrich Schomburgk.
Things tightened up at the quarter-final stage. The Official Report states that Winslow had to “do all he knew” to defeat Ludwig Heyden, another German, in five sets by 6-2, 6-4, 8-10, 4-6, 6-3. Kitson beat Austria’s Ludwig von Salm far more comfortably and now the pair were just a semi-final victory apiece from meeting.
This time it was Kitson who was detained the longest, fighting out a thrilling match against Bohemia’s Ladislav Zemla-Razny. It “was really the first time [Kitson] had met with any opposition during the course of the competition,” says the Official Report.
“Five sets were played and if Kitson had played less carefully, the result would probably been very doubtful.” Eventually he won 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 and secured a final against Winslow, who had a far easier time in beating a seemingly fatigued Oscar Kreuzer, from Germany, in straight sets.
“Kitson is the safer player, while Winslow is more brilliant,” said the Official Report of the pair, and brilliance won the day. “The game was a beautiful exhibition of lawn tennis, both men playing with the greatest care, Kitson devoted himself to long, swift drives; Winslow, on the other hand, playing very short, and seeming to have a partiality for a forehand stroke with a tremendous back-screw which often brought the ball in close to the net.”
The younger man showed the greater endurance, winning 7-5, 4-6, 10-8, 8-6 and taking his first gold medal.
Joint success would arrive in a doubles competition that was weakened by the absence of two leading German and Swedish pairs, leading the Official Report to conclude that Winslow and Kitson were left “really without any competitors”.
They had few difficulties in winning gold, and lost just one set – against Hungarians Bela von Kehrling and Jeno Zsigmondy – on their way to the semi-finals. Progress to the final was ensured when they beat Zemla-Razny and Jaroslav Just by 4-6, 6-1, 7-5, 6-4.
The final was a slightly nervy affair against Austrian players Arthur Zborzil and Felix Pipes. Winslow and Kitson took “some time before they found themselves”, according to the Official Report, and lost the first set 6-4. But they rallied to take the next three sets in comfort – 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 – and proved that their status as favourites for the title had been thoroughly merited.
An indoor tennis competition took place in Stockholm too, although the field of entrants was much smaller and neither Winslow nor Kitson competed. Instead, the standout performer was Frenchman Andre Gobert, who won the singles event and then teamed up with Maurice Germot to take gold in the doubles.
The veteran Winslow had, effectively, ended his career on a high with this title, but Kitson still had a little more left to give– winning another South African title in 1913.