The greatest tennis story: ‘Titanic’

April 2, 2012

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Is the incredible story of two tennis players, Dick Williams and Karl Behr, and how they survived the sinking of the Titanic disaster 100 years ago only to play each other in the quarterfinals of the modern-day U.S. Open tennis championships – with the winner going on to stage a major upset victory in the final – the greatest story in the history of tennis?

The new novel TITANIC: THE TENNIS STORY by Lindsay Gibbs ($12.95, New Chapter Press, tells a narrative tale of Williams and Behr and their incredible stories of survival from the Titanic disaster. The two tennis standouts amazingly survived the sinking and met each other on the rescue ship Carpathia. Two years later, the two became U.S. Davis Cup teammates and again faced each other in the quarterfinals in the biggest tennis tournament in the country, the U.S. Nationals — the modern-day U.S. Open. The winner went on to become the unexpected singles champion of the tournament, winning their first major singles championship with a final-round upset over the world’s best player Maurice McLoughlin — the Roger Federer of this era in tennis.

Behr was one of the best tennis players in the United States when he boarded the Titanic on April 10, 1912. He was a member of the 1907 U.S. Davis Cup team and a Wimbledon doubles finalist that year. In 1912, he was madly in love with Helen Newsom and his courtship brought him to Europe, where he chased after his future wife and her mother, who was disapproving of the relationship. Both Behr and Newsom had return trips to America on the fated ship Titanic. Behr escaped with in a stroke of luck with Newsom and her family on the second life boat. The two became officially engaged a few months after the sinking and were married 11 months after the disaster on March 1, 1913.

Williams was traveling with his father to the United States to enroll in Harvard and was set to begin to test his skills against the top tennis players in the United States. His father was killed when one of Titanic’s smokestacks crushed him, but Williams was able to miraculously survive the night in the cold, icy sea by hanging on to a partially collapsed lifeboat. While on the rescue ship Carpathia, a doctor recommended that his frozen legs be amputated to save his life, but Williams refused and endured enormous pain walking the decks of the ship to restore his circulation. Six weeks after the tragedy, he won his first tennis tournament on U.S. soil at the Pennsylvania State Championships (defeating a young Bill Tilden en route), followed by victories at the U.S. National Mixed Doubles Championships and the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships.

The novel is the first for Gibbs, originally from Greensboro, North Carolina, now a resident of New York. She is a film school graduate of New York University and blogger for Gibbs constructed the novel based on extensive historical research in newspapers, magazines and other periodicals and from historical first-person writings from the era and of survivors. She took creative license with dialogue and personalities and created certain situations in the novel, classified as a work of historical fiction. TITANIC: THE TENNIS STORY is available in print or electronic edition at your local independent bookshop,,, iTunes, Kobo, and elsewhere. It is not currently available in a Kindle edition.