Three former Minnesota tennis standouts heading to hall of fame

by Nick Gerhardt

The United States Tennis Association inducted three former University tennis players into the Northern Hall of Fame on July 20.

Bernie Gunderson, Dave Matthews and Jack Thommen joined the list of the 15 other Gophers honored in the hall.

The award is given to people who have contributed to the game throughout the years as a player, coach, teaching pro or volunteer, USTA Northern communications director Lisa Mushett said.

The three make a great cross section of Minnesota tennis and how it has developed over the years.

Gunderson started playing tennis when he was 9 years old and played for Minnesota from 1947-48. He said at that time things were a little different.

“The tennis program wasn’t as organized as it is now,” Gunderson said. “We practiced on our own and played against each other, but we didn’t get much coaching.”

After playing his sophomore and junior years for the Gophers, Gunderson concluded his college career in Duluth and remained active in tennis in a variety of ways.

Gunderson played well into his ’70s and took home four titles, including his last in 1999.

Matthews came to Minnesota after a successful high school career at Edina, where in 1967-68 he won back-to-back state-doubles championships.

He played from 1971-72 for the Gophers and served as co-captain in 1971. He won the Big Ten consolation championship playing at No. 2 singles and also finished as a semifinalist at No. 1 doubles.

At that time mostly Minnesota players comprised the team, but out-of-state players started to join the program.

“I think we had one out-of-state guy on the team that came to play hockey but ended up becoming our No. 1 singles player,” Matthews said.

Matthews said the tennis program was big in the 1970s, but it wasn’t as strong as it is today, considering last year’s squad advanced to the NCAA tournament.

Four members of that team hailed from a different country, which goes to show the growth of the Gophers tennis.

While there is a recent influx of foreign-born players coming to Minnesota, another hall of fame inductee is trying to develop in-state talent.

Jack Thommen established himself as a premiere Minnesota player in the 1940s and 1950s. He advanced to the state championship in high school in 1944 and 1945 and he won the doubles title in 1946.

He attended Gustavus Adolphus College where he won the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship.

In that match Thommen faced two-time defending champion Bucky Olson. Olson won the first two sets 6-2, 5-0 and led 40-0 in the first game of the final set before it started raining. After the rain stopped Thommen created a storm of his own en route to victory and the MIAC title.

Thommen then came to the Gophers and became a letter-winner for the Gophers from 1951 to 1953.

Later, he helped start the Urban Tennis Program, which later became Inter City Tennis, a program designed to teach tennis to children and to have instructors act as mentors.

Gunderson said he still follows the tennis team and is excited to see how the team will perform next season with head coach Geoff Young entering his second season.