Remembering Tim Gullikson... 20 Years On

Today, on the 20th anniversary of his passing, family members and leading figures in the tennis world pay tribute to Tim Gullikson

Husband. Father. Twin. Brother. Son. Mentor. Sportsman. Coach. Tim Gullikson impacted so many lives. His smile, his presence radiated and made anyone feel special. He had tremendous integrity, principles and uncommon decency.

Tim never asked, ‘Why me?’ as he underwent 42-day bouts of chemotherapy to shrink brain tumours. He maintained such a good, positive attitude. As his health worsened, he wasn’t bitter, angry or did not pity himself. He never gave up.

He loved life.

“He lived with brain cancer, he didn't die from it,” says his identical twin, Tom Gullikson. “He was the best friend I'll ever have, and 20 years on it's still painful. I miss him. We were so close.”

“Timmy and Tommy were really blessed,” remembers Rosemary, Tim’s widow. “They were the best of friends, with no agenda, unconditional love. Two sides of the same coin.

“Their mother, Joyce, once told the story of how Timmy and Tommy once received the same shirts as presents. They had a rocking chair in their bedroom and Tom used to put Tim's shirt underneath to hide it. Tom would wear his shirt, then put Tim's shirt on once it got dirty. After a few washes, there was a noticeable difference in quality. When Tim found out, he wasn’t concerned.”

It was perhaps inevitable the twins became sportsmen. Eight tennis courts and a practice wall lay across the road from their house in La Crosse, Wisconsin. “Perhaps relieved to get rid of twins with a lot of energy, our mother signed us up at age five to the local summer tennis programme, behind the 25-foot high fencing,” recalls Tom, five minutes older than Tim. “We’d play basketball in the winter, also baseball and football, but from the age of five to eight we played tennis all day in the summer and became very good.” Adds Rosemary, “They hated to lose to one another.” In their pro careers, they finished 2-2. Even. No scope for teasing.

Tim and Tom didn’t receive any formal lessons growing up, they didn’t enter any national championship. But they later received full scholarships to Northern Illinois University, where they played Division I tennis. In late 1973 as Rosemary, one year younger, continued her studies, Tim moved to Dayton to take up a teaching pro's role at the Kettering Tennis Center. “It was the first time we were separated,” admits Tom. “After graduating in December 1973, I stuck around for a year coaching the college team at Northern Illinois, prior to going to Chicago and a tennis club near Crystal Lake.

“Tim was winning all the local tournaments for teaching pros and came across Hank Jungle, who dominated the 35 & over division. He told Tim, ‘You're too good to be a teaching pro, without trying to make it on the main tour.’ Hank organised sponsors and got him out on tour. After quitting his job in 1975, Tim went from teaching to the Top 100 in 12 months.

“At that time, I was teaching at a Club and my wife and I were saving money for a house. When I saw what Tim had done, I thought I had a shot too, so I used the deposit money and sponsored myself to play on tour. I quit my job in May 1976 and by May 1977 I was in the Top 50. I think Tim and I are the only players, who have been teaching pros, to break into the Top 100.”

Rosemary, who’d met Tim over lunch with friends in the student union at Northern Illinois, recalls, “Tim and Tom drove to most places in the States. I gave up as a registered nurse once we married and picked up work in press rooms as part of the Colgate and Volvo Grand Prix circuits. I wrote a column for Tennis Magazine and worked for Thomas Cook, organising travel for various players.”

Together, ‘TimTom’ or ‘Gully’, if you were unsure of who you were speaking to, captured a then brothers' record of 10 tour-level titles, came through a ‘divorce’ in 1981 and later reached the 1983 Wimbledon final, where they lost to Peter Fleming and John McEnroe. “The twin thing is very real,” says Tom. “You have an extra sense, an intuition; when we were on court together we knew what shot the other would play.”

Individually, 26-year-old Tim was named ATP Newcomer of the Year in 1977 and two years later, with his wonderful serve and volley game, he beat McEnroe en route to the Wimbledon quarter-finals. He attained a career-high No. 15 in the Emirates ATP Rankings on 1 October 1979, and won a total of four singles and 16 doubles titles prior to retiring after the 1986 US Open.

Tom remembers, “He liked to have consistency in his lifestyle. At times he was a little extreme, but he felt it was right for him. He wanted to be a better player and searched for his tennis game.” Says Rosemary, “When he was playing he wanted to learn about the game as much as he could. He has so much competitive spirit. He was very disciplined and achieved a level of focus, an insatiable quest to be a great player, to play a great game and ultimately coach.”

Coaching was a natural progression. Tim was a natural, inquisitive and caring, professional and prepared. “Tim had great coaching instincts, built on relationships, trust and mutual respect,” recalls Tom, who carved out his own highly successful coaching career. “It's about caring for the player. Often you get a player's respect by not just telling them how much you know, but how much you care. Tim had the most amazing personality and charm. If you spoke to him for 30 minutes, you'd think he was your best friend. He was so outgoing.”

“Tim always wanted to be a coach, teaching was in his blood,” says Rosemary. “I remember so many dinners when he'd end up demonstrating to someone with a spoon how to hit a forehand.”

“We both did a lot of corporate events and I remember an outing in Indian Wells,” says Tom. “We had been scheduled to finish at 11:30 a.m., and I had left the court. But where was Tim? He was on court with one from the group, helping him strike a forehand. His proudest moment was being a Dad to Erik, who took foreign studies at Northwestern, and now lives in Cork, Ireland, and Megan, who is married. But his proudest tennis moment was probably having the ability to make a player out of anyone.”

Tim was always in demand. “He studied psychology, picked the minds of Jim Loehr, Robert Lansdorp and others to get better, to learn,” says Rosemary. “There was never a lull.” Barbara Potter, his first pro pupil, once stated, "The only thing that is arrogant about Tim is that he feels he can make anyone better."

Martina Navratilova looked to Tim in 1987, at a time when she was aiming to usurp a German teenager, Steffi Graf, at No. 1 in the WTA Rankings. "I worked with Tim for a year as I was without a coach after my work with Dr Renee Richards and Mike Estep. I think Tim was too nice - too nice a guy to play tennis. He was such a gentleman. I kept having to ask him to work me harder - like I said - too nice. But what I learned from Tim was that I didn't have to be perfect all the time and to be nice to myself!"

Tim went on to work with Mary Joe Fernandez and for four years with Aaron Krickstein. “Tim helped me with my net game and serve,” remembers Krickstein. “He forced me to be more aggressive, giving me the outlook that I could challenge for a Grand Slam title one day. He pushed me, but he wasn't a task master. I knew his personality and we liked to hang out together on the practice court, at meals. Tim was an all-round good guy and character. He was a great coach and friend, and had a positive attitude.”

Then came Pete.

Read: Remembering Tim... 20 Years On (Part II)