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Medal record
Competitor for  United States
Maccabiah Games
Men's tennis
Gold 1961 Israel Men's Singles
Gold 1961 Israel Men's Doubles

Richard "Dick" Savitt (born March 4, 1927) was a 6’3" and 185 pound right-handed American male tennis player. He is one of the three American men to win both the Australian and British Championships in one year (following Don Budge, 1938, and preceding Jimmy Connors, 1974).

Contents

Tennis career

Born in Bayonne, New Jersey, Savitt never took a tennis lesson in his life. The self-taught Savitt played tennis well enough to make the finals of the New Jersey Boys Championship and, for two years afterwards, the National Boys Tennis Tournaments before moving up to the junior ranks. His first love was basketball, however, and as co-captain of his El Paso, Texas high school basketball team he was an all-Texas player in 1944 when his family moved to Texas. A year later, Savitt entered the Navy and played on an outstanding service basketball team. At the time, despite considering tennis his "second" sport after basketball, he was the ranked 8th nationally among junior tennis players and the 17th ranked amateur overall.

When he completed his tour of duty in 1946, Cornell University offered Savitt a basketball scholarship. When two injuries cut short Savitt's basketball career, he decided to resume playing tennis, which he had taught himself as a 14-year old boy. Without benefit of coaching, in 1950 Savitt reached the semifinals of the U. S. Championship at Forest Hills. Savitt was elected for membership into the Sphinx Head Society at Cornell during his senior year.

In 1951, Savitt won the Wimbledon Singles Championship, the Australian Singles title, and was the number 1 player on the United States Davis Cup Team.

In his prime, Savitt was considered the greatest back-court player in the game, and was ranked 2nd in the world in 1951.

The Cornell University graduate ranked four times in the World's Top 10 between 1951 and 1957 –– No. 2 in 1951; and six times in the U.S. Top 10 between 1950 and 1959––No. 2 in 1951. Interestingly, the player ranked ahead of Savitt on the 1951 U.S. list, Vic Seixas, was ranked No. 4 in the world, two spots below Savitt. It should also be noted that Savitt did not compete 1953-55.

Although at the top of his game, Savitt abruptly retired from competitive tennis after winning the 1952 U.S. National Indoor Singles Championships. Although he has never publicly discussed his sudden retirement, it was considered most likely the result of a never-explained snub by the United States Davis Cup coaching staff.

"In those days, to be Jewish in the top ranks of tennis was to encounter a certain amount of prejudice.... when Dick Savitt won Wimbledon, his right to a place on the Davis Cup team was challenged in some circles because he was Jewish."[1]

Savitt had played and won his three early 1951 Cup matches, winning 9 of 10 sets, en route to leading the American team into the championship round against Australia.[2] American Davis Cup coach Frank Shields, however, did not permit him to compete against the Aussies whom, only months earlier, he had dominated at Wimbledon and in Australia. He had trounced Australia's top seed Ken McGregor in three straight sets to win at Wimbledon and won the Australian Singles championship, becoming the first non-Aussie to win that title in 13 years. Ted Schroeder, who had lost all three of his Davis Cup matches while losing 9 out of 10 sets in the process the year before and was in semi-retirement, was chosen instead. Without Savitt playing singles, and with Schroder losing two of his three matches, the United States lost the 1951 Davis Cup to Australia.

The controversy spilled over into the next year, at the annual meeting of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association when the national rankings were discussed. In its tentative rankings the U.S.L.T.A. put Savitt at number 3. As it was reported, "the loudest talker was Frank Shields, non-playing captain of the losing U.S. Davis Cup team. Shields had ignored Savitt in the Davis Cup matches, had put his confidence in aging (30) Ted Schroeder ... who turned out to be the goat of the series. Shields was intent on keeping Savitt ranked ... at No. 3. Cried Shields: 'Never once in the past three months has Savitt looked like a champion. Not only that, but he was not the most cooperative player in the world while we were in Australia, and his sounding off brought discredit to the game. He was not a credit either as a player or a representative of America.' Shields's outburst brought a tart answer from Don McNeill, onetime (1940) national champion. Amid resounding applause from the assembled delegates, McNeill pointed out that players are ranked on their tennis ability, and personal prejudice should have nothing to do with ranking. The ranking committee, ignoring Shields's remarks, proceeded to raise Savitt from No. 3 to 2. After the heated session, one of the longest (five hours) in U.S.L.T.A. history, President Russell B. Kingman tried to restore a touch of dignity to tennis. Choosing his words with due care, Kingman called Shields's outburst 'most unseemly.'[3]

In February 1952, Savitt announced that he would play one more tournament, the National Indoor Championships, and then retire from tournament tennis—at age 25. As his farewell statement, Savitt won the championship.

Savitt returned to the competitive tennis scene part-time in 1956, and though his limited tournament competition prevented him from receiving an official ranking, he was nonetheless considered the number one player in the United States. In 1958, Savitt moved back to New York for business reasons and launched a part-time comeback in tennis. That year, he won his second National Indoors title, and in 1961 he captured his third — while remaining a weekend player

Among Savitt's major victories are the 1952, 1958, and 1961 U.S. National Indoor Championships. He was the first to win that crown three times.

In 1981 he and his son, Robert, won the U.S. Father and Son doubles title.

Style of play

He hit a booming serve that his opponents found difficult to return. Savitt was also enormously competitive. His contemporaries described him as almost driven, a man who hated to lose.

Maccabiah Games

In 1961, he won both the Singles and Doubles (with Mike Franks) Championships at the World Maccabiah Games in Israel. He remains highly active in the Maccabi movement.

Halls of Fame

He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1976.

Savitt, who is Jewish, was also inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1979.

He was inducted into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Men's Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame in 1986.[4]

Savitt was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1998,[5] and into the USTA Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame in 1999.[6]

References

He was inducted into the Cornell University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1978.

External links








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