The greatest Jewish tennis player in history, Savitt is a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the only Jew to ever win the Wimbledon singles championship (unless one counts Boris Becker, who did not identify himself as a Jew when he played). Although his first love was basketball (he went to Cornell on a basketball scholarship), Dick made himself into one of the best tennis players in the world in the 1950s. In 1951, after winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon, Savitt was inexplicably left off the U.S. team for the Davis Cup finals, despite being America's top singles player. The U.S. lost the finals to Australia and Savitt was so upset at being snubbed that he retired the following year at the age of 25. Later in the 1950s, he returned to tennis on a part-time basis.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. March 4, 1927
Born in New Jersey, Savitt's tennis career did not truly take off until he was at Cornell University. Self-taught in the sport, he began concentrating on tennis after injuries ended his basketball career. A top-ranked junior, Savitt received international recognition in 1951 when he won the Australian Open and Wimbledon, becoming only the second American to win both Grand Slam events in the same year (Don Budge did it in 1938). That year, Dick was ranked No. 2 in the world, his highest ranking ever (he was in the Top 10 four times). In winning the Australian Open (the first American to win the tournament since Budge in 1938), he defeated the three top Aussies: John Bromwich, Frank Sedgman, and Ken McGregor, then seemed poised to take them on in the Davis Cup later in the year.
Before winning at Wimbledon, Savitt almost lost in the semi-finals to Herb Flam. "Flam had me 6-1, 5-1," Dick recalled to Tennis Week (April 24, 2001). "I had never beaten him and he really had my number. He is killing me and he is starting to laugh because he is beating me so badly...At 5-1 down I won the next game and we crossed the net. I would normally never speak to anybody I was playing when I was crossing courts but I suggested to Herbie that he stop laughing at me or something might happen to him. Losing to him was one thing, but he was taking it a step further." Savitt came back in a furious rally to win the match in four sets. In the final, he bested Ken McGregor (in straight sets) as he had previously done in the Australian Final.
Despite the fact that he was clearly the best American player at that time -- and the best backcourt player in the world -- Savitt was passed over for the Davis Cup final, in which the U.S. would face the powerful Australian team. Coach Jack Kramer chose semi-retired Ted Schroeder to play both singles and doubles, despite the fact that Savitt had just whipped all of Australia's best players. The U.S. lost, 3-2, and a disenchanted Savitt refused to ever play for his country's Davis Cup squad. Savitt seemed to go into a deep sulk and suddenly announced that he would retire following the 1952 U.S. Indoor Championships, which he won.
After retiring, Dick entered the business world and competed only in selected tournaments. He compiled an astonishing record for a part-time player, winning three National Indoor titles (1952, 1958 and 1961), and the South Orange tournament in 1957 with victories over Mal Anderson, Ham Richardson, and Vic Seixas. In 1961, Savitt won the Singles and Doubles (with Mike Franks) gold medals at the World Maccabiah Games in Israel. Dick so enjoyed Israel that he became a coach, twice a year, at the Israel Tennis Centres. He says, though, that the biggest thrill of his tennis career was winning the national Father-Son U.S. Championship with his son Bobby in 1981.
Savitt is now a stockbroker at Salomon Smith Barney in New York City. He still plays tennis four times a week and is an avid follower of current American tennis players. In June, 2001, he returned to Wimbledon to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his great championship triumph. He was enshrined into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1976, and is also a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the New York Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
Bayonne, New Jersey
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Also, read a chapter from The Jew in American Sports by Harold U. Ribalow and Meir Z. Ribalow
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co, 1965)
Tennis Week (April 24, 2001)