At the Hall of Fame's recent Legends Ball presetned by BNP Paribas, the late Vitas Gerulaitis, a former top ATP World Tour great was honored with the Eugene L. Scott Award. Given annually in memory of Hall of Famer Gene Scott, the former publisher of Tennis Week magazine, the award honors honors an individual who consistently embodies Gene’s commitment to communicating honestly and critically about the game, and who has had a significant impact on the world of tennis.
Tonight we honor a tennis character who was among the most dynamic the sport has ever known. Vitas Gerulaitis was tragically taken from the world too soon, but 22 years after his death, his legacy stands as having not only been a great champion, but also an impactful ambassador for tennis and a beloved individual.
A New Yorker through and through, Vitas was known to be loud and flashy in the best possible ways. His magnetic personality attracted fans and friends from varying walks of life, drawing a diverse crowd of artists and entertainers to share in his love for the sport.
He donated countless hours to developing the sport’s next generation as well, giving generously of his time to youth tennis development programs through his foundation.
On court, Vitas was among the best of his time. He was ranked world No. 3, won 25 titles, and was a member of a championship U.S. Davis Cup team. In 1977, he became a Grand Slam tournament champion, winning the Australian Open. In the years just prior to his death, he had begun a promising career in broadcasting — the perfect fit for someone bursting with charisma and passionate about sharing the sport with the world.
A mention of Vitas’ name strikes a chord with some of tennis’ most iconic champions. The memories they first speak of are not about his remarkably quick hands at the net. Björn Borg speaks of Vitas oering to practice together after Borg defeated him at Wimbledon. Pete Sampras recalls Vitas picking him up o the locker room floor after a rough US Open loss. And all gravitate toward one theme when remembering Vitas: the sport is better for having been touched by his warm spirit, even if for a short time.