Class of 1967
When Bill Talbert was 10-years-old he learned he had diabetes, a condition that causes high blood sugar levels. While it was suggested that he stay away from contact sports, he didn’t abandon athletics. He turned full force toward tennis, becoming a major champion and a role model for others with the disease.
As both a player and administrator, Talbert was a fixture at the U.S. Nationals and later the US Open. He was a singles finalist twice, a doubles champion five times in 10 appearances, and won five mixed doubles titles in seven attempts. He became the Open’s Tournament Director from 1971 to 1975 and from 1978 to 1987.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Talbert played collegiately at the University of Cincinnati. His playing style made him the ideal all-court player – he had grooved groundstrokes, strong net play, and a great mind for strategy and tactics. He competed regularly on the amateur circuit, winning the 1942 Newport Casino Invitation Tournament in a fascinating match over the talented Ted Schroeder, 6-4,6-3, 4-6, 3-6, 8-6. He reached the finals of the 1943 Pan American Championship, losing in five rigorous sets to Pancho Segura, won the 1943 Cincinnati Open over Seymour Greenberg (6-1, 6-2, 6-3), and was a semifinalist at the 1943 U.S. Nationals, bowing to eventual champion Joe Hunt in four sets. Talbert was stockpiling impressive performances, experience and improving his game, all indications that a major championship was nearing.
The time nearly arrived at the U.S. Nationals in 1944, when as the No. 3 seed Talbert reached the finals after a rousing 6-3, 3-6, 0-6, 8-6, 6-3 victory over Segura in the semifinals. He faced fellow American Frank Parker, the No. 4 seed, and Parker played a special match in winning 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. The following year, Talbert was right back in the mix, aided by a slew of top seeds (all except Segura) being bounced from the draw early. Once again, Talbert needed to send Segura packing, which he did in much easier fashion, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4. Parker was the looming obstacle in the final and in the first set held off a furious Talbert challenge, 14-12. With Talbert reeling, Parker won the next two sets 6-1, 6-2 for his second straight U.S. National Men’s Singles Championship.
Talbert won 13 additional U.S. championships, including Clay Court singles in 1945 and Indoor Singles in 1948 and 1951. He was ranked in the U.S. Top Ten 13 times between 1941 and 1954, rising to No. 2 in 1944 and 1945. In world rankings, he broke into the Top 10 in 1949 and 1950, holding down the No. 3 spot in 1949. Talbert was not quick to depart Forest Hills empty-handed. He teamed with Gardnar Mulloy to win four titles (1942, 1945, 1946, 1948), none of them coming in straight sets; all hard-earned. During his men’s doubles run, he tacked on four straight U.S. Mixed Doubles Championships with partner Margaret Osborne duPont (1943-46), a record that remains intact. He did cop one international major, the 1950 French Championships alongside Tony Trabert, defeating Jarsolav Drobný and Eric Sturgess, 6-2, 1-6, 10-8, 6-2.
In his New York Times obituary, Mulloy said, “He played the forehand, I played the backhand, and if I was the power behind the partnership, he was surely the stylist up front. Billy was the greatest doubles player we ever had, and he was a great friend; for 10 years there wasn’t another American team that could beat us.” From 1946 to 1957, every United States Davis Cup roster had Talbert’s name listed in some fashion. From 1946 to 1953 he was a celebrated player, helping the Americans win titles in 1946, 1948, and 1949, each coming over Australia in matches played at the West Side Tennis Club. The Americans won decisively, thanks in large part to Talbert’s combined 9-1 singles and doubles record. From 1953 to 1957, he became team captain, helping the U.S. defeat Australia, 3-2, at White City Stadium in Sydney in 1954.
As an official with the US Open, Talbert helped transition the event from Forest Hills to Flushing Meadows, and was a staunch advocate of adopting the sudden-death tiebreaker. His tennis career led him to serve as a commentator for NBC Sports and become an author of several tennis books, the most notably being The Game of Doubles in Tennis co-written with Bruce Old in 1977. The first edition of his autobiography Playing for Life was published in 1959.
French Championships SF 1950
Wimbledon QF 1950
U.S. Nationals F 1944, 1945
Australian Championships QF 1947, 1954
French Championships W 1950
U.S. Nationals W 1942, 1945, 1946, 1948
French Championships F 1950
U.S. Nationals W 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946