Class of 2000
Contributions to Tennis
Robert Kelleher, who once served as a ball boy at Forest Hills, was rooted in tennis from the outset. As a 20-year-old student at Williams College in 1933, he won both the New England Intercollegiate and Eastern Collegiate Doubles Championships. That playing acumen continued throughout his life. Along with his wife Gracyn Wheeler Kelleher, the pair won the Canadian mixed doubles championship in 1947. He was a three-time U.S. Hard Court 45s doubles champion, and administratively served as the U.S. Davis Cup captain in 1962 and 1963, leading the U.S. to a 1963 championship over Australia.
A graduate of Harvard Law School in 1938, Kelleher was a leading activist in bringing tennis into the Open Era.
As the principal United States Lawn Tennis Association delegate to the International Lawn Tennis Federation, Kelleher, along with Herman David and Derek Hardwick of Great Britain, made Open Tennis a reality in 1968.
"The entrenched people who had been running tennis — nationally and internationally — liked it the way it was," Kelleher told the Los Angeles Times in 2000. “They had the political strength to defeat it several times before. It was a real uphill pull to succeed."
Kelleher revisited his pitch to the executive committee of the United States Lawn Tennis Association in a 1998 interview with the New York Times, explaining that he stated at the time “the status quo must be changed. We don’t think the world-class amateur can live honestly and effectively,” he said.
Kelleher was elected president of the USLTA in 1967 and after his two-year term ended returned to practicing law and was subsequently appointed to the federal bench by then-President Nixon in 1970.
Kelleher was introduced into the International Tennis Hall of Fame by Billie Jean King, who addressed the crowd saying that, “every professional tennis player living should thank Robert Kelleher.”