Class of 1976
Grand Slam Results
2-time major champion and 2-time finalist
Member of the 1951 US Davis Cup Team
Overall Record: 3-0
Singles Record: 3-0
In a career that lasted less than a decade and ended prematurely at age 25, Dick Savitt amassed a lot of milestones and memories. He was a decorated intercollegiate player, a two-time major singles champion, and appeared on the cover of Time Magazine.
Savitt’s ascent to tennis stardom, one that saw him win both the Wimbledon and Australian singles titles in 1951, took an unusual path. Savitt holds the esteemed distinction of being one of only four American men to win both the Australian and Wimbledon singles titles in the same year, joining immortals Don Budge (1938), Jimmy Connors (1974), and Pete Sampras (1994 and 1997).
Those victories earned Savitt another rarified honor: On August 27, 1951, he became the first Jewish athlete ever to grace the cover of Time Magazine. It came on the heels of him being the first Jewish athlete to win both of those fabled championships.
Born in the working class suburb of Bayonne, New Jersey, Savitt gravitated toward basketball – his first love – and tennis was an afterthought. His family moved to the Texas-Mexico border town of El Paso where he became an All-State hoopster in 1944. He taught himself tennis as a second sport and won the Texas Interscholastic League boys singles title in 1944-45 and was ranked as the 17th best amateur in the United States. Basketball remained his passion, however, so when Cornell University offered him a basketball scholarship, he traipsed back East to pursue his hardwood career.
After injuries ended his basketball career, Savitt switched to tennis at Cornell. His collegiate tennis playing career was impeccable, and not forgotten by his alma mater. Long after his graduation the student newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun, continued to chronicle his exploits. The athletics web site contains a brief biography that calls Savitt a major reason Cornell enjoyed a golden era of tennis from 1947-50. Playing for a team that went 51-8, Savitt compiled a 57-2 record as a four-year starter and the No. 1 singles and doubles player. He won the Eastern Collegiate Singles Championship in 1949 and 1950 and the doubles title from 1948-50. Savitt was an NCAA quarterfinalist in singles in both 1947 and 1949. A mere two years later, he took the tennis world by storm.
The 6-foot-3 Savitt played a slew of amateur tournaments as both a collegian and after graduation before making his first concerted splash. He won the New York State Championships in July 1950, coming back from a 2-0 sets deficit to defeat Don McNeill, 11-13, 4-6, 9-7, 6-1, 6-4. A week later, he disposed Edward Moylan in similar fashion at the Pennsylvanian Lawn Tennis Championship, 3-6, 9-11, 6-2, 6-1, 6-2. It paved the way for a brilliant run at the U.S. National Championships where Savitt arrived without a coach and advanced to the semifinals, pushing Art Larsen all over the court despite losing, 6-3, 10-8, 7-9, 6-2.
At the 1951 Australian Championships Savitt defeated native son Ken McGregor, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, 6-1, to win his first major. In July, he needed just 61 minutes to thump McGregor at Wimbledon, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, in one of the shortest finals ever on Centre Court. He continued his stellar play, one rooted in competitive zeal coupled with a big serve and an unyielding backcourt game to advance to the semifinals of the U.S. Nationals, where he ran into a bulldozer, Vic Seixas, and lost 6-0, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Additionally, Savitt played in two French Nationals doubles finals with Gardnar Mulloy.
Savitt was destined for further stardom as a member of the United States Davis Cup Team, leading the squad into the 1951 championship round against Australia. Controversionally, Savitt was not allowed to compete against the Aussies, who he had dominated previously in two Grand Slam events. Without Savitt in the lineup, Australia defeated the United States, 3-2.
In January 1952, Savitt advanced to the Australian semifinals, but was unsuccessful in defending his title. McGregor applied sweet revenge, 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, en route to defeating Frank Sedgman for the championship. In February 1952, Savitt defeated Bill Talbert 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 to win the U.S. National Indoor Championships, but then walked away from tennis. In numerous media interviews, he declined to provide details on his shocking decision, but it has been widely speculated it emanated from his Davis Cup snub. Savitt did make a modest, but effective comeback, winning the Indoor Championship in 1958 and 1961, becoming the first player to cop the championship three times. In 1961 he won singles and doubles Gold Medals at the Maccabiah Games held in Tel Aviv, Israel.
In his heyday, Savitt was one of the best American players on the circuit; six times in the Top 10 from 1950 to 1959. Between 1951 and 1957, Savitt was ranked in the world’s Top 10 four times, rising to No. 2 in 1951. Many thought he earned the No. 1 ranking, but inside factions were swayed to vote otherwise, an unfortunate footnote in Savitt’s career.
Savitt’s award shelf was replete with honors. He was inducted into the Cornell University Athletic Hall of Fame (1978), the International Jewish Hall of Fame (1979), the Intercollegiate Tennis Hall of Fame (1986), and the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame (1998).
Post tennis, Savitt had oil business interests in Louisiana and worked for several firms on Wall Street.
Australian Championships: W 1951
French Nationals: QF 1951, 1952
Wimbledon: W 1951
U.S. Nationals: SF 1950, 1951
Australian Championships: SF 1951, 1952
French Nationals: F 1951, 1952
Wimbledon: SF 1951