Class of 1980
World No. 1 (1956)
Grand Slam Results
13-time major champion, 10-time finalist
Member of the Australian Davis Cup Team 1953-1956
Member of the Australian Championship Davis Cup Team 1953, 1955, 1956
Overall Record: 17-4
Singles Record: 10-2
Doubles Record: 7-2
Lew Hoad played on the amateur tour just six years, from 1951 to 1957, before turning professional. His statistical record and list of accomplishments during that time period reads like a player with three times that longevity. He appeared in 23 major finals, winning 13 across singles, doubles, and mixed doubles competition. He was part of an endless brigade of talented Australian players who owned this tennis era. Hoad was cut from a slightly different cloth from his mates however, as his game was not as silky smooth as Ken Rosewall, or all-court refined like Rod Laver, or multifaceted like Meryvn Rose, Adrian Quist, or Ashley Cooper. He was strong and powerful, quick to pounce on a shot – more like Ken McGregor and Frank Sedgman – but Hoad lacked the patience necessary to stay in a rally for the long haul. He thrived on winning points (and matches) as quickly as possible, and for a six-year stretch did just that.
His talents were considerable; he possessed a full array of shots, but they were fostered solely on hard hitting, there was no finesse in his game. Hoad was a well-built and muscular 5-foot-8, 175 pounder who was adept enough to win on the fast grass courts in London and New York and even the slow courts in Paris. The Aussies had their home grand slam tucked in their back pocket, winning 17 of 19 possible championships from 1950 (when Hoad joined the amateur tour) to 1968 (the time the Open Era officially began). It would take a mighty fine player to garner just one championship – they just weren’t easy to win – and Hoad earned his title in 1956, defeating his longtime doubles partner Rosewall, 6–4, 3–6, 6–4, 7–5. It atoned, in some fashion, for losing to Rosewall in the 1955 final, 7–9, 4–6, 4–6.
After the 1956 victory at the Australian, tennis got very interesting for the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and handsome Hoad. He arrived in Paris as the No. 1 seed and slugged through difficult third and fourth round victories, settled nicely for straight set wins in the quarterfinals and finals, and then defeated Sweden’s Sven Davidson, 6–4, 8–6, 6–3, for his second major singles championship. Next came Wimbledon. Hoad earned the No. 1 seed, but the road was arduous. The quarters and semis against fellow Aussie Mal Anderson and then U.S. star Ham Richardson were grinding four set victories that led to a final against Rosewall. Hoad played a brilliant match, holding off a surging Rosewall, 6–2, 4–6, 7–5, 6–4. One championship (the U.S. Nationals) and one player (Rosewall) stood between Hoad and a Grand Slam. Rosewall who shared six major doubles championships with Hoad, had shared a unique lifelong bond. They were friends, rivals, competitors, and Davis Cup teammates. Their playing styles were as disparate as a rock and an egg, which raised the tension at Forest Hills to palatable levels. The U.S. Nationals proceeded as anticipated, but in a modest upset, No. 2 Rosewall upset No. 1 Hoad, 4–6, 6–2, 6–3, 6–3.
Doubles competition padded Hoad’s Hall of Fame resume. He won three titles in Australia (1953, 1956, 1957) and Wimbledon (1953, 1955, 1956), one each at the French (1953) and U.S. Nationals (1956). All but 1955 with Aussie Rex Hartwig and the 1957 Australian with Neale Fraser were won with Rosewall. He captured the 1954 French mixed doubles with Maureen Connolly. In 1957, Hoad had one final swan song before departing for the lure and $125,000 signing bonus of professional tennis organized by Jack Kramer. He won his second straight Wimbledon Gentlemen Singles championship as the No. 1 seed trouncing compatriot and No. 2 seed Ashley Cooper, 6-2, 6-1, 6-2. Since the Open Era, a scant few have retained their Wimbledon title, a mark of a great champion: Hoad, Laver, John Newcombe, Björn Borg, John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic.
The professional tour, which many traditionalists labeled as a circus, pitted Hoad against reigning champion Pancho Gonzales. Hoad had a long history having a bad back and it plagued him throughout the first two years of his professional career. Gonzales considered Hoad the “toughest, most skillful adversary” that he ever played. "He was the only guy who, if I was playing my best tennis, could still beat me,” Gonzales told the New York Times in 1995. "I think his game was the best game ever. Better than mine. He was capable of making more shots than anybody. His two volleys were great. His overhead was enormous. He had the most natural tennis mind with the most natural tennis physique."
Hoad was a finalist in eight pro events, winning the Tournament of Champions in 1959 over Gonzales. His losses in finals at the US Pro, French Pro, and Wembley Pro all came against his nemesis Rosewall (five times and three straight at the Wembley Pro in 1961-63) and new adversary Gonzales twice at the US Pro (1958-59).
The true mettle of an Aussie is service to the Davis Cup team. Hoad was no stranger to international competition. He played four times (1953, 1954, 1955, 1956), leading Australia to championships in 1953, 1955, 1956, and compiled an impressive 17-4 record. In December 1953, Australia and the United States played a classic challenge round match at Kooyong, which the Aussies won 3-2. Hoad knocked off Vic Seixas, the defending Wimbledon champion, in the first singles match. Rosewall was beaten by defending U.S. champion Tony Trabert. The Seixas and Trabert doubles pair defeated Hoad and Rex Hartwig, which left Hoad in a must-win situation against Trabert. A light rain had made the grass court slick, so both players wore spiked shoes to assist with traction. It was as epic a match as the Davis Cup had witnessed, with Hoad securing the win, 13-11, 6-3, 2-6, 3-6, 7-5. Rosewall notched the victory with a four-set win over. Trabert had later said that the Americans had been beaten by “two babes and a fox,” a reference to the wily captaincy of Harry Hopman.
In his 1979 autobiography, Kramer ranked Hoad as one of the 21 best players of all time. Hoad, who had been in ill health in his later years, and was suffering from leukemia, died of a heart attack at age 59. For 30 years, Hoad had lived in Spain with his wife, Jenny Staley Hoad, who reached the final of the Australian Championships in 1954. Hoad was ranked in the world Top 10 five straight years (1952-1956), reaching No. 1 in 1956.
"He was the first of the charismatic players we saw in the 50s," Hoad’s former Davis Cup teammate Fraser told the New York Times after learning of his colleague’s death. "He produced a brand of tennis that was exciting, different to everyone else and a joy to watch."
Australian Championships: W 1956
French Championships: W 1956
Wimbledon: W 1956, 1957
U.S. Nationals: F 1956
Australian Championships: W 1953, 1956, 1957
French Championships: W 1953
Wimbledon: W 1953, 1955, 1956
U.S. Nationals: W 1956
Australian Championships: F 1955
French Championships: W 1954
Wimbledon: SF 1953, 1954, 1955
U.S. Nationals: F 1952, 1956