Class of 1957
World No. 2 (1916)
Grand Slam Results
6-time major champion, 5-time finalist
Gold Medal in Mixed Doubles at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games (w/Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman)
Member of the U.S. Davis Cup Team 1913, 1914, 1921, 1923, 1925, 1926
Member of the U.S. Championship Davis Cup Team 1913, 1921, 1923, 1925, 1926
Overall Record: 10-3
Singles Record: 6-3
Doubles Record: 4-0
The International Tennis Hall of Fame is replete with stories of great athleticism, fortitude, perseverance, and dedication. Richard Norris Williams, 2nd stands alongside fellow inductee Karl Howell Behr in surviving the sinking of the RMS Titanic, which struck an iceberg and sank on April 15, 1912.
Published accounts report that as the Titanic was rapidly filling with water, Williams leapt forty feet into 20-degree water on urging from his father, who perished in the ill-fated tragedy. Williams clung to a makeshift lifeboat and was rescued by the RMS Carpathia. Williams’ legs were frostbitten from being submerged in the icy ocean for hours. When a physician aboard the Carpathia suggested amputating both of the legs, Williams was stoutly against such a drastic medical procedure. "I’m going to need these legs," he reportedly said, and walked the deck until sensation returned.
Twelve weeks after miraculously surviving the disaster, Williams and Behr played each other in the fourth round of the Longwood Challenge Bowl just outside of Boston. Williams was a rising star, Behr was at the tail end of his career. At Longwood, Williams initially overpowered Behr with his athleticism, taking the first two sets 6-0, 9-7. The savvy Behr, however, made the adjustments necessary to capture the next three sets and the victory. The Boston Globe reported the next day that “if one of the 1,500 spectators went away dissatisfied, he was indeed hard to please,” but no one mentioned the fact that the two men survived the disaster three months prior.
Williams, who was born to American parents in Geneva, Switzerland, won championships in collegiate, national, and international competitions, developing an impressive resume. As an undergraduate at Harvard, he won the 1913 and 1915 Intercollegiate singles titles and added doubles titles in 1914 and 1915. The 5-foot-11 Williams was a graceful shot-maker who won the first of two U.S. National Men’s Singles Championships in 1914 over Maurice McLoughlin, 6-3, 8-6, 10-8. It was sweet revenge for Williams, who had been drubbed by McLoughlin in four sets the previous year. Williams won his second U.S. Nationals title in 1916, dispensing William Johnston in an unevenly played five-set match, 4-6, 6-4,0-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Williams was a force in doubles competition, winning the U.S. Nationals Mixed Doubles Championship with Mary K. Browne in 1912 and winning back-to-back U.S. Men’s Doubles Championships with Vinnie Richards in 1925 and 1926. With Chuck Garland, Williams earned the Wimbledon Gentlemen’s doubles title in 1920. A fixture on the Davis Cup Team, he helped the United States win the Cup five times, posting a 10-3 overall record, and with brilliant volleying compiled a perfect 4-0 mark in doubles. Williams played brilliantly in the mid-1920s, winning a Gold Medal in mixed doubles at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, France with Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman. The sum of Williams’ career was daunting: He made the world’s Top 10 from 1912-14 and 1919-23. In the U.S. alone he was ranked in the Top 10 all but one year from 1912-25.
“At his best he was unbeatable, and more dazzling than Tilden," wrote New York Times tennis writer Allison Danzig.
Wimbledon: SF (1924)
U.S. Nationals: W (1914), W (1916)
Wimbledon: W (1920)
U.S. Nationals: W (1925), W (1926)
Wimbledon: QF (1924)
U.S. Nationals: W (1912)