Class of 1970
World No. 1 (1953)
Grand Slam Results
10-time major champion, and one-time finalist
Member of the U.S. Davis Cup Team 1951-1955
Member of the 1954 U.S. Championship Davis Cup Team
Captain of the U.S. Davis Cup Team 1976-1980
Led U.S. team to Davis Cup Championship in 1978, 1979
Overall Record: 27-8
Singles Record: 16-5
Doubles Record: 11-3
President, International Tennis Hall of Fame 2001-2011
Not that his place in American tennis history needed any affirmation, but on September 8, 2014, when Tony Trabert was inducted into the USTA’s Court of Champions prior to the US Open men’s singles final, it firmly etched his place in the sports esteemed annals.
As an amateur and professional player, loyal Davis Cup member and captain, and broadcaster extraordinaire, Trabert has been a worldwide tennis treasure for seven decades. It wouldn’t be a reach to suggest that his name is synonymous with the game, given his accomplishments as the No. 1 ranked player in the world in both 1953 and 1955 and the winner of ten major titles – five in singles and five in doubles. Trabert took his keen mind and aptitude for tennis and bundled it into an illustrious career that included two French singles championships (1954, 1955), two U.S. National Men’s Singles Championships (1953, 1955) and one Wimbledon Gentlemen Singles championship (1955). He was denied the chance to capture a calendar year major in 1955 when Ken Rosewall clipped him in the semifinals of the Australian Championships. But his three major titles that year were significant, as only Don Budge (1938), Rod Laver (1962, 1969), Roger Federer (2004, 2006, 2007), Rafael Nadal (2010), and Novak Djokovic (2011, 2015) are the only other male players to accomplish the same feat.
Trabert won his singles and doubles majors with a stylish serve-and-volley game and an adaptable baseline game that featured fundamentally sound technique. Those skills were developed in his native Cincinnati, Ohio, where he lived two houses away from a public park with clay courts that helped him groove his strokes. At age 11 he was winning junior tournaments, though he said was he first began playing, “I wasn’t very good, but there was something fascinating about it – just what it is I don’t think I can answer to this day.” He attended Walnut Hills High School and won the Ohio State scholastic singles title three straight years. As a collegian at the University of Cincinnati, Trabert won the 1951 NCAA Singles Championship. He was a two-sport star in college, also starting on the Bearcats basketball team.
Trabert went a perfect 5-for-5 in major singles championship matches, all five victories coming against different opponents in a tight three year period before turning professional in 1955. As the No. 3 seed he won the U.S. Nationals in 1953 over fellow American Vic Seixas in resounding fashion, 6–3, 6–2, 6–3. The first of two French Championships came in 1954 over Art Larsen, 6–4, 7–5, 6–1. A second title came the following year in a brilliant display of all-court tennis, 2–6, 6–1, 6–4, 6–2 over Sweden’s Sven Davidson. Until Michael Chang won the French Open in 1989, Trabert was the last American to hoist the championship trophy. The 1955 Wimbledon championship followed over Denmark’s Kurt Nielsen 6–3, 7–5, 6–1, and the remarkable run was punctuated with a 9–7, 6–3, 6–3 victory over Rosewall at Forest Hills. The historical significance of winning Wimbledon and the U.S. without dropping a set placed Trabert in rarified company. Trabert won 13 U.S. titles in singles and doubles, and is one of only two Americans, joining Larsen, to win singles championships on all four surfaces: grass, indoor, clay court, and hard court. In doubles play, Trabert was nearly as perfect in championship finals, winning five of six opportunities. He won the French in 1950 with longtime friend and Cincinnati neighbor Bill Talbert, and four additional titles were earned with Seixas, a player that worked hard to groom his doubles game to Trabert’s discerning standards. The duo won the French in 1954 and 1955, the U.S. in 1954 and Australian in 1955. Three of those victories came at the expense of Aussies Rosewall and Lew Hoad (1954 French, 1954 U.S., 1955 Australian).
Trabert blazed through the amateur tour without frills, perks and a travelling entourage. “In our era we did everything ourselves,” Trabert told the Jacksonville Sun prior to the 2014 U.S. Open. “None of us had any money. We got our own practice courts, made our own hotel and plan reservations, didn’t have people to run our errands. It makes you…appreciate what you have when you have to work for everything.”
Trabert played on the U.S. Davis Cup team from 1951-55, helping the Americans reach the challenge round final each year, including a 3-2 victory over Australia in 1954. Trabert appeared on the August 29, 1955 cover of Sports Illustrated prior to upcoming Davis Cup play and provided readers with a glimpse of what made him a tremendous ambassador and sportsman, telling the magazine, “One of the first things my Dad told me about tournament tennis was that I should show up promptly on time. Likewise, I got to feel that the linesmen, the umpires, the ball boys all play a big part in running of a successful tournament, so I always like to shake hands with the umpire, win or lose, and thank him for the job he’s done. It’s a very small thing, but I think it means a lot.” He also served as Davis Cup team captain from 1976-80, helping the U.S. win two Cups in 1978 and 1979, over Great Britain and Italy, respectively.
Trabert’s decision to turn professional was a sign of the times. There was no money to be had in amateur tennis, and in Trabert’s case, he had a wife and two kids to support. “When I won Wimbledon as an amateur, I got a 10-pound certificate, which was worth $27 redeemable [for merchandise] at Lilly White’s Sporting Goods store in London,” Trabert explained in the Jacksonville Sun article. “Jack Kramer offered me a guarantee of $75,000 against a percentage of the gate to play on his tour. I made $125,000 to play 101 matches over 14 months...”
Trabert went on to win the French Pro in 1956 over Pancho Gonzales, 6–3, 4–6, 5–7, 8–6, 6–2, and in 1959 over Frank Sedgman, 6–4, 6–4, 6–4. He also advanced to the Wembley Pro and U.S. Pro finals in 1958 and 1960 respectively.
In his 1979 autobiography, Kramer included Trabert among his 21 greatest players of all time.
Those not steeped in tennis history may only recognize Trabert as a tennis analyst, working the US Open from 1971-2003 for CBS alongside either Brent Musburger or Pat Summerall.
Australian Championships: SF 1955
French Championships: W 1954, 1955
Wimbledon: W 1955
U.S. Nationals: W 1953, 1955
Australian Championships: W 1955
French Championships: W 1950, 1954, 1955
Wimbledon: F 1954
U.S. Nationals: W 1954