Class of 1971
World No. 3 (1953)
Grand Slam Results
15-time major champion, 7-time finalist
Member of the US Davis Cup Team 1951-1957
Member of the 1954 US Championship Davis Cup Team
Overall Record: 38-17
Singles Record: 24-12
Doubles Record: 14-5
It could be argued, and with factual documentation, that from 1940 to 1968 Vic Seixas was the face of American tennis.
Seixas played in a record 28 U.S. National/Open tournaments, spanning from 1940 to 1969. He played in 24 straight, from 1946 to 1969, setting another U.S. record that he may own for years and years to come. On his 13th trip to the U.S. Nationals and third appearances in the finals in 1954, Seixas won his first and only major singles championship at Forest Hills, defeating Aussie Rex Hartwig, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.
Seixas called himself a “frustrated baseball player,” and those who had to face him may have wished he pursued that sport instead of tennis. In his lengthy career, he won 15 majors: two singles championships, five doubles championships, and eight mixed doubles championships.
At 6-foot, 180 pounds, the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-born Seixas relied on fitness, in particular his strong legs, to bolster his tennis game. Conditioning was paramount for Seixas, he saw it as equally important as his topspin forehand and slice backhand. There were players who were more mechanically sound than Seixas, but few who had his spirit, emotion, and tenacity. His perseverance and fight were difference makers and those who played him left exhausted, both mentally and physically. His supreme health kept him playing into his 40s, and led him to win a marathon match against a player 20 years his junior. At 42, he played 94 games over four hours to defeat 22-year old Aussie Bill Bowrey, 32-34, 6-4, 10-8, during the 1966 Philadelphia Grass Championship in his hometown. At the 1966 U.S. Nationals, the 43-year-old Seixas was the oldest entrant in the tournament, and he defeated 19-year-old Stan Smith, 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 2-6, 6-4.
Seixas’s 13 major doubles titles were earned due to his attacking style, one that was built on exceptional volleying and quickness around the net. Once Seixas got to net, he was as good as any player in the game.
During World War II, Seixas served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps. When he returned stateside in 1946, Seixas enrolled at the University of North Carolina. During his three-year career playing for the Tar Heels, Seixas won 63 of his 66 singles matches, and as a junior in 1948 advanced to the NCAA Singles Championship match. That season he earned All-American honors.
Seixas played in an era when trophies were awarded, not prize money, and expenses to cover travel from tournaments were modest.
He was a quarterfinalist at the 1950 French and a semifinalist at Wimbledon that same year. In 1951 made he his first U.S. National Championship Men’s Singles final, knocking off No. 4 seed Ken McGregor in the fourth round and most impressively bouncing No. 1 seed Dick Savitt in the semifinals, 6-0, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, to reach the championship match against No. 2 seed Frank Sedgman of Australia. By the final, Seixas had run out of gas and lost, 6-4, 6-1, 6-1.
The 1953 and 1954 seasons were Seixas’s most successful. In 1953 he was a semifinalist at the Australian, a finalist at both the French and U.S. Nationals, and won the Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Singles Championship as the No. 2 seed. To reach the finals against Denmark’s Kurt Nielsen, Seixas had to defeat a pair of difficult Aussie foes, hard-charging Lew Hoad and left-handed all-courter Mervyn Rose. His confidence high and game clicking on all cylinders, Seixas knocked off Nielsen in three sets, 9-7, 6-3, 6-4.
“To me, Wimbledon will always be the crowning jewel in tennis,” Seixas said. “It’s the one tournament every player would most like to win. It was also the first major that I won so it’s was really important to me. If Lew Hoad had a great day, he could blow you off the court. Rose and I played each other’s backhand, and I had the edge because mine was slightly better. Against Nielsen, I was attacking the net and he had a hard time passing me because he stood way behind the baseline and I felt there was no way I he could beat me from there.”
Buoyed by his sensational 1953 season, Seixas was a quarterfinalist at the Australian, French, and Wimbledon in 1954, and then captured the U.S. National singles championship that summer. Seixas was the No. 3 seed and Hartwig the No. 8 seed, so a final between that pair seemed unlikely. As the tournament’s last three rounds unfolded, Hartwig appeared though he’d risen through the draw to become the underdog champion, defating No. 1 Tony Trabert and No. 4 Ken Rosewall in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. He took the first set off Seixas, 6-3, and then in a dramatic turnaround, Seixas stepped up his attacking style and blitzed Hartwig 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.
“Hartwig did me a favor,” Seixas says. “He put out both Tony Trabert and Ken Rosewall, and either of those guys would have been a lot tougher for me to beat than Rex was in the final. In turn, Ham Richardson beat Lew Hoad, and Ham was not as difficult for me to play as Hoad would have been at his best. I got the right draw, but I am not belittling what I did to win the tournament.
In doubles at the same tournament, Seixas’s fitness and conditioning paid dividends, as he teamed with Tony Trabert to defeat Hoad and Rosewall, 3-6, 6-4, 8-6, 6-3 and then joined forces with Doris Hart to win the mixed doubles title over Rosewall and Margaret Osborne duPont, to complete a rare triple at the U.S. Nationals.
Though a major singles finalist five times, Seixas found his comfort zone playing doubles, and won five titles: one with Rose (1952 U.S. Nationals) and four with Trabert (1954 French, 1954 U.S., 1955 Australian and 1955 French). He also won four consecutive Wimbledon mixed doubles titles (1953-56) with two different partners (1953, 1954, 1955 with Hart, 1956 with Shirely Fry).
Until John McEnroe arrived on the scene, Seixas played more Davis Cup matches than any other American in history, winning 38 of 55 singles and doubles matches during his seven years on the squad (1951-57). He helped lead the U.S. to the finals each year against Australia, and in 1954 teamed with Trabert to win his only Davis Cup championship over the Aussies in Sydney.
Seixas, who won 56 singles championships in his amateur career, was never swayed toward turning professional. He was ranked in the U.S. Top 10 thirteen times between 1942 and 1966, setting the first longevity record of a 24-year span between first and last appearances. He reached a high of No. 3 in 1953.
Australian Championships: SF 1953
French Championships: F 1953
Wimbledon: W 1953
U.S. Nationals: W 1954
Australian Championships: W 1955
French Championships: W 1954, 1955
Wimbledon: F 1952, 1954
U.S. Nationals: W 1952, 1954
French Championships: W 1953
Wimbledon: W 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956
U.S. Nationals: W 1953, 1954, 1955