Tennis Prose



Remembering Dick Savitt

By Scoop Malinowski

Former Wimbledon and Australian Open champion of 1951 Dick Savitt has passed away at age 95 in New York City. Savitt was born on March 4, 1927 in Bayonne, NJ. At fourteen he taught himself tennis and claims to have never taken a tennis lesson in his life. In 1944 at age 17 his family moved to El Paso, Texas and he was an all state basketball player. He won the Texas Inter-scholastic tennis titles in 1944 and 1945 and earned a national ranking of 8. He attended Cornell University, majoring in economics and played tennis. At age 24 he won Wimbledon in 1951, defeating Australian Ken McGregor in the final 63 26 63 61, and became the first Jewish athlete to appear on the cover of TIME Magazine. Later in 1951 he won Australian Open, again besting McGregor in the final 64 64 64,

Savitt retired from tournament tennis at age 25 and relocated to New York City for business reasons. He worked on Wall Street for Lehman Brothers and Shroders asset management. He would resume competing in the 60s and won three national indoor titles. In 1981, with son Robert, he won a national father-son doubles tournament title. In 1976 Savitt was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI.

Here are some tennis insider memories of the late great Dick Savitt…

Amos Mandsforf: My friend and former team mate, Gilad Bloom, texted me a few hours ago with the sad news.

Dick had a lot of influence on my development as a tennis player. I met Dick for the first time when I was 12 years old on my very first trip to the United States of America. The trip’s goals were to participate in fund raising exhibitions for the ITEC and to play tournaments. We met Dick for the first time on a tennis court situated on a very high floor at a Manhattan office building. The following weekend, we met Dick again at his club, and there we got down to business. It will be way to long to describe all the technical stuff we worked on through the years but the first result from that meeting was moving Gilad and myself from a one handed continental backhand to a full eastern backhand grip. Dick thought that the change will take some time to implement but since it went so smoothly, he recommended that I will add my thumb behind the grip in a fashion common during earlier days of the game. From then on, Dick became my mentor till the end of my career.

I spent many hours with Dick driving to play on private courts owned by his friends. He was tough and demanding and had a very clear opinion on every aspect of the game. He also was a very funny man with a sophisticated sense of humor. He was a real enthusiast of the game. His contribution to Israeli tennis was tremendous.

Robert Evan Kutner: Dick was a great contributor to Israeli tennis and the only Jewish tennis player to win The Australian and Wimbledon championships. As a young kid in New York City and a new tennis player, I was honored to become a ballboy at the US Open. The boys were asked to volunteer for a pro tourney at The Vanderbilt Club in Grand Central Station. Dick Savitt gave all the ballkids a few hours lesson and it was the first time I learned what a volley was. Many years later, I wrote Mr. Savitt a thank you letter for that day and he called to thank me. What a gentleman.

Gilad Bloom: I had the honor of meeting a larger-than-life figure – may his memory be blessed… Dick had an impressive presence, he was tall, with a personality larger than life, he was direct, blunt sometimes, but his tips changed our lives, a year after meeting with him I went from being an anonymous Israeli player to a 12-year-old world champion. Amos Mansdorf, who was two years older than me, also underwent a metamorphosis following the meeting with Savitt and became a world-class pplayer on the way to his wonderful career.

Since that meeting and during our entire careers, Dick has become a mentor for us, a mentor that rolls up his sleeves and gets on the court with us at every opportunity. For many years Dick used to come to Israel twice a year and work with us and the other coaches for ten days at a time.

In addition, during the times we were in New York (at least twice a year) he would come regularly to practice and to all our games during the US Open, he would also come to Florida to watch us.

When I grew up and became a professional the relationship with Dick continued, it was a great privilege to draw information from a player who was in the highest positions in the industry and also came out as a winner, his technical tips, mental and approach to footwork that he gave me are still etched in my head, I quote him almost every day as a coach. By the way, Sweet learned to play tennis by himself, he used to watch the players as a child in a club in New Jersey and the technique he learned from Bill Tilden’s famous book (“How to play tennis better”), a book that was a must for every tennis lover. מט Tilden was the first superstar of tennis in the 1930s (Tilden was also a well-known ball collectors). Dick told me that he saw Tilden play tennis once in WWII when Dick served in the Navy, Tilden came to a demonstration on the other hand to raise the morale of the soldiers.

Dick was one of the greatest tennis lovers ever born and he was in fact a walking tennis encyclopedia. He boasted that since 1955 he had not missed a single day of the US Open in New York, he had a permanent place in the center court stadium and would come to all thirteen days of the tournament every year including night matches. I had the privilege to sit with him and watch dozens of tennis matches, it was a special experience. Dick saw the game change in front of his eyes, the technique, the grips, the training methods, the new racquets, some of the techniques he taught us got a little tired, the new generation plays tennis almost alien. Dick used to get excited every year about the strength and precision of the new generation and especially from the improving athletic abilities, and always continued to follow the changes in the game. I will not forget how when he was already past 70 years old, he came to the court one day and asked me to teach him how to hit topspin, it was a foreign shot to him, of course. And a challenge with the heavy wooden sticks and grips. Back then it was a very rare shot, only in the 70’s players like Bjorn Borg and Guillermo Villas began with this style of topspin tennis.

I explained to him that he needed to hit the ball with racquet head speed. It was strange to him – but when he succeeded he was happy as a little boy. More than anything I learned from him the art of giving and the importance of small details in order to reach a high professional level – he was a student of the game. We went through a lot of experiences together.

It was a great privilege to draw information from a champion player who was in the highest positions in the industry (four times ranked in the top ten). His technical tips, mental and approach to footwork that he gave me are still etched in my head, I quote him almost every day as a coach.

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