Dick Savitt, a self-taught tennis legend who won the Australian and Wimbledon Grand Slam events in 1951 but left the sport a year later to start a business, retiring from competitive tennis at age 25, and going on to work in the oil industry and eventually on Wall Street, passed away on January 6 at his Manhattan home. He was 95.
On Monday, Bob Savitt, Savitt’s son, confirmed his father’s death to The Washington Post.
On Saturday, Columbia University Athletics, who named its tennis complex after Savitt, also posted an obituary for Savitt on their website.
According to The Post, Savitt, a self-taught tennis player, began playing at the age of 13 while working as a ballboy at the Berkeley Tennis Club in Orange, New Jersey.
According to the newspaper, the athlete resided in El Paso, Texas, where he played basketball for a period and earned a scholarship to Cornell University. After serving in the Navy after the end of WWII, he enrolled in college in 1946. A knee injury ended his basketball career, but he went on to have a 57-2 collegiate tennis record before graduating with a degree in economics in 1950.
With his Wimbledon victory the following year, Savitt became the first Jewish player to win the event and the second American to win both Wimbledon and the Australian Open in the same year. According to The Washington Post, Don Budge was the first in 1938.
According to The New York Times, Savitt elected to retire from international play after only a year. He returned to the sport a few years later and went on to win the US National Indoor Championships in 1952, 1958, and 1961.
In 1961, he won gold medals in singles and doubles in the Maccabiah Games, Israel’s Jewish Olympics.
Morris and Kate (Hoberman) Savitt raised Savitt in Bayonne, New Jersey, on March 4, 1927.
Savitt’s first marriage ended in divorce. His second wife, Annelle Warwick Hayes, died in 2013, according to The Times. He is survived by three grandkids and his son, Bob, with whom he won the US Father and Son doubles title in 1981.
During his tenure as a competitor, the amateur tennis scene provided trophies but no financial incentives.
According to The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, after his Wimbledon victory, Savitt was given a shopping voucher for ten British pounds.
“It was different back then,” Savitt told The Star-Ledger in 2011. “You either kept playing and accepting under-the-table fees, or you ended up teaching at a club. I didn’t want to do it. I had to decide whether to continue playing for a few more years or to leave the game and work in a regular job. That’s what I did.”
After retiring in the 1950s, Savitt worked on oil rigs in Texas and Louisiana before becoming an investment banker in New York, according to The New York Times.
Savitt went on to coach several tennis players at Columbia University.
Columbia University’s Campbell Family Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, Peter Pilling, issued a statement saying the school was “very grieved to learn about Dick Savitt’s demise.”
“We shall always remember him as a world-renowned tennis champion who modestly gave of his time and talent to our men’s tennis program,” Pilling said. “His influence on our program and the tennis community will last a lifetime. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.”
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