Savitt, Richard

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SAVITT, RICHARD (Dick ; 1927– ), U.S. tennis player, the only Jew ever to win Wimbledon, Pete *Sampras excepted; member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Born in Bayonne, New Jersey, Savitt taught himself tennis as a 14-year-old, and reached the finals of the New Jersey Boys Championship. In 1944, his family moved to El Paso, Texas, where Savitt was co-captain of his high school basketball team and became an all-Texas player. At the same time, he ranked eighth nationally among junior tennis players and was the 17th ranked amateur overall. Savitt joined the Navy in 1945 and played on its basketball team, completing his tour of duty the following year. Cornell University offered him a basketball scholarship, but Savitt decided, after injuries cut short his hoop career, to concentrate on tennis. In 1947, he was national ranked 26th, and two years later he moved up to 16th. In 1950, Savitt won the Eastern Intercollegiate, East Clay Court, and New York State tournaments, and without the benefit of coaching he reached the semifinals of the U.S. Championship at Forest Hills. He then won the Australian Open, defeating the three top Aussies – John Bromwich, Frank Sedgman, and Ken McGregor – and on July 6, 1951, Savitt won the All-England championship at Wimbledon, defeating McGregor 6–4, 6–4, 6–4. After the tournament, Savitt and Herb Flam were named to the U.S. Davis Cup team, the first time that Jewish players ever made the squad. But inexplicably – and despite his being clearly the best American player at that time, even making the cover of Time magazine on August 27, 1951 – Savitt was passed over for the Davis Cup final against the Australian team, a controversial decision that was discussed by sports writers all over the world. The following year, Savitt was so upset at being snubbed that he announced he would retire from competitive tennis following the 1952 U.S. National Indoor Championships, which he won. He returned to tennis on a part-time basis in 1956, and won the 1958 and 1961 U.S. National Indoor Championships, making him the first to win three times. In 1961, Savitt won the singles and doubles (with Mike Franks) gold medals at the Maccabiah Games, which began a lifetime commitment to Israeli tennis. In 1981, he and his son, Robert, won the U.S. father and son doubles title. Savitt was ranked six times in the U.S. Top Ten between 1950 and 1959 (No. 2 in 1951), and four times in the World Top Ten between 1951 and 1957 (No. 2 in 1951). He was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1976.

[Elli Wohlgelernter (2nd ed.)]