Chapter Eternal: Tennis champion Richard “Dick” Savitt ’49 – Cornell
Dick Savitt, who won the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 1951 shortly before walking away from a tennis career in his prime, passed into the Chapter Eternal on January 6, 2023.
He remained a lifelong tennis fan but after seeing the prize money that current players were earning in 2011 for holding the same trophies, the 84-year-old quipped, “I may make a comeback and see if I can get a wild card back into the field.”
A natural athlete
Savitt taught himself to play tennis as a teenager when he was a ball boy at the Berkeley Tennis Club in Orange, N.J., mostly by watching some of the game’s greatest players, including Jack Kramer and Bobby Riggs.
He was a natural athlete whose true passion was basketball. Savitt attended Cornell University in 1946 on a basketball scholarship, and was a member of Pi Lambda Phi Fraternity.
Tennis served him well
When injuries hampered his basketball career, he switched to tennis and excelled, becoming Cornell’s team captain.
After college, Savitt ranked in the world’s top 10 four times between 1951 and 1957; and in the U.S. top 10 six times between 1950 and 1959. At the peak of his career, he was ranked No. 2 in the world, and was featured on the cover of Time Magazine.
The magazine described him as “the picture of intent, unsmiling concentration, he smashed serves, laced backhands down the alley and crosscourt, whaled deep forehands to the corners.”
Life after tennis
Savitt started a successful business career after retiring from tennis, working for an oil company before he moved to New York and started in the world of finance.
In a 2011 interview, he reflected on his decision. “In those times, it was different,” Savitt said. “You either kept playing and taking under-the-table type payments, or you ended up teaching at a club. I didn’t want to do that. I had to decide to keep playing a few more years or get out of the game and go to work in a normal position. That’s what I did.”
Savitt was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1976, and the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.