American tennis great Tony Trabert, a 10-time major champion and 1970 International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee whose lifelong devotion to tennis was seen across an immense body of work in the sport, has passed away. Trabert died Feb. 3, at the age of 90, at his home in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Trabert’s life in tennis covered just about every stage imaginable — all at the highest levels of the game. As an amateur, he won ten major titles, including three of the four singles majors in 1955. Also that year, he was ranked world No. 1.
Soon after, Trabert turned pro, as he and his fellow pros barnstormed across the world and kept the candle burning for Open tennis — the quest for players to be able to make a living competing as professionals. Later came a term as U.S. Davis Cup captain, Trabert leading the American squad to two titles. For more than 30 years, Trabert was one of the sport’s preeminent broadcasters, most notably as the voice of the U.S. Open for CBS, as well as for Australia’s Channel Nine. He shared his passion for the sport with players of all levels, running a prominent tennis training camp for children. In 2001, he became president of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and served for 11 years, also in the role of chairman of the Hall’s Enshrinee Nominating Committee.
But Trabert’s accomplishments came second to the strength of his character. Trabert was renowned for the class and sincerity he brought to any endeavor. In a sport where factionalism is rampant, Trabert constantly saw the big picture, always possessed of sound logic, kindness and a no-nonsense manner that made him both easy to like and respect.
Current Hall of Fame President Stan Smith, who was on two U.S. Davis Cup teams captained by Trabert commented, “I had big shoes to fill coming into this role after Tony, but that is exactly what Tony’s life in tennis was. He was not only a terrific example to us all on how to be a great champion, but also as a wise coach and mentor, a fair and effective leader, someone who gave back to the sport, and an all-around terrific ambassador for tennis. He was a good friend to me and to so many and he will be greatly missed.”
Born on Aug. 16, 1930, Marion Anthony Trabert came of age in Cincinnati, Ohio. His roots were humble, to the point where Trabert’s father, Arch, took out loans to cover his son’s trips to national junior tournaments. As a youngster, Trabert caught the eye of another Cincinnati native, world-class player Bill Talbert. Impressed by Trabert’s work ethic, Talbert took him under his wing, most notably when the two traveled to Europe together in the spring of 1950. The Talbert-Trabert doubles team dominated the clay circuit that year, capped off with a victory at Roland-Garros.
In 1951, he clinched the NCAA singles championships for the University of Cincinnati, where he was also a starter on the basketball team.
Trabert’s tennis career paused while serving two years in the Navy during the Korean War. In 1953 though, he commenced a productive run that saw him virtually sprint to the top. Between 1953 and ’55, Trabert won 38 singles titles, including five majors. Twice came victories at Roland-Garros (’54 and ‘55) and the U.S. Nationals (’53 and ’55), where he won without the loss of a set. Trabert also won Wimbledon in ’55 without dropping a set, a feat only since accomplished three times by a male champion.
Adding to his 1950 Roland-Garros doubles title with Talbert, Trabert partnered with Vic Seixas to win four more major doubles titles – Roland-Garros ‘54 and ‘55, the U.S. Nationals in 1954, and the Australian Championships in 1955.
Of all Trabert accomplished in his career, he would remain most proud of his commitment to Davis Cup. In two consecutive Davis Cup finals — then known as the “Challenge Round” — versus Australia in 1953 and ’54, Trabert faced the agony and the ecstasy of sport.
In ’53, in Melbourne, the U.S. led the Aussies 2-1. Trabert lost a heartbreaker to Lew Hoad, 7-5 in the fifth set. The next day, Ken Rosewall beat Vic Seixas to clinch the victory for Australia. As Trabert recalled, “In the ceremony afterwards one of the Australian officials said, ‘Yesterday was Lew Hoad’s day and today is Ken Rosewall’s day.’ And when I got on the microphone I said, ‘And I guarantee you next year will be my day.’”
A year later, in Sydney, in front of crowds exceeding 25,000, Trabert and Seixas each avenged their respective singles losses to Hoad and Rosewall. The next day, in the doubles, the Americans sealed the deal.
A skilled and astute broadcaster, Trabert thrived most of all in partnership with Pat Summerall during CBS’ coverage of the U.S. Open. The Trabert-Summerall duo’s most notable effort came on September 8, 1984 – the famous “Super Saturday” at the US Open when the two of them were on the air for 12 straight hours.
In his role as Hall of Fame president from 2001-2011, Trabert was dedicated to refining the work that is at the core of the organization’s mission – celebrating excellence. He gave tirelessly of his time to strengthen the enshrinement processes and set an example of service to the sport that gave him so much. Trabert also stayed active in the sport as the operator of a premier tennis camp for juniors.
Tony is survived by his wife Vicki, son Mike, daughter Brooke, three stepchildren, 14 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.