With the 2014 Wimbledon Finals this weekend, it’s worth noting that before Open Tennis in 1968, Vic Seixas (pronounced SAY-shas) was a legendary champion. He won 15 Grand Slam titles including, in 1953, Wimbledon singles and mixed doubles.
Vic was friends with Santa Monica’s tennis icon, Gussy Moran, and often visited here when he played in L.A.’s prestigious Pacific Southwest Championships. He won it three times, all in straight sets and over the likes of Hall of Famers Tony Trabert and Frank Sedgman.
In spite of all his laurels, in 1999, at age 76, Vic worked two shifts as a bartender, morning and afternoon, just to make ends meet. When asked why he did it, Vic replied, “I kind of like to eat.”
As the story goes, Vic was working one day when Wimbledon was on TV. A couple at the bar was skeptical when told by another employee that Vic had played at Wimbledon. After all, one can’t quite imagine a septuagenarian Pete Sampras or Roger Federer having to don a bartender’s outfit and serve drinks for a living.
The couple finally asked Vic if it was true that he had actually played at Wimbledon. “Yes, I did,” Vic said modestly, “I even won it one year.” One just hopes the stunned couple left Vic a decent tip.
Vic, who turns 91 in August, will be watching the Wimbledon Finals on TV. In remarkable shape and ever charming, he doesn’t begrudge the $3,010,000 payday this year’s winners will receive. When Vic won 61 years ago, only amateurs could compete and all he received was a simple silver cup. Vic jokes, “The bigger the trophy, the smaller the tournament, and vice-versa.”
In fact, fifty trophies fill the antique china cabinet in the tiny one-bedroom apartment at the tennis club in Mill Valley where Vic lives alone. (Though he has a girlfriend!) Due to difficult finances in the late 1970′s, he was essentially forced to sell some of his less noteworthy cups and plaques when the price of silver soared.
Just out of curiosity, one afternoon Vic started to add what his winnings would have been during the seven years he played singles and doubles at Wimbledon if it had been in the Open Era. “I was up to about $5 million and I stopped counting. It gave me sort of a sick feeling,” he says, laughing at himself.
Actually, with today’s prizes, Vic’s earnings would have soared over $15 million, not to mention endorsements. At 6’1” and a lean 180 pounds, Vic, handsome and congenial, would have been a likely candidate for commercials. Roger Federer makes an estimated $60,000,000 annually in such endeavors.
Vic’s records in Davis Cup and the U.S. Open (then the U.S. Championships) are staggering. Seixas is 5th all-time in Most Davis Cup Singles matches (24) just behind Bill Tilden (25) and Arthur Ashe (27).
Vic served three times as Captain of the US Davis Cup team and, after years of losing to the dominating Australian squad, he and Tony Trabert won in 1954 over Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall. The matches were played in Australia before 27,000 fans. In total Vic was 38-17 lifetime in Davis Cup.
But Vic’s accomplishments at the U.S. Open are even more impressive, if that’s possible. He played a record 28 years, 24 in a row from 1946 to 1969, also a record. (He missed three years during WW2 where he served as a test pilot in New Guinea, having tested 14 different planes during his military service.)
Vic was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971. But, for a few years, I’ve lobbied for him to be inducted into the U.S. Open Court of Champions, which honors players for their feats at the Open. An honoree receives a beautiful monument which includes his or her photo and highlights of their U.S. Open career. In total Vic won 6 Slams at the Open in singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
This year will mark 60 years since he won the Open singles title in 1954. In fact, that year he also won the doubles and mixed doubles. The latter was with his partner, Doris Hart, who also won the women’s singles and doubles. How amazing is that?
For the past 35 years Vic has attended every Open and plans to do so again this year. What better time to honor Vic Seixas in the Court of Champions than on the 60th anniversary of his trifecta of titles? The forgotten champion should be forgotten no longer.
Jack also writes “Laughing Matters” which appears every Friday. He is at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or firstname.lastname@example.org.