There's no doubt about who walked away with the honors at the 21st River Oaks Invitation tournament in Houston last week. Tony Trabert, steady off the ground and brilliant at net, roundly trounced his Davis Cup teammate Vic Seixas in the finals, to the tune of 6-0, 6-1, 6-4, making it nine straight in his endeavors this past winter, the longest string of victories in his career. But though this perfectly run tournament added silver to Tony's already impressive collection, it was noteworthy primarily in the way it spotlighted once again one of the most amazing careers in the annals of the sport: the story of Dick Savitt.
A big bear of a man from Orange, N.J., Savitt flashed to the pinnacle of tennis fame a few years ago—and then as abruptly vanished. While still on top and in his prime, he abdicated present and future honors to pursue the inconspicuous role of a Houston oil man. Ever since, he has been a weekend player who only rarely emerges from the anonymity of private play—but when he does, he makes big news. And small wonder.
In 1951 the name of Savitt monopolized the headlines of the tennis world. An aggressive, nervous, often impatient and always overpowering player, Savitt bounded onto the world stage almost in a single year—a decisive year which added control to a style based primarily on power. The combination was invincible: he defeated Australia's great Frank Sedgman and Ken MacGregor on successive days to win the Australian championship, then went on to Wimbledon to win the most coveted of all court crowns. Had it not been for a leg infection which for a time made him a virtual cripple, Savitt would certainly have added the U.S. championship at Forest Hills to his collection for a rare sweep of the world's major titles.
Then, as abruptly as he had appeared on the tennis scene, the tall, darkhaired Easterner announced his retirement from big-time competitive tennis in order, as he put it, "to go to work." This was on February 13, 1952, after barely one year of top-level competition. He lingered long enough to win the national indoor title later that month and to make one more European swing, where his tennis never quite reached the standard of the year before. After that he faded into virtual obscurity.
But last year in his home town of Houston and on the clay surface he likes so well, Dick Savitt staged a comeback and enjoyed one more fling of glory. He faced the nation's top tournament players in the River Oaks tournament and won it, trouncing Hamilton Richardson in the finals.
Savitt's victory created a major stir in tennis ranks. Would he try again for the Davis Cup team? Would he shoot for the national title?
Savitt answered the queries with a firm "no." He planned to remain a weekend player in Houston. He had no aspirations for the big time.
This year, however, he was on the scene again—first at the Dallas Country Club Invitational, then at houston at the River Oaks tournament. And both times he gave the very best men in U.S. tennis a run for their money.
At Dallas, Trabert, playing the finest tennis of his career, had to go all out to beat Savitt 6-4, 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. At Houston, Seixas won over the former Orange, N.J. star 5-7, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3. In each case, Savitt piled up a 2-1 lead in sets, and against Trabert had a 3-1 advantage in the fifth. He might have won both matches if he had been hardened by topflight tennis competition.
A TREMENDOUS SERVICE
Savitt tired visibly near the end of both matches, another result of lack of tough tournament play. Possessor of a tremendous service and excellent ground strokes, he could match either Trabert or Seixas from the back court. He only gave ground when he ventured to the forecourt. He has never been very good at the net, where he appears to be uncomfortable. His volley is not on a par with the rest of his repertoire, which ranks with the best in the game.
I noticed one thing particularly. Against Seixas, with the score one set each and with Savitt leading 5-1 in the third, Dick threw the seventh game to Seixas on Vic's service, feeling he could take his own delivery for the set. He did, but this is bad strategy. A match-hardened player would never do it. Savitt should have tried for the seventh game so he could start the fourth set on his own service.
As captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team, I would like nothing better than to see Dick Savitt make a comeback to the big time. He has no equal among the present amateurs in ground stroke's. He has one of the most potent services in the game. He certainly would be a threat to any player the Aussies could put up. It certainly would be a comfort to our side—added insurance—if Savitt could see fit to slip away from his oil business and swing his racquet competitively again.
He is still young—only 28 years old. He has size and strength for the big game. Perhaps his temperament isn't the best, but this deficiency, if it is such, is more than overcome by his remarkable physical equipment.
If colorful, moody Richard Savitt chose to essay a comeback, there seems little doubt that he would cause discomfort among Uncle Sam's present Davis Cup team of Tony Trabert, Vic Seixas and Ham Richardson. He could easily join the big three and he might even become the head man of the "big four."