Tony Trabert, who won five Grand Slam tournament titles in a single year, 1955 — three in singles and two in doubles — making him the world’s No. 1 men’s player for a second time, died on Wednesday at his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. He was 90.
His death was announced by the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I., where he was inducted in 1970.
A sturdy 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Trabert drew on a powerful serve-and-volley game and an outstanding backhand in capturing the 1955 men’s singles at the French, Wimbledon and United States championships and teaming with Vic Seixas to take the men’s doubles at the Australian and French events. He had also been ranked No. 1 in 1953.
Only Don Budge, who won all four men’s singles majors in 1938, and Rod Laver, who matched that feat in 1962 and 1969, have exceeded Trabert’s 1955 singles accomplishment, a mark that has been matched by several others.
Trabert, who won 10 career Grand Slam tournaments overall — five in singles and five in doubles — was described by the tennis journalist and historian Bud Collins as “the all-American boy from Cincinnati with his ginger crew cut, freckles and uncompromisingly aggressive game.”
Trabert played on five Davis Cup teams in the 1950s and was later the captain of five American squads.
Tennis was largely an amateur affair in Trabert’s heyday. In October 1955, 13 years before the Open era, when pros could compete against amateurs, Jack Kramer signed Trabert to a contract guaranteeing him $75,000 to join his professional tour; over the years the tour also included stars like Pancho Gonzales, Pancho Segura and the Australians Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad and Frank Sedgman.
“I never have — or never would — admit to a weakness, because I don’t think I have a particular weakness,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1955.
“I think I can play equally well with any shot,” he continued. “It’s not overconfidence or bragging. I know my capabilities and my limitations. I certainly know that because I’m reasonably big, I can’t be as quick as some of the smaller fellows who run around the court and get a lot of balls back defensively. So, quite simply, my game is that I make up in power what I lack in speed.”
He went on to be a tennis commentator for CBS for more than 30 years and was president of the Tennis Hall of Fame from 2001 to 2011.
Marion Anthony Trabert was born on Aug. 30, 1930, in Cincinnati, to Arch and Bea Trabert. He began hitting tennis balls at a neighborhood park at age 6. His father, a General Electric sales executive, arranged for him to take lessons from local pros when Tony was 10. Two years later, Bill Talbert, a neighbor 12 years his senior and also a future Hall of Famer, began giving him tips.
“I could see in him a duplicate of myself at the same age — an intense desire to be a good player and a willingness to spend the long hours to make the grade,” Talbert wrote in “The Fireside Book of Tennis” (1972, edited by Allison Danzig and Peter Schwed).
Trabert won the Ohio scholastic tennis singles title three consecutive years while at Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati, where he also played basketball.
He teamed with Talbert to win the doubles title at the French championship in 1950 and captured the 1951 N.C.A.A. singles tennis title while at the University of Cincinnati.
Trabert also played guard for the Bearcats’ basketball team, which went to the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden in March 1951 (at a time when the tournament carried more prestige than it does today) before losing in the first round.
He joined the Navy during the Korean War and served aboard an aircraft carrier.
Trabert won the men’s singles at the United States Nationals in 1953 and the French singles in 1954 before his three singles victories at Grand Slam events in 1955.
After being defeated by Rosewall in the semifinals of the 1955 Australian singles championships, the first of the four annual Grand Slam tournaments, Trabert won the French championship at Roland Garros, on clay, and then won Wimbledon and the United States Nationals at Forest Hills, both on grass. He did not lose a single set at either of those two tournaments.
He also won the 1955 U.S. Indoor and Clay Court titles. In addition to winning the doubles in Paris with Talbert, he won four doubles titles in Grand Slam tournaments with Seixas.
Trabert played on America’s Davis Cup teams from 1951 to 1955. He made it to the 1952 event while on a Navy furlough.
The United States lost to Australia in the 1951 and 1952 finals, but an especially wrenching defeat came at Melbourne in 1953. The U.S. was leading Australia in the final, 2-1, but Hoad and Rosewall, both in their teens, beat Trabert and Seixas. The Americans did defeat Australia at Sydney in the final the next year.
While Trabert was captain of the American squad from 1976 to 1980, he guided two cup winners.
He is survived by his wife, Vicki; a son, Mike, and a daughter, Brooke Trabert Dabkowski, from his marriage to Shauna Wood, which ended in divorce; three stepchildren, Valerie Mason and James and Robbie Valenti; 14 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
Looking back on his career, Trabert expressed no regrets about turning pro and disqualifying himself from further Grand Slam events before the arrival of the Open era.
“When I won Wimbledon as an amateur, I got a 10-pound certificate, which was worth $27 redeemable at Lilly White’s Sporting Goods store in London,” he told The Florida Times-Union in 2014. “Jack Kramer offered me a guarantee of $75,000 against a percentage of the gate to play on his tour.
“I made $125,000 to play 101 matches on five continents over 14 months. People say, ‘Yeah, Tony, but bread and milk was five cents.’ I say, ‘Give me Agassi’s $17 million and I’ll figure out the rest.’”
Alex Traub contributed reporting.