In a profile written four years ago, we called Pete Sampras the Greatest Tennis Player Ever. Since then, the title might have passed to Roger Federer (Rafael Nadal? Novak Djokovic? Get in line, kids).
But maybe, just maybe, if not for a possibly antisemitic coach, Dick Savitt could have made a claim.
In 1950, Savitt, without any coaching, reached the semifinals of the US Tennis Championship (now the US Open). In 1951, he won the Australian Open. And Wimbledon. And became the first Jewish athlete to appear on the cover of "Time". And was a shoe-in for the American Davis Cup team.
Or so it seemed.
For Frank Shields, the Davis Cup coach, for some reason hated Savitt. The US made the finals against Australia, but Savitt, who dominated the competition in the preliminarily rounds, and had an exemplary record against Australians (not to mention his TWO major titles in one year), was, for some reason (antisemitism was always suspected), left off the roster. Savitt's replacement was trounced, and the Americans lost the title.
Shields (did we mention that he was also an alcoholic who beat his wife?) then led a campaign to deny Savitt the top US ranking (remember, TWO major titles he won. TWO!). Savitt was so distraught that he... retired, putting an end to a short yet brilliant career, other than a small comeback late in the 50s.
So no, Savitt wasn't the Greatest Tennis Player Ever. Thanks a lot, Frank Shields. But, since Sampras is only a quarter Jewish himself, we'll settle for Savitt being the Greatest Jewish Tennis Player Ever. Not too shabby, when you think about it...