Cincinnati native Tony Trabert passed away on Feb. 3 at the age of 90 at his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Born Marion Anthony Trabert on Aug. 16, 1930 at Christ Hospital, Trabert’s introduction to tennis came at Bond Hill Park, which was at the end of his childhood street.
The youngest of three boys, a lot of time was spent playing all sorts of games at the park. “I remember my dad saying to us, I want to keep you involved in sports so you don't have time to be a drugstore cowboy,” Trabert explained in a 2014 interview.
At the age of six, Trabert first started hitting on the public park’s clay tennis courts. He gradually spent more and more time at the courts, not just playing but also to drag and line them.
When many of the city’s best players came around for an after-work match, Trabert would be there, looking for any opportunity to be a ball boy or to run across to the deli to get a drink for the players. If anyone was early, Trabert would be able to hit a few balls with these adult players.
Trabert was a fixture on the courts. He recalled that junior permits cost $.50 for the year, but juniors could be run off by anyone with a senior permit. So his father bought him a $1.00 senior permit to ensure his court time would not be interrupted.
At 10, Trabert played his first local tournament at Eden Park, losing 6-0, 6-1 to the 15-year-old top seed. Years later, Trabert would learn his opponent let him win that one game, and Trabert said he often tried to do the same as his level progressed.
Eventually Trabert’s game would take him to other courts around the city, including lessons at Camargo Country Club and Cincinnati Tennis Club. He also called the “Triangle” courts at the intersection of William Howard Taft and Reading Roads his “home” courts because it was easy for his father to pick him up after his day of work at General Electric downtown.
As a 12-year-old, Trabert met a fellow Cincinnatian who would have a significant influence on him – Bill Talbert. Talbert noticed Trabert when he arrived for a match at the Cincinnati Tennis Club. Talbert stopped to offer advice to the young Trabert about punching at his volleys rather than swinging.
Trabert was “thrilled to death” to have met Talbert, who was 12-years his senior. Trabert stayed on the court that day to perfect his volleys. When Talbert had completed his own match, he noticed Trabert was still on the court working and decided to take the younger Trabert under his wing.
At Walnut Hills High School, Trabert was a three-sport athlete, playing tennis, basketball and volleyball. He did not lose a tennis match during his time there, winning three straight state titles.
Trabert stayed local to attend the University of Cincinnati and played basketball as well as tennis for the Bearcats.
During his second year at UC, Trabert was invited by Talbert to travel to Europe to be his doubles partner. There were conditions placed on their arrangement, including Talbert insisting that Trabert not only promise to return to UC to get his degree but that the school’s president, Raymond Walters, had to give his blessing.
Both stipulations were met, and the duo found quick success, claiming the 1950 French Open among their titles together that season. Beyond the on-court success, Trabert credited Talbert with teaching him a great deal during their time together.
“He taught me so much more than just tennis,” Trabert said. “Social things. Write a thank you note. Those things kept me in great stead over the years.”
Talbert would not accept money from Trabert for the trip, instead telling the young up-and-comer to “do something right” for another player.
Trabert did return to UC, making the most of it, starting on the basketball team that advanced to the 1951 NIT. While on the tennis court, he won the 1951 Intercollegiate singles title and reached the doubles final.
Shortly after that college success, Trabert earned a milestone win, defeating his friend, idol and mentor Talbert to win the Tri-State Tennis Tournament, what is today called the Western & Southern Open.
Soon after, Trabert was drafted and did two years in the Navy Reserve, including 16 months on the aircraft carrier Coral Sea until June 1953.
After getting out, Trabert played himself back into shape. His summer success included the second of his two Tri-State titles before winning his first singles Major at the U.S. Championship in Forest Hills. Trabert did not drop a set in that tournament and defeated reigning Wimbledon winner Vic Seixas in the title match.
In 1954, Trabert added a second Grand Slam tournament singles title at the French Open.
A five-time member of the U.S. Davis Cup team, Trabert helped the team defeat Australia to bring home the Cup in 1954, winning singles and doubles in the final just days after Christmas in Sydney. Trabert described winning that team title as the “highlight of my career personally.”
A few weeks later, the 1955 season began with the Australian Championship where Trabert lost in the semifinals to Ken Rosewall.
From there, Trabert would complete one of the greatest single seasons in tennis history to reach the No. 1 ranking among amateur players. He played 23 tournaments, winning 18 singles titles with a record of 106-7. He also added more than a dozen doubles titles that season, including his fourth at the Tri-State. The success landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated in August 1955.
In Grand Slam play, that Australian Open loss was his only blemish as he repeated at the French, then won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Championship without dropping a set.
At the time, Trabert joined Don Budge (1938) as the only man to have won three Majors in a single season. They would later be joined by Rod Laver (1962, 1969), Mats Wilander (1988), Roger Federer (2004, 2006, 2007), Rafael Nadal (2010) and Novak Djokovic (2011, 2015).
In all, Trabert was 5-0 in Major singles finals and 5-1 in doubles title matches. He said it “sticks with me” that he did not win either an Australian singles or Wimbledon doubles title in his career.
After that sensational season, Trabert turned professional, playing with Jack Kramer’s tour until 1963. Late in his touring days he would help Kramer run the pro tour.
Upon retirement from competitive tennis, Trabert worked with a friend in the hosiery business. In 1970, he began his own business running junior tennis camps.
In 1971, Trabert began a three-decade career as a broadcaster covering tennis and golf for CBS Sports. For many years, Trabert and Pat Summerall were the voices for the US Open.
In the late 1970s, Trabert spent five years as captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team, working with players like John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors and leading the United States to a pair of titles.
“It was fun to do that, but it was not the same thrill as when we won as a player,” he said.
Trabert was also the author of four books – “Trabert on Tennis: The View from Venter Court,” “Winning Tactics for Weekend Tennis,” “The Serve: Key to Winning Tennis” and “Tennis Past 50.”
Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1970, Trabert would serve as that institution’s president from 2001-11.
Trabert has five children, 14 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. He and his wife of more than 30 years, Vicki, eventually settled into Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., though he said, “I've always felt very strongly about Cincinnati as home.”
The University of Cincinnati has twice honored Trabert. First, in 2006, the school recognized him as well as his mentor by naming its new tennis facility the Trabert-Talbert Tennis Center.
In 2007, Trabert was honored alongside former Bearcat basketball great Oscar Robertson with an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
On his 90th birthday in August, Trabert recorded the voiceover for a video called “It’s Time” that was released by the Western & Southern Open on the eve of the 2020 tournament.
“I was fortunate to accomplish what I accomplished, but it's not unique,” Trabert said. “A lot of people have done it. But it was a heck of a trip.”
Links to other stories
Hall of Fame bio: https://www.tennisfame.com/hall-of-famers/inductees/tony-trabert
ATP Tour on his 90th birthday with excerpt from Bud Collins: https://www.atptour.com/en/news/atp-heritage-trabert-90th-birthday
Cincinnati Enquirer (2018) https://www.cincinnati.com/story/sports/2016/01/15/tennis-legend-tony-trabert-enjoying-retirement/78864774/