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Remembering Vitas Gerulaitis – My Story

I just sat down to read the latest Tennis Magazine and came across the story on the 25th anniversary of the untimely and unfortunate death of one of the game’s most charismatic players. Simply put, Vitas Gerulaitis was my tennis hero, my idol during my early years of tennis. He lived in New York, about 2 hours from where I lived. But more than that, Vitas was a stylish player with a great all-around game with classic strokes. He was a serve and volleyer, who could also hold his own on the baseline. Vitas was very quick, had great finesse, creative skills and charisma that made him a huge fan favorite.

Vitas played during the Golden Era of the 1970’s. Connors, Borg and McEnroe were the big three. Vitas was right there, always challenging, but coming up short. He did, however, win 26 ATP Tour Singles Titles, including 1 Australian Open Title…not too bad considering the level of tennis among the big 3. Kinda like being Andy Murray the last 10 years.

The day I played with Vitas – July 28th, 1987:
I was the Director of Tennis at the legendary John Wayne Tennis Club in Newport Beach, CA. We were hosting the Hartmarx Tennis Classic, an exhibition tournament featuring numerous ATP stars, including Pat Cash, who had just won Wimbledon 2 weeks prior. Needless to say the club was buzzing with excitement. I walked into work on a Wednesday morning, (I was coming in to get some office work done before getting on the court in a couple hours.) I was immediately greeted by our GM, who promptly asked me: “What are you doing right now? Vitas Gerulaitis just walked in and is looking for someone to hit with…are you available?” Well, of course I was, and so I excitedly headed out to court 1 where Vitas was loosening up…there he was was, that bigger than life personality and energy! I introduced myself and we proceeded to have a great warm-up and 1 hour practice session. Vitas was smooth and effortless. He was so quick, but I know I never fully challenged him in any way! Our rallies were steady and rhythmic…I am not sure I ever hit the ball cleaner. It was truly a blast! My only regret: We did not take any photos!


Vitas was very generous with his time, energy and money. He often insisted on paying for everything when he attended events with friends. He bought a lovely home in the Kings Point, Long Island, where his entire family lived. Vitas also broke ground with his Foundation, which helped inner-city kids learn tennis and get inspired. He was one of the first professional tennis players to create a foundation to help kids in need and also grow the sport of tennis. Vitas was an all around great guy with a vision to improve the world!

A Tragic Ending
Vitas’s life was cut short by a bizarre accident, when he was poisoned by carbon monoxide from a faulty pool heater. I was really bummed out by his untimely death…such a tremendous loss, not only because he was on track to have a great career as a Tennis Broadcaster, but he had recovered from personal challenges and had so much to offer. If he were alive today, I am sure he would have a big presence in the game. I often wonder what Vitas would say if he was here today, witnessing another amazing era of tennis!

2 Responses

  1. Lynette Ruth Stewart
    | Reply


    I’m in Melbourne Australia.
    I used to play in Junior Tennis Tournaments’.

    Q can someone tell me did Tennis coach Harry Hopman bring Vitas to play at country grass court tournaments?

    Eg grass tennis courts tournament at Shepparton Victoria.

    Would have been in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s.

    • admin
      | Reply

      Sorry, I don’t know if Harry ever brought Vitas to Shepparton Victoria.

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