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The man who put Miami tennis on the map surpasses a century

Senior statesman of the tennis world, Gardnar Mulloy, J.D. ’38, is the first International Tennis Hall of Famer to hit 100. Photo by Art Seitz

Gardnar Mulloy’s blade-thin frame could endure no more. Weary of the pounding he was taking as a member of the University of Miami’s freshman football squad, he marched into President Bowman Foster Ashe’s office one day and asked if he could change his scholarship to a different sport: tennis.


Photo courtesy

There was only one problem: UM, at the time, had no tennis program. So with Ashe’s approval, Mulloy, J.D. ’38, started one. “I knew all of the best players,” he says.

He scheduled matches with Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia. “Everybody laughed at us. They said we couldn’t schedule such schools because we’d get killed. But I knew we had a talented team,” recalls Mulloy, now 100, with remarkable clarity.

When he launched the University’s tennis program almost 80 years ago, Mulloy knew he had weather on his side. “While the schools up North couldn’t get out to practice until the snow melted, we were able to practice year-round,” he says. “I knew we could beat them.” And so they did, winning a college championship in 1936.

Mulloy’s career from that point on was storybook. He reached the 1952 U.S. Open men’s final, losing to Frank Sedgman; teamed with Billy Talbert to win four U.S. Open men’s doubles titles; captured the 1957 Wimbledon doubles championship at age 44 with Budge Patty; and helped the United States win three Davis Cup championships against Australia.

When he launched the University’s tennis program almost 80 years ago, Mulloy knew he had weather on his side.


Photo by Art Seitz

Known as the “silver fox,” Mulloy played the senior circuit well into his 90s. His decades-long competitive career yielded more than 127 national championships and 25 international titles, No. 1 U.S. and No. 6 world rankings, and admission to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1972.

But Mulloy insists his greatest pride came during his brief interruption from the sport, when in World War II he skippered a landing ship tank (LST), seeing action in the North African and European invasions. “I don’t know why it’s never gotten its due,” Mulloy says of the LST, an amphibious naval vessel. “The destroyers and submarines could do only one thing, but the LST could do it all. We brought in troops, supplies, and tanks. We were a hospital ship. It could even carry the complete components to build an airport practically overnight.”

Still, most people want to hear about Mulloy’s exploits in tennis, a game his father taught him on the backyard clay court of their Miami home. Today, he says, tennis is different. “There’s no net play,” he gripes. “I don’t enjoy the game as much, but I watch it anyway.”

As UM’s head tennis coach, Mulloy recruited the likes of Pancho Segura, ’45, who won NCAA singles titles in 1943, 1944, and 1945. Segura, now 92, is among the Tennis Hall of Fame’s ten oldest surviving members, as is 88-year-old Doris Hart, ’48, also of UM. Mulloy, who lives in Miami with his wife, Jackie, is its most senior.

Last April, when a section of road in his neighborhood was renamed Gardnar Mulloy Way, former pro tennis player and UM coach Kim Sands, B.Ed. ’78, summed up Mulloy’s enduring legend thusly: “You are ‘Mr. Tennis’ in this community.”

—Robert C. Jones Jr.

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