MIAMI — Gardnar Mulloy, a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame who won 129 U.S. national titles and played competitively into his 90s, has died at age 102.
The longtime Miami resident died Monday night, said his wife, Jackie.
Mulloy won five Grand Slam doubles titles, was ranked No. 1 in the United States in 1952 and started the University of Miami tennis program. He swept United States Tennis Association grand slams in three age groups: 45s, 70s and 80s.
Mulloy, who served in the Navy during World War II, was 31 when the war ended, and his tennis career had barely begun. At age 43, he won the Wimbledon doubles title with Budge Patty and helped the U.S. Davis Cup team reach the final.
He would have turned 103 on Nov. 22.
“I was older than most of the players of my era, and usually I was in better shape than them,” he said in a 1997 interview. “I won almost all of my five-set matches. I didn’t drink or smoke, and I watched my diet.”
In his 80s, Mulloy was tennis director emeritus on posh Fisher Island. He gave half a dozen lessons a week, charging $30 for 30 minutes, and his hitting partners then included Boris Becker and Jim Courier.
In his prime, Mulloy took defeat badly and feuded with the USTA and Wimbledon. Outspoken, opinionated and occasionally ill-mannered, he was the sport’s ugly American before John McEnroe was even born. He became known as the Miami Mouthpiece.
“Gardnar Mulloy,” wrote one London columnist, “should throw his racquet over a cliff and forget to let go.”
Mulloy grew up near the Miami River and lived in the same neighborhood most of his life. He began playing tennis at age 8 on a court in his backyard and quickly took to the game.
“I went out for the team my freshman year in high school, and in about 20 minutes I was No. 1,” he said.
Also an accomplished boxer, diver and quarterback, Mulloy attended the University of Miami on a football scholarship but played little.
“I finally went to the president of the university and said: ‘I’m too skinny, I’m getting beat up and my father doesn’t like it. Why don’t you have a tennis team?’
“He said, ‘Why don’t you start one up?’ So I did. I got Bobby Riggs and Jack Kramer to come out for the team. The football players used to call us all sissies.”
Mulloy graduated with a law degree in 1938 and cracked the U.S. top-10 rankings before World War II took him off the tournament circuit. He spent four years in the U.S. Navy and in 2015 received the French Legion of Honour for his service.