Obituaries

Mervyn Rose, 87, 7-time tennis Grand Slam champion

Mervyn Rose coached Billie Jean King and Margaret Smith Court.
Associated Press/File 2001
Mervyn Rose coached Billie Jean King and Margaret Smith Court.

NEW YORK — Mervyn Rose, an Australian tennis player who won seven Grand Slam tournament titles in the 1950s and later coached champions like Billie Jean King and Margaret Smith Court, died Sunday in Coffs Harbour, Australia. He was 87.

His death, in a hospital, was confirmed by his nephew Bradlee Rose.

Mr. Rose, a left-hander, was somewhat overshadowed in the Australian tennis elite by Ken Rosewall and Lew Hoad — and later by Rod Laver, who is considered the country’s greatest player. But he was a tough, sometimes temperamental player known for strong volleying and what was called his “chip and charge,” in which he would chip, or slice, a return and rush to the net.

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In 1954, at the Australian Championships (now the Australian Open), Mr. Rose defeated Rosewall in five sets in the semifinals, avenging his loss in straight sets to Rosewall in the finals a year earlier. Mr. Rose then needed just 70 minutes to beat Rex Hartwig in the final to win his first Grand Slam singles championship. He and Hartwig also won the tournament’s doubles title.

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Afterward, Harry Hopman, Australia’s Davis Cup captain and coach, praised Mr. Rose’s victory as a breakthrough.

“At the beginning of the championship,” he said, “Mervyn was an outsider among the top men, but he came through and showed great fight to win. This win of Mervyn’s strengthens Australia’s hand for the future.”

Mr. Rose played for Hopman on six Davis Cup teams from 1950-1957 and was ranked No. 3 in the world in 1958, his highest ranking. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I., in 2001.

Mr. Rose’s victories at the Australian Open were not his first major titles. He had won doubles at the US National Championships (now the US Open) in 1952 with Vic Seixas, an American, and in 1953 with Hartwig.

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Mr. Rose and Hartwig also won the doubles title at Wimbledon in 1954. Mr. Rose would win two more titles: mixed doubles with Darlene Hard at Wimbledon in 1957, defeating Althea Gibson and Neale Fraser, and singles at the French Championships (also known as the French Open) over Luis Ayala of Chile in 1958.

But to Mr. Rose, nothing stood out more than his five-set victory over Nicola Pietrangeli in the final of the 1958 Italian Open.

“I knew how popular he was, and I really wanted to beat him on his home court,” he told The Coffs Coast Advocate, an Australian newspaper, in 2012.

“I outplayed him all match, and the crowd didn’t like to see their champion defeated, so they pelted bottles and cans at me.”

In his haste to leave the court, he added, “I never got my hands on the trophy.”

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At the time, the tennis world was split between amateurs and professionals. Only amateurs were allowed to compete in the four Grand Slam championships, while pros played in tournaments controlled by promoters like Jack Kramer, a former player, who was eyeing top-ranked players like Mr. Rose.

By 1958, Mr. Rose was locked in a yearlong battle with the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia over travel expenses he had received for playing at various tournaments, including Wimbledon.

The association suspended Mr. Rose’s amateur status in August 1958, and later that year, he threatened to expose other Australian players who, he said, had done the same thing he had.

He leaves his wife, the former Robyn Geran; two daughters, Debra Bouland and Yvonne Rose; seven grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and a brother, Maxwell Rose.

His marriage to Coral Stuber ended in divorce. As his playing days waned, Mr. Rose began to coach Billie Jean Moffitt — she had not yet married Larry King, a lawyer and promoter — after she left California State University Los Angeles, in 1964.

“Merv Rose is the reason I became the No. 1 player in the world,” King said in an e-mailed statement Friday.