Gardnar Mulloy, 102, tennis champion who later pushed senior tour

Mr. Mulloy, a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, won 129 US national titles.
Associated Press/file 1959
Mr. Mulloy, a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, won 129 US national titles.

NEW YORK — When Gardnar Mulloy was 9 years old or so, his father and uncle built a clay court in the backyard of the family home in Miami. The boy swatted tennis balls with them, then found players his own age at a local park. He was still at it in his 90s, playing senior tournament tennis, having long outlasted his opponents from the days when he was one of the most brilliant doubles players of his time.

Over the years he won more than 125 national tournaments, most of them in senior play, a cause he championed.

“We talk of tennis as a lifetime sport,” the Hall of Famer Tony Trabert once said of Mr. Mulloy. “He’s living proof.”


Mr. Mulloy died on Monday night in Miami, his wife, Jackie, told the Associated Press. At 102, he was the oldest member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I.

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Mr. Mulloy won four men’s doubles titles at the US Nationals long before the advent of the Open era, when amateurs could play with pros, and at 43 he became the oldest player to win a men’s doubles title at Wimbledon.

He was ranked No. 1 in the United States in 1952 at age 38 after reaching the singles finals in the Nationals at Forest Hills, losing to 24-year-old Frank Sedgman of Australia, the defending champion. From 1939 to 1954, Mr. Mulloy was ranked in the top 10 nationally in singles every year except for two, when he was in the Navy.

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972.

Tall and handsome, nicknamed the Silver Fox by the comedian Alan King for his shock of white hair, and witty and outspoken, Mr. Mulloy had much to look back on when he was top-ranked in senior play.


His most memorable achievement came in the Wimbledon doubles in 1957 when he teamed with 33-year-old Budge Patty in an unseeded duo that stunned the top-seeded Australians Lew Hoad, 22, and Neale Fraser, 23, in four sets.

Mr. Mulloy was “the master strategist in the staggering American victory” for mixing lobs with sharply angled shots, the tennis writer Fred Tupper wrote in The New York Times.

The Mulloy-Patty victory came on a day that resonated beyond the world of sports. Althea Gibson, who had reached the Wimbledon mixed doubles final a year earlier, playing with Mr. Mulloy, defeated Darlene Hard in the final of the women’s singles, becoming the first black player to capture a Wimbledon championship.

A strong volleyer and adept at smashes, Mr. Mulloy teamed with Bill Talbert to capture the US Nationals men’s doubles title in 1942, ’45, ’46, and ’48. He combined with Talbert to win the clinching point in the United States’ Davis Cup final victory over Australia at Forest Hills in 1948. He also played on Davis Cup-winning teams in 1946 and ’49.

Mr. Mulloy’s Spartan lifestyle was legendary. He did not drink or smoke, and he largely confined his diet to vegetables, fruit and milk — a regimen that went back to his childhood, when his mother, Clara, an artist and dietitian and a descendant of Israel Putnam, one of George Washington’s generals in the Boston campaign, enforced healthy eating at home.


“People come to me and say, ‘What fun do you have?’” Mr. Mulloy told The Times in 2005, a reference to his straight-arrow lifestyle. “I say: ‘I have a lot of fun. I don’t have any hangovers. My fun is clean living and enjoying the sunset and sunrise.’”

Mr. Mulloy was a strong advocate for expanding senior tennis from age 45 and up to age brackets extending to 90 and above. The Gardnar Mulloy Cup is awarded annually to the winner of a men’s 80-and-over international event.

In his later years, aside from continuing to pursue senior tournament play, Mr. Mulloy was the director of tennis on Fisher Island in the Miami metropolitan area and was active in animal rescue work.

His first wife, the former Madeleine Cheney, died in 1993. They had two daughters. He married Jacqueline Mayer in 2008. Mr. Mulloy took issue with tennis officialdom when he felt it was too political or old-fashioned. He won a small victory in 2003 when he received a $250 check from the US Tennis Association, making good on a Davis Cup debt from decades past.

“That was for 1946, when we went to Australia to regain the cup,” he told The Boston Globe in 2003. “We were supposed to get 12 bucks a day for meals and some other incidentals. I submitted a bill for $250 and never got it. I kept submitting it — and this year it came through.”