About Stan Smith, it has been said by many people in the cognoscenti that no one has had a longer run of enduring significance in the tennis world than this estimable individual with the winning blend of quiet confidence, ineffable dignity and unshakable integrity. An extraordinary American champion who towered above his rivals at 6’4”, he rose to prominence steadily and persuasively. In a stirring five-year span, Smith took the U.S. National Championships outside Boston in 1969, collected the Inaugural Masters [now known as the ATP Finals] title in Tokyo the following year, won the US Open in 1971, was No. 1 in the world and triumphed at Wimbledon in 1972, and captured the prestigious WCT Finals crown at Dallas in 1973. On his best days, he beat the finest players of his era, claiming Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Arthur Ashe, Roy Emerson and Ilie Nastase among his victims. At his zenith, Smith was mightily imposing on a tennis court.
Moreover, Smith was an American Davis Cup stalwart, capturing 35 of 43 matches altogether in singles and doubles, spearheading his country almost single-handedly past the heavily favored Romanians in the 1972 final at Bucharest. On the clay courts of Bucharest, he struck down US Open champion Nastase and Ion Tiriac in singles and took the doubles alongside Erik Van Dillen in arguably the grittiest and greatest performance ever given by an American Davis Cup competitor. Although Smith remained one of the game’s great doubles players, claiming his last major alongside old partner Bob Lutz at the 1980 US Open, he was no longer in the upper regions of the sport in singles after 1974, when he turned 28. An elbow injury left Smith a shell of his former self, although he gallantly soldiered on.
Reflecting on his career with me a few weeks ago, Smith said, “I had that elbow injury for about two years and when I came back from that I was never quite the same. But that was a special period for me when I won my biggest titles. When I was 16 I had four big goals—to be a member of the U.S. Davis Cup team; to be the No. 1 American; to win Wimbledon; and to be No. 1 in the world. Everything I did was to try to realize all of those goals. I did all of those things. I am very proud of that.”