1979 : Vitas from New-York

Aug 17, 2023, 11:16:23 AM

Gerulaitis introduced tennis to many children in new-York

The Cincinnati Open is the second oldest tournament in the USA after the US Open, and quite a special event. Not only does it care a lot about its players –so much that it is most professional players’ favourite tournament– but it is also famous for donating its profits to charity. Paul Flory, who became the head of the tournament in 1975, started donating to the Cincinnati children’s hospital when he took over the direction of the competition. This money has financed the skin and hearing treatments of over 11,000 patients as well as programmes for childhood cancer survivors. In 1985, the Cincinnati Open became the first ever tournament in the world to reach the mark of $1M donated to a single cause. The tournament, which now has four stadiums with stands –only Grand Slam tournaments have better facilities, does not only support the children’s hospital anymore. It also gives funds to the University of Cincinnati cancer department and to Tennis for City Youth, a programme that gives affordable tennis classes to local kids. Paul Flory died in 2013, aged 90, but his heritage remaMischievous Vitas Gerulaitis famously spent most of the $2.7M he earnt over his career in cars (a Lamborghini, a Ferrari, a  Mercedes, a Porsche and two Rolls Royce, including a yellow one – like his  hair – with a ‘VITAS G’ number plate), expensive h o l i d a y s , c ra z y p a r t i e s a t Studio  54, and drugs. One day, former player Paul McNamee, who was one of Vitas’ best friends, said: “I knew a guy who worked for American Express. He told me Vitas was their third biggest spender in the whole world.” Yet, after winning the 1979 Davis Cup 5-0 against Italy, he started the Vitas Gerulaitis Foundation to give kids from the five New York boroughs –Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and Staten Island– access to tennis. Because Gerulaitis was more than ‘Broadway Vitas’. He came from a Lithuanian family which had left its country after the Russian invasion in 1939. They had moved to Austria with just a suitcase and had traded their mother’s jewels on the black market in exchange for ration cards. “Vitas wanted to bring tennis to underserved New York City kids and took a band of us all over the five boroughs every summer,” said Mary Carillo, a friend of Vitas and his sister Ruta’s in an ATP interview in 2014. “We would hand out rackets. Vitas got every big tennis star in the world to give their time, from Arthur Ashe to Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert and McEnroe, Ilie Nastase and Jimmy Connors. It was the very best part of him.” Vitas would go from exhibition matches to exhibition matches, and from charity dinner to  charity dinner. He knew how to combine business with pleasure. The Gerulaitis Foundation Youth Clinic –his fund for young people– has helped hundreds of New York children start tennis, but also gave the impulse to foundations like Roger Federer’s, Rafael Nadal’s, and Novak Djokovic’s. “Vitas was the first person to give free rackets to children. We have carried his tradition on at World Team Tennis and for several years each of the rackets we gave to children carried his name on the racket. It was a small way to honour a man that was such a great player, lover of tennis, and a really good friend.” Gerulaitis retired at the age of 31 after a career that has never been praised as high as his peers’ –25 titles, but 29 lost finals. He died in his sleep at the age of 40 of carbon monoxide poisoning due to a leak in the pool heater at the friend’s house where he was sleeping. He attended a charity event the day before he died.ains; the Cincinnati Open has now donated over $10M.