Alex Olmedo, the Peruvian who dominated the world of international tennis in 1959 when he won the Australian and Wimbledon men’s singles championships and reached the United States Nationals final in Forest Hills, died on Wednesday in Santa Monica, California. He was 84 years old.
The International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI said the cause was brain cancer. Olmedo was admitted to the hall in 1987.
Olmedo took his first steps towards tennis recognition at the club in Arequipa, Peru, where his father, Salvador, who oversaw the courts, gave him pointers. It was also led by Stanley Singer, an American tennis coach who works in Peru. At the age of 15 he made his big championship debut in 1951 and lost in a preliminary round in Forest Hills.
After settling in the Los Angeles area, he was trained at the Los Angeles Tennis Club. He played for the University of Southern California and won the NCAA singles and doubles championships in 1956 and 1958.
Olmedo won his two singles and doubles games in partnership with Ham Richardson to lead the United States to victory over a strong Australian team in the 1958 Davis Cup final in Brisbane.
His selection for the American roster proved controversial because he was not a US citizen. However, the regulations allowed a player to compete for a country after at least three years of continued residence. And Peru didn’t have its own entry into the Davis Cup game.
Allison Danzig, longtime tennis writer for the New York Times, wrote that Olmedo’s pick showed that US tennis authorities “gave every player an equal opportunity, both foreign-born and native”. But Arthur Daley wrote in his Sports of The Times column that Olmedo’s participation “must make American tennis the mockery of the rest of the world.”
Don Budge, the 1938 Grand Slam champion, responded to a Sports Illustrated poll of the mood among tennis leaders: “Olmedo’s selection doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with our tennis. However, we should create more interest here in order to be consistent with Australia. “
Olmedo, who had a student visa while playing for USC, said he would become a citizen if he chose to stay in the country permanently. He did it many years later.
Late in the 1958 season, Olmedo and Richardson won the men’s double title at Forest Hills.
Olmedo was at his best on fast surfaces, where he could show his speed and forge an aggressive game.
His exceptional 1959 season began when he defeated Australia’s Neale Fraser in four straight sets for the Australian Championship. He defeated another Australian, Rod Laver, who was only 20 years old and seedless at the time, in straight sets in the Wimbledon final and added lobs to his usual serve and volley game, along with strong groundstrokes.
Olmedo lost to Fraser in the Forest Hills final.
After only two seasons as an amateur (and long before the Open era when professionals were allowed to compete alongside amateurs), Olmedo joined Jack Kramer’s Touring Pro Circuit. He defeated Tony Trabert in 1960 for the US Pro Tennis title.
Olmedo withdrew from the competition in the mid-1960s. He was a longtime teaching professional at the Beverly Hills Hotel, a magnet for Hollywood stars, whose students included Katharine Hepburn and Robert Duvall.
Alejandro Olmedo was born in Arequipa on March 24, 1936. His son Alejandro Jr is one of his survivors; two daughters, Amy and Angela; and four grandchildren. His marriage to Ann Olmedo ended in divorce.
Olmedo was the second International Tennis Hall of Fame nominee to die in recent days. Dennis Ralston, also a star at USC and a five-time double champion with majors, died on December 6th in Austin, Texas.
While Olmedo honed his skills at the Los Angeles Tennis Club, he received advice from George Toley, the club’s chief pro and coach of the USC tennis team.
Above all, however, he trusted his own instinct and skill in court.
“I have a philosophy,” he told Sports Illustrated in September 1959. “I’ve heard so much from so many.” I never listen closely. I mean, I listen, but I don’t. I learn most from the players I play against. This is how you learn tennis. “