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A Bartender at 76, Seixas Has Trophies, but Little Money

December 26, 1999|From Associated Press

MILL VALLEY, Calif. — Fifty trophies fill the antique china cabinet in the tiny one-bedroom apartment at the tennis club where Vic Seixas lives alone, supporting himself at 76 with two bartending jobs mornings and afternoons.

The oldest trophy, his first, came from a 1937 boys tournament, and it looks more impressive than a modest silver cup inscribed "singlehanded championship of the world." That one is from Wimbledon, 1953.

"The bigger the trophy, the smaller the tournament," says Seixas, who also won the U.S. singles title in 1954.

He sold some of his less noteworthy cups and plaques in the late 1970s, when the price of silver soared.

Seixas (pronounced SAY-shas) played tennis in an era when trophies, not checks, were the reward for winning.

If there were whispers of appearance fees and under-the-table payments, he says he never saw them. All he got was the money to cover travel that was allowed to amateurs. Tennis players have never had a pension plan.

Seixas made some decent money as a stockbroker for 17 years in Philadelphia, starting in 1958, then finally earned a few bucks playing tennis when he turned pro at 50 on the fledgling Grand Masters circuit. His biggest prize there was about $2,000.

A few jobs afterward as director of tennis at resorts in West Virginia and New Orleans kept him flush for a while.

But half of what he had went to his first wife more than 20 years ago, and half of what was left went to his second. Seixas also had to pay child support for his only daughter, now a 19-year-old college sophomore.

"People ask, 'Why are you bartending at this age?' I like to eat," Seixas says with a laugh. "Bartending, you get pretty good tips. Even in the morning you can make $25 or $30 on tips. It's something I can do that doesn't take all my time."

Seixas, who also makes a little money serving occasionally as a goodwill ambassador for the International Tennis Hall of Fame, saved little over the years.

Mostly what he has is his many friendships with the other great players of his time and the wonderful memories of his career: a record 28 appearances at the U.S. championships between 1940 and 1969; 15 major titles in singles, doubles and mixed; and the 1954 Davis Cup title he helped win for the United States.

At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Seixas relied on his legs and grit with a net-attacking style they kept him competitive into his 40s. He won the fifth-longest singles match in history at 42 when he went 94 games over four hours to beat a 22-year-old Australian Davis Cup player, Bill Bowrey, 32-34, 6-4, 10-8 during the 1966 Pennsylvania Grass Championships in Philadelphia.

"I started figuring a couple of years ago, with the current prize money at the time, how much money I would have won in just the seven years or so that I played Wimbledon in singles and doubles," Seixas said. "I was up to about $5 million and I stopped counting."

If he'd crunched the numbers on what he would have won throughout his career had he played with today's prizes, his earnings would have soared over $15 million, not to mention endorsements.

"Gives you sort of a sick feeling," he says, laughing again at himself.

Maybe laughing has helped keep Seixas youthful. His hair is thick and full, his weight hasn't changed since his playing days, and he looks as if he could still play three sets.

The only thing stopping him is the loss of cartilage in his knees, which makes playing painful. Eventually, he said, he might need knee replacements.

"I miss the exercise," he said. "I don't gain any weight, but it's not in the same places. Before I started bartending, I would get up and do sit-ups and push-ups. At 73, I'd do 73 push-ups, 73 sit-ups. Now I don't know if I could do 15. I don't feel like doing anything at 4:30 in the morning."

There is no bitterness in Seixas at missing out on the big bucks, no feeling that anyone owes him anything. He doesn't begrudge the settlements and alimony payments to his ex-wives, and certainly not the child support for his daughter.

Retired Silicon Valley executive Dave Vandenberg, a friend where Seixas works as tennis director and part-time bartender at the Harbor Point Racquet and Beach Club, approached him about putting together a fund-raiser. While Seixas appreciated the thought, he felt awkward.

"I'm not wealthy, but I'm not hurting," he said. "I'm still eating, though I do have to work."

Vandenberg persisted, feeling "it just didn't seem right that a great player like Vic, who represented his country year after year in Davis Cup and all the top tournaments, should be struggling to make ends meet."

As they talked, Seixas persuaded Vandenberg to shift the attention away from him and do something that would put more of an emphasis on the Davis Cup in its 100th anniversary year and perhaps raise money for a general fund for former players in need.

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