April 20, 2006
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern's men's tennis program was saddened with the news that legendary former Wildcat Seymour Greenberg had passed away. Greenberg died on March 3 in Park Ridge, Ill., at age 85.
Greenberg was Northwestern's first Big Ten singles champion, winning the title in 1940 and 1941. He also was doubles champion in 1940, '41 and '42.
As team captain, he led the Wildcats to the conference championship in 1940 and'42. He was ranked in the top-10 men's open singles by the USLTA (now USTA) five different times. He was ranked as high as No. 5 in 1943 and '44.
Grant Golden, another former Wildcat great and top-10 ranked American, had many fond memories of watching and playing with Greenberg.
"He was my hero and inspiration," said Golden, who followed Greenberg to Evanston and himself was a Big Ten champion. Golden believes that Greenberg was the first Jewish player to achieve a top-10 ranking and led the way for so many others.
Greenberg was inducted into the Northwestern Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000, the Western Tennis Association Hall of Fame in 1982 and the Chicago Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1982.
"Seymour was a terrific competitor and rarely missed a ball," Golden recalled. "As a result he was a great clay-court player."
Indeed, Greenberg won the U.S. Clay Court title twice, in 1942 and 1943.
"When I was coming up, Seymour and I would practice regularly. I'd never win, until I finally beat him at a tournament in Rockford the day after he got married," Golden said with a chuckle. "He was on his honeymoon."
Greenberg won the Illinois State Championships nine times during his career. He was one of the first in a string of great players to come out of the city of Chicago, following George Lott. Golden was next, then Marty Riessen.
Greenberg experienced success at an early age, as he also won the Illinois High School Association boy's singles title while at Lane Tech in both 1936 and 1937.
"He was so loyal to NU and such a fan of our program," said Northwestern head coach Paul Torricelli.
Greenberg's last appearance at Northwestern was in September 2005 during the Great Lakes Smash and Wildcat reunion. There, he had a chance to meet and visit with a number of former players, including Davis Cup star Todd Martin. "He was so proud of what Todd had accomplished and was thrilled to get a chance to meet him," Torricelli said.
"One of my favorite stories from Seymour was how his coach, Paul Bennett, arranged for him to play a practice match with the legendary Bill Tilden," Torricelli said. "They played on Court 4, right in front of the tennis shack. Seymour got him to a third set and when Tilden realized that he wasn't going to beat the kid, he said he'd had enough and just walked off the court."
"Seymour was a real gentleman," Torricelli said. "We'll really miss him."
Greenberg's playing career was interrupted by WWII. He served as a Lieutenant in the Army Air corps, then returned to become a Certified Life Underwriter for Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Co. He was married to the late Wanda Henderson and is survived by his two sisters, a brother and numerous grandchildren.
Services were private for Greenberg and donations may be made to a charity of one's choice.