September 7, 1959
When he asked to borrow his father's tennis racket as a nine-year-old in Arequipa, Peru, Alex (the Chief) Olmedo had no way of knowing that he had determined his destiny. By age 17 he had shown enough promise to inspire tennis patrons to take up a collection of $700, which he used to finance a move in 1954. Olmedo took a boat to Havana, a plane to Miami and a bus to Los Angeles, where he went to work at a tennis shop and studied English at night school.
Three-plus years at USC yielded two NCAA titles in singles and two in doubles. In 1958 captain Perry Jones named Olmedo, eligible to represent America because of his more than three years of continuous residence, to the U.S. Davis Cup team. The big-serving Chief almost single-handedly defeated powerful Australia, winning one doubles and two singles matches.
Olmedo's roll continued into 1959; in a six-month stretch he won the U.S. indoor singles and doubles tides, the Australian Championships and Wimbledon. But two weeks before a Davis Cup rematch with the Aussies, he lost to a second-rate opponent at the national clay court championships, and the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association threatened to suspend him for tanking. When Australia regained the Cup at Forest Hills, he was vilified by the press. SI said the mercurial Olmedo, who won one singles match, "merely went through the motions."
"Everyone blamed my personality," recalls Olmedo, now 62, "but they didn't pay attention to the facts. I had been playing in England. I didn't want to return to the States to play on clay. I needed to rest before my Davis Cup defense. But the USLTA wanted to make money, and it forced me to come back and play."
Olmedo turned pro in 1960 and barnstormed with legends such as Pancho Gonzales, Ken Rosewall and Tony Trabert. After retiring from competition in '65, he became the teaching pro at the Beverly Hills Hotel. One of his early clients was Katharine Hepburn, who after their lessons would talk to him about her life with Spencer Tracy.
Olmedo is still the hotel's pro, having raised three children—Amy, 35, Angela, 34, and Alex, 31—while helping Robert Duvall with his serve and Chevy Chase with his forehand. Says the Chief, "It's the first and only job I ever had."