December 14, 2012

San Leandro Tennis Great Art Larsen Dead at 87

San Leandro resident and former tennis great Art Larsen died December 7, 2012, in San Leandro at the age of 87. He had been a resident at San Leandro Healthcare Center at 368 Juana Avenue in San Leandro.

Larsen was born in Hayward on April 17, 1925. His father was a boxer and his grandfather was a baseball player. He moved to San Leandro when he was was 7 or 8 years old. At 11 years of age, he began playing tennis and won a tournament at the Olympic Club in San Francisco in 1939 when he was 14. George Hudson at the Berkeley Tennis Club began coaching him at 16 and he graduated from San Leandro High School two years later, in 1943.

Art Larsen at the San Francisco Olympic_Club after winning in 1939
Art Larsen at the San Francisco Olympic Club after winning in 1939
Photo provided by Cindy Simons from Art Larsen's collection

After high school, Larsen said, “I fought in the Battle of the Bulge” in World War II, according to an April 12, 2001, article in the San Leandro Times. After the war, he attended College of the Pacific and then the University of San Francisco (USF). While playing tennis at USF, Larsen was part of the NCAA Men's Tennis Championship team and became nationally recognized.

He gained the nickname “Tappy” for his habit of tapping things on the court with his racket for good luck.

Larsen became the number one ranked U.S. Player after winning the US tennis title in 1950 by defeating Herbie Flan. In 1951, he lost in the U.S. Open finals to Frank Sedgman and ranked number three in the world. In 1954, he lost to Tony Trabert in an all-American final at the French Open.

As a result of an accident in Castro Valley in 1956, Larsen's tennis career ended after being ranked in the world top ten in 1954, when he finished second in the US tennis championship. In 1969, Larsen was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Thanks to Cindy Simons for providing information from her interview of Art Larsen in March 2008.

Update: According to his nephew, Larsen was buried on December 13, 2012, at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery and Mausoleum in Hayward, California. He is survived by his sister Joyce Stengel; his nephews Willis C. Stengel and Carl A. Stengel and his niece Patricia Rickner. He has no wife or children.

Posted by Mike Katz-Lacabe at December 14, 2012 10:21 AM | TrackBack

Art Larsen was my uncle and a great tennis player. I and his other family members will miss him. I thank him for teaching me tennis along with the wisdom that goes with it. He had more touch than anyone I've ever seen. He was always teasing and had a personality larger than most. He was awe inspiring when he played after his accident, I wished I could have seen him play before the accident.

Posted by: Carl A. Stengel at December 15, 2012 4:41 PM

My sister and I, both varsity players from San Lorenzo High School, once had a short tennis lesson from Art, who had become friends with our mother. I was awestruck, and even more so once I witnessed what he could do with the ball at that age (he must have been in his mid to late fifties) and with the injuries he'd had. He did have incredible touch, and obviously enjoyed to show it off a bit. Quite an experience, and one I'll always remember and cherish. RIP Mr. Larsen. Let your second serves kick high to the backhand side, your approach shots be deep and to the corners, and may your dropshots have so much backspin they come back over the net to your side ;-) . Eric Olsen

Posted by: Eric Olsen at December 28, 2012 11:23 PM
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