Whatever Happened To … Vitas Gerulaitis?


The Lithuanian Lion

One of the original tennis wild-men, Vitas once proclaimed in that the No. 100-ranked male player would have little trouble beating Martina Navratilova and offered his house as a wager on such a match, to the dismay of Derek Tarr, the No. 100 at the time. Right or wrong, that’s how he rolled and boy did he roll. Fast cars, fast women and high balls were par for the course.

He hung out with Andy Warhol at Studio 54 with his buddy John Lloyd but it all caught up with him eventually. He took cocaine, was treated for addiction and was named in a federal grand jury investigation into drug-dealing, although cleared of any wrongdoing.

Gerulaitis, whose Lithuanian parents emigrated to America in 1949, was a great player  and part of a golden generation dominated by Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. A tough crowd to hang with but he did. “The Lithuanian Lion” he was dubbed, played in some epic matches, with Borg but found Connors his kryptonite. At Madison Square Garden in 1980 he ended a run of 16 consecutive defeats against Connors and asked how he had finally managed to overcome his nemesis, he replied: “Because nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row.”

For his high jinks, everyone loved Vitas and had a huge heart. Lithuania play their home ties at the Vitas Gerulaitis Memorial Tennis Centre in the capital city of Vilnius.

What are they doing now?: Gerulaitis died of carbon monoxide poisoning on September 17, 1994, and his body was found the next day.
Career titles: 25
Win-Loss Record: 511-221
Career High Ranking: 3 (1978)
Famous for: Running up the 3rd highest American Express bill on the planet
Finest moment: Winning the 1977 Austrailian Open

Watch: Björn Borg – Vitas Gerulaitis. Final Boca West Florida 1980.