Remembering Bernie Mitton, Former Top 50 Player
Former Top 50 player Bernard Mitton of South Africa passed away last Friday. He was 62.
The 6'2” right-hander, who was born in Vryburg, South Africa, but had been living in Newport Beach, California, won two ATP World Tour singles titles and nine doubles crowns during his career, which started in 1973, only five years after the beginning of the Open Era (April 1968), and ended in 1984.
Mitton's final tour-level match was against then-World No. 5 Jimmy Arias of the U.S. at 1984 Wimbledon. South Africa native and former World No. 7 Johan Kriek said Mitton led a generation of South African players.
“Bernie was a very talented, smart and funny guy. He was the elder statesman of South African tennis, travelling to Europe to progress his career. When Ian Cunningham, a top coach in Johannesburg and Pretoria, moved from South Africa to Austria, we all followed at different stages and trained together. Bernie was first there in 1974 and I arrived in 1978, a young buck, who learned a lot from Bernie. As a guy from South Africa who was a tennis pro, I thought maybe I could do that,” Kriek said.
Mitton won his first title on the grass at Newport in 1978 and at San Jose a year later. He'd reach three more finals in the late '70s and early '80s in San Jose, Adelaide and Johannesburg. Mitton, who reached No. 48 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, also recorded wins against all-time greats John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, John Newcombe and Arthur Ashe.
Mitton even helped Ashe beat Connors during the 1975 Wimbledon final. Mitton had prevailed against Connors 7-6, 6-1 in the semi-finals of a small pre-Wimbledon grass-court tournament in Chichester in June 1975. The South African slow-balled Connors in the way that Ashe would against Connors in the 1975 Wimbledon final weeks later. Ashe, always one to do his research, sought out Mitton before the Wimbledon final for help.
Kriek said of Mitton: “He was always a funny guy and he didn’t take life too seriously. He beat John Newcombe at Wimbledon in 1976 and was a set and a break up against Bjorn Borg at the US Open [in 1978]... He was mentally strong and had one of the fastest swinging forehands with a wooden racquet.”
In doubles, Mitton teamed with six different players, including Tim Gullikson, Butch Walts and Raymond Moore, to win his nine titles.
After his playing career finished, Mitton later coached in Newport Beach, Rancho San Clemente and Irvine, California.
“He helped so many tennis players from South Africa and was a great coach in California for many years,” Kriek said. “He will be greatly missed.”