Owen Davidson, an Australian tennis player who formed a dominant mixed doubles team with Billie Jean King in the 1960s and 1970s and won eight Grand Slam titles with her, along with five doubles titles with other partners, died Friday in Conroe, Texas. a suburb of Houston. He turned 79.
The cause was cancer, said his old friend Isabel Suliga.
Davidson came of age during an Australian tennis heyday, with colleagues such as Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson, John Newcombe and Margaret Court.
Unlike those players, Davidson had no significant success in singles and never progressed beyond the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament. But his sympathy, sportsmanship, lob-inducing serve and agility in volleys made him one of the sport’s strongest doubles players.
From 1965 to 1974, he won 11 major mixed doubles titles and two men’s doubles titles. In 1967 he won the Australian Open with his compatriot Lesley Turner Bowrey and went on to win the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open with King.
Davidson and King trained together from 1964 in the suburbs of Melbourne with Australian great Mervyn Rose. On her first day at camp, King felt “like a pinball machine” sent down the field to field shots from Davidson, she recalled in her 2021 autobiography, “All In”.
“I’ve always said the Australian men made me number 1, and those sessions were a big part of that,” she wrote.
The duo won their first Grand Slam in 1967 at the French Open.
“I played mixed with so many great players, but I couldn’t win with the others,” King recalled in a telephone interview, naming the leading men she worked with, such as Newcombe and Dennis Ralston.
She and Davidson, on the other hand, found a harmonious balance between her optimism and competitiveness and his fortitude and modesty. “He wasn’t Mr Exuberant,” she said. “He’s more Steady Eddy.”
Davidson’s athletic strengths included his powerful upper head on his weak right side; his serve, which King compared to a cricket bowler’s delivery; and his team play on the net.
“He let me take a lot of volleys that most guys wouldn’t,” said King. “They would go in and try to take the volley first.”
That was especially useful during the duo’s epic showdown against Court and Marty Riessen at Wimbledon in 1971.
Davidson and King lost the first set 3-6 and won the next 6-2. The final set remained undecided after 27 games.
“All four of us would be netting, just pounding each other,” said King.
Wimbledon rules then stipulated that a final set had to be won by two games. King saw the sun set and threatened to postpone the end of the game until the next day.
“I told him, ‘Owen, we’ve got to finish this, we can’t wait for tomorrow,'” King recalled. “I’m kind of a cheerleader. He said, ‘Okay. Let’s go.'”
Davidson and King won the final set 15-13.
Owen Keir Davidson was born on October 4, 1943 in Melbourne.
As a singles player, he won the first match of the so-called Open Era, when the major tennis tournaments welcomed both amateurs and professionals.
In that match, in April 1968 at the West Hants Tennis Club of Bournemouth, a town on the coast of southern England, Davidson, who was a professional, defeated British amateur John Clifton 6-2, 6-3, 4- 6 , 8-6. He lost to Rosewall in the quarterfinals.
He also reached the Wimbledon semifinals in 1966, which upset Emerson, but lost to Spanish player Manuel Santana.
Davidson’s first marriage, to Angie Davidson, ended in divorce. His second marriage, to Arlene Davidson, lasted about 20 years, until her death about ten years ago.
He is survived by his son from his first marriage, Cameron, and a brother, Trevor. He lived near Conroe in The Woodlands, a master-planned community where Davidson’s country club had worked occasionally as a tennis pro since 1974.
With King lobbying on his behalf, Davidson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2010.
Whenever King Davidson called, he seemed to be watching the Tennis Channel. “What do you think of this player or that player?” she remembered him asking. He had, King said, “a good eye for who would do well and who wouldn’t.”