As one of the oldest sports at the University, Columbia men’s tennis has a rich history of success, with players who have competed professionally in some of the world’s most prestigious tournaments, Ivy League champions, national standouts and multiple other athletes who have been honored over the course of time. But one of the founding fathers of that greatness, the first-ever Columbia tennis player to be inducted into the Columbia Athletics Hall of Fame, the athlete who has been honored more than any other Columbia player in program history, is Oliver Campbell.
And not only does he rank among the best Lions athletes that have ever donned a Columbia uniform, he also ranks among the best ever in the sport of tennis.
Campbell, a native New Yorker who was born in Brooklyn in 1871, was one of the best players of his era, and displayed a domination of the tennis world that wouldn’t be replicated for a full century. While a student at Columbia College, Campbell earned the distinction of becoming the youngest man ever to win the U.S. Open singles title, as a 19 year-old in 1890. That record would stand for a hundred years, until one of America’s other tennis legends, Pete Sampras, would win the title exactly 100 years later in 1990 as a 19 year-old, just months younger than Campbell.
Campbell was also a pioneer of the game itself, and his style of play is now commonplace today among professional players in the United States and around the world. He was widely regarded as the first American to employ net-rushing tactics. And using that unusual style of play, Campbell exploited his opponents to capture three U.S. Open singles titles and three American doubles championships. A player of considerable drive and determination, Campbell garnered a top-ten American ranking five years in a row, and was ranked number one from 1890-92 in singles. An 1891 graduate of Columbia College, Campbell was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1955, two years after his death.