Talbert beat diabetes, opponents

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Bill Talbert was diagnosed with diabetes before he was a teen-ager. In the 1930s, doctors typically prescribed rest and a specific diet.

        But Talbert was told to get plenty of exercise, and because his doctors didn't think baseball kept him active enough, they told Talbert to take up tennis.

        "He was a guinea pig," long-time local tennis player and administrator Tom Price said.

In 1945, there was a shortage of men's players because of the war. Sarah Palfrey Cooke, the women's U.S. champion in 1941 and '45, was permitted to play with her husband, 1939 Wimbledon runner-up Elwood Cooke, in the men's doubles competition at the Tri-State. The Cookes ended up losing in the final to Hal Surface and Bill Talbert.
        Talbert, who died Feb. 28 at the age of 80, proved a diabetic could indeed be active and went on to become one of the greatest players ever from Cincinnati.

        He was captain of the 1954 U.S. Davis Cup team, led by another Cincinnatian, No. 1-ranked Tony Trabert, and won four U.S. doubles championships with Gardnar Mulloy.

        "He had a natural talent," Price said. "Not only did he have basically sound strokes, but he was a smart player. He realized his limitations. He didn't always try to kill the ball; he learned to place it."

        Talbert attended Clifton Public grade school, Hughes High School and the University of Cincinnati and was proud that he attended three schools on one street, Price said.

        Alvin Bunis teamed with Talbert to win the Tri-State Tennis Championship in doubles in 1943 and says there was something special about his former partner. The two practiced together often.

        "He was 5 years older than I was, and I looked up to him," Bunis said. "He was probably as stylish a tennis player that ever stepped on the court. He was probably one of the best-dressed men in the world, but what I was really eluding to was his way of striking a tennis ball, the mechanics of his game.

        "If there was some videotape and I showed you how he struck a tennis ball as opposed to somebody else, you'd see a great difference. There was a flare to it."

        Because Talbert is credited as the first diabetic to compete in major athletics, his success was seen as somewhat of a breakthrough. Talbert would also become the tournament director of the U.S. Open in the 1970s.

        "In some ways, he was rather frail," Bunis said. "But it was his fluid ability that made him the competitor that he was."




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