2021 Eastern Hall of Fame: Dr. Harold German
The 34th Annual Eastern Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will be held Friday, August 27, 2021. Proceeds from the event—including ticket sales—benefit the Junior Tennis Foundation (JTF), which helps provide scholarships to junior and adaptive players across the Eastern Section. Learn more about the ceremony and the JTF here. Below, read our profile on 2021 inductee Dr. Harold German, who recorded some incredible on-court victories, all while attending medical school in the 1960s.
Dr. Harold German was ranked as high as No. 6 in the Eastern Men’s division. A standout athlete with a top-notch forehand, German led his high school team to the finals of the New Jersey State Championships, and then captained a Princeton University team that was ranked No. 8 in the country. From 1963-1967, he was a major contender on the Eastern Men’s Clay Court Circuit, reaching the final stages of multiple tournaments and winning the Park Lakes Invitational. During this period, he played Arthur Ashe three times and captured wins over future Grand Slam semifinalists Sandy Mayer and Dick Stockton.
German first picked up a racquet around seven years old. In Jersey City’s Lincoln Park, he hit a tennis ball against a backboard while his father, an avid player and student of the game, helped perfect his son’s forehand. Even at an early age, German responded to the sport and found something special about it.
“It was sort of academic, like a chess game,” he says now. “There was a lot of thinking to it, and I liked competing on my own.”
German played No. 2 singles at Dickinson High School as a 13-year-old freshman, losing just one match. The team made it all the way to the state championship final that year, and then repeated the result the following year as well, with German stepping into the No. 1 position his sophomore season. A newspaper article named German one of the top ten all-time high school players in the state from 1900-1959, a list that also included fellow Eastern Hall of Famer Dick Savitt. At the same time, German scored some impressive victories on the Eastern boys’ circuit. He reached the Eastern Boys’ 15 Championship final and then won the doubles title at the tournament with partner Herb Fitzgibbons, another Eastern Hall of Famer. He’d claim what he considers his most impressive junior victory at the National Junior Championships in Kalamazoo, upsetting Top 20 junior and Junior Davis Cup team member Cliff Buccholz in the first round. German would end up ranked as high as No. 27 nationally.
“If I could hit a forehand, I was in good shape,” German says of what made him so successful. “My father said not to hit any backhands if you could possibly avoid it. At the time we were playing with wood racquets, and they were pretty heavy. You could clobber the ball. So I was a tough player with that, and generally good at staying focused.” After high school German attended Princeton University, where he eventually was named captain and played No. 2 singles. His former doubles partner Fitzgibbons held the No. 1 spot, and the two faced each other in an all-Princeton battle in the Eastern Collegiate Final.
Post-college, German headed to Columbia University Medical School. While earning his medical degree from 1963 to 1967, he competed regularly on the Eastern Men’s Clay Court Circuit and achieved some of his greatest results in the sport during this time. He made the
semifinals of the New York State Championships, the New Jersey State Championships, the Long Island Championships and the Eastern Championships, and attained an Eastern Men’s ranking of No. 6. In 1965, he won the Parks Lake Invitational, a tournament that included most of the top Eastern and New England players at the time.
“These tournaments would have a full draw, almost 100 players,” he recalls. “You’d have to play seven rounds to win, and with each match you’re getting more nervous. I definitely had my chances.”
In 1968, just weeks after reaching the semifinals of an Eastern tournament, German was sent to Vietnam, where he served as a Navy physician for the Marine Corps. One day in 1969, his battalion came under heavy fire, sustaining multiple casualties. Amid the chaos, German gathered up his medical supplies and rushed into the field to attend to the injured Marines until they could be safely evacuated, even as grenade explosions and gunfire continued all around him. For his bravery and focus during the event, he was awarded the Bronze Star.
When he returned from the war, he briefly resumed his tennis career. He competed in the National Men’s Championship at Forest Hills in 1970 and made the quarterfinals of the New York State Championships, where he lost to Vitas Gerulaitis.
“I tried to get back into that system, but being out for almost two years, it was not as easy [when I came back],” he says. “I probably was a step behind what I was before I went to Vietnam.”
And now that he was a medical resident, he could not commit the time to tournaments as much as he could in his twenties. At age 35, he started to play senior events in the Eastern Section,
and continued to contest matches on the circuit over the next 30 years. He was particularly strong in the 55 & Over Division, where he achieved the No. 1 ranking in the section and made the semifinals of the National Public Parks Championships.
Today, German—who’s still practicing medicine in Huntington, N.Y.—tries to play socially a couple times a week. Tennis continues to run in his family. He met his wife on a tennis court. Like him, one of his daughters played for Princeton, and another was offered a spot on the Tulane team. German and his son still compete in Father-Son tournaments.
“I have to say I have always enjoyed playing,” he says of his life in the sport. “I played almost all of the top guys in my era, a lot of them who are in the Hall of Fame. I always liked the competition, and I always seemed to be in the mix. The game fit me well.”
Read more profiles of the 2021 Eastern Hall of Fame induction class: