GREENSBORO — Allen Morris was still a student at Presbyterian College when he competed in his first U.S. Open tennis tournament in 1953, and he had just turned 24 years old three months before that magical fortnight at Wimbledon in 1956.
A former college football player at Georgia Tech who transferred to play tennis for the Blue Hose, Morris won four matches to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals before losing 13-11, 6-0, 6-3 to fellow American Vic Seixas, the 1953 champ.
“His accomplishments at Wimbledon always come to mind, and he did so much in tennis,” said Larry Sharp, Morris’ son. “But it was more than that. He stood behind his kids through thick and thin. You knew you could count on him.”
Morris, a local tennis legend and member of at least seven sports halls of fame, died Monday at his home in the Well-Spring Retirement Community in Greensboro. He was 84.
Morris was born in Georgia, but Greensboro was his adopted hometown. He moved to the city in 1961 to be the chief college recruiter for Burlington Industries.
Other jobs took him other places. He served as tennis coach at North Carolina from 1980 to 1993, winning two ACC titles and four coach of the year honors. He worked as the athletics director at Presbyterian before retiring for good.
“Greensboro was home to him,” Sharp said. “He loved Greensboro and was very active in the community. Each time he moved away, he would always move back when the job was done. He had a lot of friends here.”
And he always had tennis.
In his playing days, Morris notched victories over greats of the game including Arthur Ashe, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Neil Fraser and Ashley Cooper.
Morris won a record seven N.C. Open singles titles. Morris also won state singles titles in New York, New Jersey, Georgia and South Carolina. In the late 1970s, he was among the top-10 senior players in the world, winning the 1977 and 1978 U.S. Senior Clay Court Championships in both singles and doubles.
“He had a lot of respect for sports and believed in proper conduct,” Sharp said. “He was a good role model, and he really believed athletes should set an example. His philosophy was it’s a privilege to draw that type of attention, and you should be someone kids look up to. He was a very dignified man in every aspect of his life.”
In later life, he traded tennis for golf, and he often shot his age on the course at Greensboro Country Club.
While his body began to fail, his mind stayed as keen as ever, Sharp said, and he followed North Carolina basketball with a passion.
“He loved life,” Sharp said, “and we know he died a happy man.”
His funeral will be at 2 p.m. Friday at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 607 N. Greene St. in Greensboro.