Bitsy Grant was a champion tennis player from Georgia and the first Georgian to make it to the semifinals of the U.S. Open tournament. He was ranked in the top ten in the United States nine times between 1930 and 1941, achieving a rank of third in 1935 and 1936. He was ranked eighth in the world in 1936 and sixth in the world in 1937. Standing 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 120 pounds, Grant was the smallest American male ever to reach champion status on the international tennis circuit.
Bryan Morel Grant was born in Atlanta on December 25, 1910, into a tennis-playing family. His father, Bryan M. Grant Sr., was the southern doubles champion for many years. His older brother, Berry, became captain of the tennis team at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. When Grant’s mother, Hattie, took up tennis, she began playing with Bitsy as a child, although his father believed that he was too small to become a good player. Grant himself had hoped to play professional baseball, but when he realized that he was too small for the sport, he concentrated on tennis.
Grant’s desire to compete was evident from an early age; in 1927 he won the Southern championship at age sixteen. With little power and limited reach, Grant adopted a retriever style (running down every ball and keeping it in play as long as possible), which, combined with phenomenal ball control and excellent conditioning, made him difficult to defeat. He learned to play tennis on red Georgia clay and was almost unbeatable on this surface. He won the U.S. Championships (later known as the U.S. Open) on clay three times, in 1930, 1934, and 1935, but he also achieved success on the grass courts of Forest Hills, New York, where the tournament is played. He beat Don Budge there in 1935 to reach the semifinals but lost to the eventual champion, Fred Perry. Some tennis analysts believe that Grant’s retriever style of play was so draining that after a demanding match he had little energy for the next round.
Grant played in Davis Cup matches in 1935, 1936, and 1937 and helped the United States win the tournament in 1937, for the first time in ten years. Grant continued to compete as a senior player and won nineteen U.S. singles titles on the four competition surfaces: grass, indoor, clay, and hard. He was named to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1972 and is an inductee in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.
In the 1950s the city of Atlanta built the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center, a public complex with thirteen of the finest clay courts in the country. Although Grant is reported to have been embarrassed by the honor, he played there almost every day for the rest of his life. Even at the age of seventy, he had a remarkable lob and drop shot.
Grant died of cancer in Atlanta in 1986. He and his wife, Marie Cleveland, had two children, Mary and Bryan III.