Vitas Gerulaitis: In Memoriam

Vitas practiced his weaknesses for hours on end: the second serve, cocaine. This week’s writing challenge: describe his hair. The result, a failure: lion locks Lithuanian in its riding of the rolling level underneath it within it surfers girls waves omg dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon* I want to touch it see it live again please live please Epitaph: Generous. Always picked up the tab, always there for others. “Vitas the first one I recall who gave free racquets to children” (Billie Jean King). Epitaph: Sui Generis. When he finally beat Jimmy Connors, he deadpanned: “No one beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row.” Epitaph: Tennis Player. Vitas trained as hard as anyone, hitting balls with the ultra-patient Borg for hours. For those who saw it, their Wimbledon five-set semifinal was a classic of shot making, court coverage, drama, sportsmanship. And that halo of tennis balls in Joan LeMay’s painting? A divine aura? A dizziness or dazedness from partying too much? A constellation of stars–read celebrities who flocked around Vitas as the life of the party? Sainthood? Vitas was a saint; Vitas was no saint. Tennis Sainthood? Let’s canonize him here. Epitaph: Beloved. Everyone, I mean everyone, loved Vitas, including champions as different as Borg, Connors, Evert, McEnroe, Sampras . . .  After a brutal loss, Pete Sampras remembers being spent and alone in the locker room when someone unexpectedly walked in: “Vitas unlaces my shoes, puts a dry shirt on me, puts my racquets away.” A faulty pool heater, carbon monoxide, 40 years old.

*the lines in italics, with slight changes, are from Gerard Manly Hopkins’ poem, “The Windhover’’

About the Artist (from her website at

Joan LeMay (American, b. 1979 in Houston, Texas) is a portraitist and illustrator who is interested in pattern, gesture, Byzantine halos, and capturing the true soul of the subject she’s painting. She loves painting people, animals, plants and things (a kind of anthropomorphic approach to portraiture) in equal measure, and packs referential objects, color-based symbolism and other subject-specific elements into the often busy backgrounds of her work in order to reflect the life of the person or creature depicted. She is currently focusing on work that celebrates who and what soothes us and brings us joy–portraiture of dear friends, over-the-top portraits of beloved TV and pop culture personalities and public role models, food, fellow artists, and portraits of medications.

Much in demand as a portrait artist, Joan LeMay’s work has been exhibited internationally for over a decade. To learn more about her extensive list of clients, the many publications where her art has appeared, and, most importantly, to see more of her work—and thus feel a little better about being alive—you can visit her website.

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This piece was first published with the National Senior Men’s Tennis Association.

Joan LeMay’s portrait first appeared in Racquet magazine, Issue 11

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