Sylvia Lived up to Woods’ Great Expectations

By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer

RICHMOND– Bruce Sylvia will be inducted posthumously into the Richmond Tennis Hall of Fame on Saturday during a banquet at the Westwood Club.

Sylvia captured four city championships and two state crowns in the 1960s before studying at the University of North Carolina, where he played No. 1 singles for the Tarheels. Sam Woods, a renowned coaching professional, said he recognized Sylvia’s potential.

“He is a top-notch tournament player,” Woods said in an interview with Richmond News Leader in 1953.

Sylvia died from cancer at the age of 53 in 1993. Tom Chewning, a friend of Sylvia, said he was a tough competitor.

“He never quit,” said Chewning. “He loved competition. He played the big points well. The other thing is, he was a tremendous athlete.”

Sylvia teamed with Bitsy Harrison to win the city doubles in 1959 and 1960. In 1961, Sylvia captured three of the next four city singles titles and two more doubles crowns.

O.H. Parrish fell to Sylvia in the 1964 final after taking a two-set lead.

“When he got it all together, he was something special to watch,” said Parrish, a fellow Hall of Famer.

Parrish and Sylvia dominated the city tournament in the 1960s, claiming eight of the singles championships. They both won four titles that decade.

After Sylvia won the 1968 city showdown over Dick Makepeace, Parrish took out Sylvia in straight sets in the 1969 final. Sylvia reached the semifinals in 1971, the last year he played the tournament.

Bobby Bayliss, another Hall of Famer and one of Sylvia’s doubles partners, said he was impressed with Sylvia’s temperament.

“To me, his toughness was something that was very admirable in a tennis player,” said Bayliss. “He played with a lot of confidence. He believed in himself.”

“He was so determined,” added Chewning. “He didn’t play a lot of loose points.”