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Don Fontana won the doubles title three times at the Canadian International Championships (now the Rogers Cup).

Don Fontana was a key player in one of the biggest fiascos in the history of Canadian tennis. As tournament director of the 1975 Canadian Open in Toronto, he watched helplessly as Ilie Nastase essentially gave up after the first-set tiebreak of the best-of-five sets final against Manuel Orantes of Spain.

The temperamental Romanian thought he had been given a bad line call, and was later fined a record $8,000 for his sulking and his passive effort. But Mr. Nastase never held it against Mr. Fontana, and always greeted him in a friendly manner when their paths crossed.

Mr. Fontana was, simply put, a tennis guy. A world-class player in the 1950s and 60s, he was the first Canadian to fashion a livelihood in tournament tennis at the top level.

While many players found postcareer employment as teaching professionals, he continued his life in the game as a tournament director, television commentator, consultant and reporter. All the while, he was an avid player into his 80s, mainly at the Toronto Lawn Tennis Club.

Mr. Fontana died on July 17 in Toronto at the age of 84, after declining health following a broken hip suffered in December, 2011.

It was at the Toronto tennis club that the teenaged Mr. Fontana was given playing privileges, which he used to forge a career that eventually led to playing at Wimbledon twice, once at the French Championships (now the French Open), and 11 times at the U.S. Nationals (now the US Open) in Forest Hills, N.Y.

In 1956 at Wimbledon, he lost 9-7, 6-2, 6-0 to eventual champion Lew Hoad of Australia in a first-round match played in hallowed Centre Court.

In many ways, Mr. Fontana played in the golden age of amateur tennis before professionals and amateurs united in "open era" competition in 1968. He spent time on the winter/spring circuit that included tournaments in the Caribbean as well as the south of France, Monte Carlo and Italy. One time, in his family's ancestral Italy, he was surprised to find himself being loudly cheered by fans – only to later discover they thought he was a priest because "Don" as a prefix can signify a man of the cloth.

It was also a time when prejudice existed in tennis, as in many sports. Organizers of a U.S. event once had trouble finding a mixed-doubles partner for the trail-blazing Althea Gibson, who was black. But Mr. Fontana was more than happy to play with the 1957-58 Wimbledon champion.

Born on June 18, 1931, in Toronto, Don grew up in the Davisville-Mount Pleasant area with his older brother, Alan, the sons of Nicolas and Rose Fontana. Nicolas was a flautist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for 30 years and Don remembered seeing him head off to concerts on the streetcar, wearing a tuxedo.

An all-round athlete, Don began playing tennis at 14 and eventually received a tennis scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles. During his time there in the early 1950s, he had encounters with two of the greatest players in tennis lore – the incomparable Maureen Connolly of San Diego and the legendary Bill Tilden, a Philadelphia native.

Ms. Connolly was the first woman to win the Grand Slam (all four major titles) in 1953, but her career was cut short by a horse-riding accident when she was 19. She once played an exhibition set against Mr. Fontana and lost 6-3. But, highly impressed by "Little Mo," he would later admit, "if it wasn't for my serve, I'm not sure who would have won."

In an anecdote in the biography Big Bill Tilden, author Frank Deford recounted how Mr. Tilden, voted the greatest tennis player of the first half of the 20th century by Associated Press, arranged a Davis Cup-style match-up in 1953 with UCLA student Marrion Anderson as his teammate, against Mr. Fontana and his compatriot Bob Bedard. The match was played in Hollywood, on film star Charlie Chaplin's court. Mr. Tilden, 60 at the time, was crestfallen when the Canadians won. (Just days later, with his bags packed for the U.S. Pro Championships in Cleveland, Mr. Tilden died.)

Mr. Bedard, now 83 and living in Aurora, Ont., had a major impact on Mr. Fontana's career. From 1954 until 1964, Mr. Bedard was undefeated against fellow Canadians, and beat Mr. Fontana all 10 times they played. Mr. Fontana ranked No. 2 in Canada behind Mr. Bedard six times between 1957 and 1963. Together they won the Canadian International Championships (now the Rogers Cup) doubles title in 1955, 1957 and 1959. Mr. Fontana was also runner-up to American Noel Brown in the 1956 singles.

"Bedard was the pre-eminent player of his day," said Harry Fauquier, 72, a former Canadian Davis Cup player who also lives in Aurora. "Nobody else was even close except Don, who was an extremely tenacious, competitive guy."

Mr. Fontana was helpful to other young Canadian players, including former world No. 8 Carling Bassett of Toronto, with whom he often practised; and Glenn Michibata of Toronto, at No. 48 the first Canadian to break into the top 50 in the ATP rankings in 1986. Under Mr. Fontana's guidance, Mr. Michibata moved to Irvine, Calif., when he was 16 to refine his tennis.

Mr. Fontana was a Davis Cup player (1955 to 1962) and playing captain in 1962 and non-playing captain from 1974 to 1976. After retiring, he was tournament director of the Canadian Open in Toronto from 1971 to 1978, and, later, co-tournament director of the Mission Hills, Calif., event that evolved into what is now the ATP Masters 1000 in Indian Wells.

He also gained recognition as a television commentator, mainly for CTV Sports, from 1974 until the mid-1990s. In his later years, Mr. Fontana had media accreditation to events and particularly enjoyed watching matches at the US Open with American tennis writer Steve Flink.

"Don didn't live in the past. He loved observing each generation of new players," Mr. Flink recalled. "His enthusiasm was infectious and there was no one you would rather have sitting next to you at a tournament."

"Fonts," as Mr. Fontana was known in tennis circles, was something of a man about Toronto, residing for decades in the Colonnade, an avant-garde downtown apartment complex that opened in 1963.

He leaves his long-time companion, Donna McGavin, and her four children; as well as his late brother's wife, Evelyn Fontana, and her four children.

When an old friend visited Mr. Fontana less than four weeks before his death, the visitor made notes about the visit to pass on to mutual friends. The last note was that Mr. Fontana gave "a good firm handshake" when they said goodbye, just as he had thousands of times at the end of a tennis match.