Frank Kovacs

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Frank Kovacs
Full name Frank Kovacs
Country (sports)  United States
Born (1919-12-04)December 4, 1919
Oakland, California, USA
Died February 1990 (aged 70)
Oakland, California, USA
Height 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m)
Turned pro 1941 (amateur tour from 1936)
Retired 1957
Plays Right-handed (one-handed backhand)
Highest ranking No. 3 (1946, Karoly Mazak)[1]
Grand Slam Singles results
US Open F (1941)
Professional majors
US Pro F (1950)
Wembley Pro SF (1951)

Frank Kovacs (December 4, 1919 – February 1990) was an American tennis player in the mid-20th century.


His father was a Hungarian immigrant upholsterer.[2] Probably the most eccentric major player ever,[citation needed] stories of his antics are still told in the tennis world. Once, serving for a match point, he tossed three balls in the air - hitting the middle one for an ace. He was known to jump into the stands to applaud his opponents, and once staged a sit-down strike during a match.[3] He often stopped play so that he could complain about the heavy nap on the balls, and would then shove the offending balls into his mouth so that he could chew on the nap.

Although he showed flashes of brilliance[citation needed] his career results were relatively disappointing. It was said of him that on the right days, when he was briefly "in the zone", he could be unbeatable: Fred Hawthorne, reporter for New York Herald-Tribune who watched nearly all the early matches of the 1941-1942 pro tour thought that Kovacs at his best reached "sheer brilliancy never before excelled", but at other times Frank played "surprisingly poor tennis." For instance in his first pro match, on December 26, 1941 he defeated Donald Budge[4] and as late in his career as 1952, at 33, he was still able to defeat Pancho Gonzales then the best pro in the world.

Kovacs was the No. 3-ranked American amateur in 1940 and the No. 2 in 1941.[5] He was ranked World No. 3 for 1946 in Karoly Mazak's amateur-pro combined rankings and the World No. 3 pro for 1941 by Ray Bowers.[1][6] His best amateur result was a second-place finish in the U.S. Amateur National Singles Championship in 1941, losing to Bobby Riggs. The 1942 professional tour consisted of round-robin matches between Don Budge, Bobby Riggs, Fred Perry, and Kovacs. The seasoned Budge ended up with the best record while Kovacs had the second best. From 1943 to the end of WWII, Kovacs served in the army.

In the 1947 pro circuit, Kovacs scored 10 matches against Bobby Riggs', while losing 11 matches to Riggs, the 1947 Pro Champion. (See Bobby Riggs#Professional career.) In the pro circuit, Kovacs' greatest result was winning the World Pro Championships held at Lakewood just outside Cleveland where he defeated Pancho Segura in the final 6–2, 3–6, 6–3, 1–6, 9–7 on June 17, 1951. Unfortunately a week later he withdrew from the U.S. Pro Tennis Championships won by his last victim, Segura. The previous year, in 1950, he had reached the final of that tournament, losing to Pancho Segura. Kovacs also reached the semi-finals of the US Pro a further 4 times.

As tennis great Jack Kramer, and Kovacs' near contemporary, has written: "Kovacs had picture strokes, maybe the best Backhand, but he could never win anything because he didn't have any idea how to go about winning. He never had a set plan for a match. Hell, he never had a set plan for a shot. He could sort of decide what to do with it halfway through the stroke." Kovacs' best shot, says Kramer, was "a hard, angled backhand crosscourt, but he could never figure out how to set it up so he could take advantage of it." As Riggs said to Kramer one day: "...don't worry about Frankie.... He looks great, but give him long enough and he'll find some way to keep you in the match, and give him a little longer and he'll find a way to beat himself." Nevertheless, Kovacs had a very positive win-loss record against Kramer both in the amateur circuit (in that one Kramer almost never beat Kovacs) and in the pro circuit too (Joe McCauley, in his History of Professional Tennis, says that it was "reported in the [1951] PLTA year book that, as of October 1951, Frank Kovacs held a remarkable 14-3 lead over Jack Kramer in their head-to-head meetings.") .

Though the tennis activity was very limited between 1943 and 1945 Kovacs dominated all the players he met as Welby Van Horn, Don McNeill, Adrian Quist, Bill Tilden, Jack Crawford, Jack Jossi, Martin Buxby, Joe Whalen, George Lott, George Lyttleton Rogers.[citation needed]

Kovacs was also responsible for something of a scandal over money in tennis, which before the Open era was strictly divided into amateurs and professionals. After he was barred from amateur tennis in 1941 (leaving with a characteristic witticism - "Amateur tennis stinks - there's no money in it any more."), he talked about how money was quietly - and widely - paid to supposedly amateur players for entering tournaments.

After being evicted from the amateur ranks, he and Riggs turned professional at the same time. In December 1941 - April 1942 the Pro tour consisted of round-robin matches between Don Budge, Bobby Riggs, Fred Perry, and Kovacs (with Gene Mako, Lester Stoefen and even Bill Tilden, for one match, as replacements). Budge ended up with the best record, 52 wins to 18 losses, ahead of Riggs 36-36 and Kovacs, 25 wins to 26 losses : Kovacs even led the very first part of the tour mainly because he had defeated Budge in their first five matches. After the tour he entered the U.S. Pro Championships and reached the semifinals and as the other great pros of the time he then joined the U.S. Army. He was still a force in professional tennis into the 1950s; he played Pancho Gonzales in a match at the California Tennis Club in San Francisco in 1955 and nearly beat him. He spent his later years teaching tennis at the Davie Tennis Stadium in Piedmont, in Florida and at public courts near his home in Oakland.

His cousin was the famous entertainer Ernie Kovacs. He married San Francisco vocal coach Judy Davis in 1950 and they lived for many years in their home on Ivanhoe Road in the Rockridge district of Oakland, until his death in 1990.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Kovacs was married to Adelaide in his later years. Adelaide was known professionally as "Judy Davis, voice teacher to the stars", in Oakland, California. He was also married to Virginia Kovacs, also a tennis professional; they had a son, Frank.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Mazak, Karoly (2010). The Concise History of Tennis, p. 74.
  2. ^ "Another budge?". Time. July 22, 1940. Retrieved December 10, 2008. 
  3. ^ "Hunt Wins From Kovacs; 'Sitdown' Strike Features". The Milwaukee Sentinel. Sep 8, 1940. 
  4. ^ 1941 Tennis: Frank Kovacs vs. Don Budge. Madison Square Garden, New York City: 1941. 445-015307. 
  5. ^ The History of Professional Tennis, by Joe McCauley, page 66
  6. ^ Bowers, Ray (2006). "Forgotten Victories: A History of Pro Tennis 1926-1945, Chapter XI: AMERICA, 1940-1941", Tennis Server: Between the Lines, 1st October 2006.

Further reading[edit]

  • Tom LeCompte, The Last Sure Thing contains a number of Kovacs stories

External links[edit]