Okey at the Tennis Club of Rochester in 1954
December 16, 1919 |
Rochester, New York, United States
|Nationality||United States of America|
Frank Okey (born Francis Anthony Okolowicz on December 16, 1919) is a Rochester, New York-born tennis and squash champion whose career spanned from 1929 until 1999. Okey won between 200 and 250 tennis tournaments between 1949 and 1999, including wins from throughout western New York State, Florida, and other regional, national, and international circuits. His local achievements in tennis include 85 tournament wins in the Rochester District Tennis Championships.
Tennis career highlights
Okey was the first native of Rochester, NY ever to play in the U.S. National Tennis Championships (US Open, 1952, Forest Hills, New York) where he was matched in the main draw against "America's chief hope" in the tournament Vic Seixas. He won several Canada and Bermuda National Seniors titles between 1965 and 1975. His best national (United States Tennis Association) ranking was 5th between 1999 and 2004 in the Men's 80s singles. In his final tournament in 1999, he beat the Wimbledon Champion Gardnar Mulloy on grass in Orange NJ (6-3, 6-3). Other notable tournament opponents include Bobby Riggs.
70 years of tournament tennis
Okey played his first tennis tournament at age 10 and his last at 80. He shared some of the secrets of his athletic longevity in a 1990 news clip. He suspended tournament tennis in 1999 after his first stroke. He suffered a second stroke in 2000, and still practices with a ball machine year round at the Tennis Club of Rochester.
Selected wins and national rankings
|1938–1942||Varsity Tennis, University of Rochester, 3 years|
|1949–1969||Winner, District Doubles, 15 times|
|1950–1951||Winner, District Singles, 2 consecutive|
|1959–1967||Winner, Men’s City Indoors Singles, 3 times|
|1963–1964||Winner, District 35+ Singles, 2 times|
|1965–1977||Winner, District Senior Singles, 12 consecutive|
|1965–1990||Winner, District Senior Doubles, 25 consecutive|
|1952||Player, U.S. (Open) Championship, Forest Hills, New York|
|1965||Winner, Canadian National Senior Singles|
|1965–1968||Winner, Lake Mohawk Tournament, 3 times and retired the trophy|
|1967–1972||Winner, Bermuda Invitational Senior Singles (2 times) and Doubles (4 times)|
|1975||Winner, Canadian National Senior 55+ Singles|
|1975–1990||Winner, Approximately 12 Tournaments sanctioned by the Florida Tennis Association|
|1976–1980||Winner, US National Senior Clay Consolation Championship, Washington, DC.|
|1980–1984||USTA National Ranking, 9 in Men’s 60 Singles|
|1980–1985||Winner, US National Senior Grass Consolation Championship, Massachusetts|
|1982||Player, U.S. vs. Canada (Gordon Trophy) Senior Team Match|
|1985–1989||USTA National Ranking, 6 in Men’s 65 Singles|
|1990–1994||USTA National Ranking, 7 in Men’s 70 Singles|
|1995||Winner, Rogers Bowl Invitational Singles, Longwood Cricket Club|
|1999–2004||USTA National Ranking, 5 in Men’s 80 Singles|
A squash champion, for tennis
In squash, Okey was ranked 4th in the Rochester area and won the University Club of Rochester Championship about 30 times in a row from 1950 to the 1980s. This record of wins is documented on a trophy that was last seen in a trophy display case at the University Club of Rochester. He played squash to keep in shape for tennis during winter months when indoor tennis was unavailable in Rochester.
Okey is a 1942 graduate of the University of Rochester, and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 1996. At the age of 94, he was in the first class inducted to the newly formed Rochester Tennis Hall of Fame on July 11, 2014. Okey was also selected as a member of the Rochester Red Wings Frontier Field Walk of Fame Class of 2014. As part of this induction, he was selected to throw out the first pitch at a Rochester Red Wings Baseball baseball game on August 24, 2014. This is fitting since Okey was more successful than any of his peers at sneaking into Red Wings Baseball games during the early 1930s—under the center-field fence—indicating his devotion as a Red Wings fan.
Self taught champion
Okey never took a tennis lesson due to his family’s lack of money. He began learning the game at age 10 by hitting balls with his brother Ray on the cobblestone street outside their house (on Weaver Street) in Rochester’s Polish Neighbourhood. They used heavy wooden tennis rackets that were won as a prize by their father (master cabinet maker Dominik Josef Okolowicz), who strung them with piano wire. At that time, Okey was given about 100 tennis balls by a member of the Tennis Club of Rochester after begging for balls through the fence. He practiced against any building or wall he could find and sometimes played against his brother at the Seneca Park tennis courts in Rochester. He read all the books on tennis he could find in the Central Library of Rochester.
A winning style
Okey’s unusual technique, including his natural preference of hitting the ball with a slice, contributed to his success and frustrated opponents throughout his career. This advantageous style likely emerged from the lack of formal tennis lessons and his use of squash as a training method. He is known as a smart player who rarely gave opponents balls that were easy to hit, and who made them run around the court. Throughout his career, he has practiced his serve and ground strokes on an empty court or against a backboard or with a ball machine.
No physical training
Other than Squash, Okey did not employ physical training such as weight training or road running outside of the game itself. This may partially explain his longevity in the sport. At the age of 90, tennis is still his main form of exercise and recreation. The social aspect of the sport also contributed to his longevity.
Okey's favorite tennis mottos
Okey was inspired by the following couplet from the Rudyard Kipling poem "If—", which is inscribed on prominent plaques at the West Side Tennis Club in Forrest Hills, Queens and at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon, England: "...If you can meet with triumph and disaster And treat those two imposters just the same..."
The following favorite Latin quote "Ludere manubriato reticulo quisnam vult?" which means "Is there someone who wants to play the game of the net with handle?" was apparently translated by Monsignor Antonio Bacci of the Vatican.
- Love of the Game: From Riggs to Seixas, Pittsford's Okey has served with the best. Democrat and Chronicle, October 27, 1995
- Frank Okey in the Pittsburg Post Gazette, August 29th 1952 Frank Okey in the St. Petersburg Times, August 29th 1952 Frank Okey in Hartford Courant, August 30th 1952
- on YouTube
- Education: Ad Cultores Optimos, Time Magazine, 16 February 1953