|Full name||Francis Louis Kovacs II |
|Country (sports)||United States|
|Born||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)|
|Plays||Right-handed (one-handed backhand)|
|Grand Slam Singles results|
|US Open||F (1941)|
|US Pro||F (1950)|
|Wembley Pro||SF (1951)|
Frank Kovacs (December 4, 1919 – February 1990) was an American amateur and professional tennis player in the mid-20th century.
His father was a Hungarian immigrant upholsterer. In his youth he had tennis lessons at the Berkeley Tennis Club. Kovacs had a reputation as an eccentric tennis player and showman on the court. 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.
Kovacs was the No. 3-ranked American amateur in 1940 and the No. 2 in 1941. He was ranked the World No. 3 pro for 1941 by Ray Bowers. His best amateur result was a runner-up finish in the U.S. Amateur National Singles Championship in 1941, beating Jack Kramer and Don McNeill before losing to Bobby Riggs in a fours-sets final. 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 in five sets. A week later he withdrew from the U.S. Pro Tennis Championships won by Segura. The previous year, in 1950, he had reached the final of that tournament, losing to Segura. Kovacs also reached the semifinals of the US Pro a further 4 times.
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.
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, both singing a professional contract for $25,000. From December 1941 through 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 with 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.
Although he showed flashes of brilliance 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 Don Budge 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.
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  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.").
Kovacs was married to San Francisco vocal coach Judy Davis in 1950 and they lived for many years in their home on in the Rockridge district of Oakland, until his death in 1990.. His first marriage, on July 14, 1941, was to Virginia Wolfenden, also a tennis professional; they had a son, Frank Jr.
Grand Slam finals
Singles (1 runner-up
|Loss||1941||U.S. Championships||Grass||Bobby Riggs||7–5, 1–6, 3–6, 3–6|
- World number one male tennis player rankings
- Major professional tennis tournaments before the Open Era
- Harry Grayson (July 8, 1941). "Frank Kovacs, tennis' best showman, has chance to annex national title". The Palm Beach Post. p. 9 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Another budge?". Time. July 22, 1940. Retrieved December 10, 2008.
- Gene Ward (August 9, 1938). "Net moguls threatened with suit over Kovacs". Daily News. p. 43 – via Newspapers.com.
- Seebohm, Caroline (2009). Little Pancho : the life of tennis legend Pancho Segura. University of Nebraska Press. p. 43. ISBN 978-0803220416.
Frank Kovacs, a lesser-known but brilliant player, beloved of the fans, also turned pro in 1941. Kovacs was a showman on the court even before Riggs.He was 6 foot 4, with a huge smile, and he would clown around for the audiences.
- "Cartoon". Esquire. April 1, 1942.
Frank Kovacs, the clown of tennis, is now a professional.
- "Zip in tennis". Life. Vol. 27 no. 10. September 5, 1949. p. 30.
Tennis is supposed to be a polite game, but the competitors who at least mildly contemptuous of the official United states Lawn Tennis Association are recalled where the perfect gentlemen are forgotten. The cool insolence of Bobby Riggs, the screwball antics of Frank Kovacs,[...].
- Bill White (September 5, 1940). "Frank Kovacs barely misses net defeat". The San Bernardino County Sun. p. 10 – via Newspapers.com.
Frank Kovacs, tennis "magnificent screwball" saved the national singles championships at Forrest Hills today from complete hum-drum.
- "Hunt Wins From Kovacs; 'Sitdown' Strike Features". The Milwaukee Sentinel. September 8, 1940. p. 2B.
- "Frank Kovacs captures indoor tennis title". The Post-Register. March 17, 1941. p. 6 – via Newspapers.com.
- McCauley, Joe (2000). The History of Professional Tennis. Windsor: The Short Run Book Company Limited. p. 66.
- 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.
- "U. S. Open 1941". www.tennis.co.nf.
- 1941 Tennis: Frank Kovacs vs. Don Budge. Madison Square Garden, New York City: MyFootage.com. 1941. 445-015307.
- "Stock Footage - 1941 Tennis: Frank Kovacs VS. Don Budge". June 21, 2012. Retrieved September 14, 2017.
- Jesse Hamlin (January 31, 2001). "Judy Davis of Oakland -- Vocal Coach to Stars". SFGate.com.
- Ruthe Stein (March 5, 1995). "Giving Voice to the Famous / Vocal coach Judy Davis honored at Bammies". SFGate.com.
- "West dominates Eastern tourney". The Evening Sun. August 7, 1941. p. 37 – via Newspapers.com.
Kovacs and Miss Wolfenden, ranking tennis players, surprised their friends by announcing they were married July 14.
- Tom LeCompte, The Last Sure Thing contains a number of Kovacs stories