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Frank Okey

tennis player

Alias: Franciszek Krzysztof Okolowicz
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Bio Frank Okey is an American 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.

Okey never took a tennis lesson due to his family’s lack of money. He started playing tennis at just 7-year-old 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.

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. Okey won several Canada and Bermuda National Seniors titles between 1965 and 1975.
He won the Rochester District Singles title twice in 1950 and 1951, he played on the Senior level since 1965 and won the Senior Singles title 12 times (1965-77) and has won the Senior Doubles crown 22 times since 1965.
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.
His national Rankings: #9 in 60 Singles (1980-84), #6 in 65 Singles (1985-89), #7 in 70 Singles (1990-94), and #5 in 80 Singles (2000-04).

Other than squash, Okey did not employ physical training such as weight training or road running outside of the game itself. He says that his 6-mile daily walk between his home on Weaver Street in Rochester and Aquinas High School gave his legs strength and stamina on the court. This may partially explain his longevity in the sport. He was, however, always devoted with practicing his serve on a practice court as well as his ground strokes against a backboard. 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 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 and in a 2019 article and 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.

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.

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.
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