Pierce Kelley, Past President, Youth Tennis Foundation of Florida

Pierce first became involved with the YTF as a junior player in the mid to late sixties. He has remained active in the YTF ever since. Pierce was one of the better players in the state and country as a junior, which earned him national rankings and a full scholarship to Tulane University. He later coached the varsity men's tennis team at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. to help defray his law school education.

In 1991, Pierce authored a book, Introducing Children to the Game of Tennis, (Betterway Publications, 1991; F & W Publications, 1995; Hammerhead Publications, 2001; and iUniverse, 2006), which has been called THE perfect introduction and primer for parents of beginning players by the United States Tennis Association and Tennis Magazine.

Pierce is a lawyer who currently has a private practice in Cedar Key. He is also an author and has currently published several novels, Fistfight at the L and M Saloon; A Very Fine Line; and A Plenary Indulgence, in addition to a collection of short stories, Pieces to the Puzzle, and a legal text book, Civil Litigation: A Case Study.

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IN MEMORIAM: FRANK ARTHUR FROEHLING, III

By  Pierce Kelley

The brotherhood of tennis players has lost one of its “old guards.” Frank, whose father was an airline pilot and an excellent player himself, was raised in Coral Gables and became one of the best players in the country at an early age. He went on to achieve much in his career as a tennis player and was, without a doubt, one of the best players ever to come from the state of Florida. Those of us who knew him will miss him. Those who didn’t will know his name.

Most tennis players will remember him for two reasons: first, his match against Rafael Osuna in the finals of the 1963 U.S. Open; and secondly, his victory over Ian Tiriac in the 1971 Davis Cup match which was decisive in helping the United States win the Cup.

Aficionados will know of other accomplishments, which include an outstanding junior career, being a Semi-Finalist at the 1971 French Open, a member of two Davis Cup-winning teams (1963 and 1971), and being a part of a remarkable Trinity College team that included Chuck McKinley, which went undefeated for two of the three years he was there.

The only reason they didn’t win the NCAA titles those years was because the two of them chose to compete at Wimbledon instead. They were, by far, the best team in the country. Some might remember him from his days of being a member of the Florida Flamingos of World Team Tennis.

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I knew Frank and I write to share a few memories which I have of him which you couldn’t glean from reading articles about him or watching him play. He was five years older than I am and long gone from the state by the time I began playing competitively, so I didn’t know him as a teenager, but we met in the late ‘60s when Frank was making a comeback in the game, after retiring in the mid-60s. In 1968, the game of tennis “opened-up” and prize money was being awarded. He wanted back in. I was one of the better players in the country at the time, but not quite as good as he was … good enough that he wanted to practice with me.

After several years of being away from the game, it wasn’t easy for him to get back into it at the top level where he had been, but he was in the process of doing it. We were both living in South Florida at the time and I was fortunate enough to become his friend and practice partner for several years. We would meet at Jimmy Evert’s courts in Fort Lauderdale, or Bob Sassano’s courts in Hollywood, and occasionally at Slim Harbett’s place, Henderson Park, in Miami … wherever he wanted to play. We played in a number of tournaments together, too, over the next few years and as doubles partners in some, as well as several exhibition matches. 

 I think it’s important for those of you never saw him play to get a “visual” of him. He was tall and gangly. I read where he is said to have been 6’3” and 170 pounds, but I’m 6’3” and I always thought of him as taller. His serve seemed to come out of the clouds. His nickname on the circuit was the “spiderman,” and it was a well-deserved moniker.  

He didn’t walk the way most people do … his head would lead the way, much like a giraffe does. It was an unusual gait. I don’t think I saw anyone else walk the way he did … ever. The best adjective to describe him would be “ungainly.”

Whenever he played, he always smothered zinc oxide over his nose, and sometimes on his lower lip, and often wore long-sleeved shirts. He also wore hats that were different from what others chose. It would be an understatement to say that he presented uniquely. He stood out in a crowd and on a tennis court.

He was an intelligent man, having attended Yale his first year of college, before transferring to Trinity, and he liked to read a lot. He pressed me constantly for recommendations as to what books he should be reading. I had graduated from Tulane by then and was attending law school at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., where much was going on at the time, what with the civil rights movement, anti-war demonstrations, Gloria Steinem and the feminist movement, gay liberation, changes in sexual norms, music, drugs and all the rest. The times had changed from when he had been in college and he wanted to keep abreast of what younger people like me were doing, saying and thinking.

He usually had a smile on his face and was personable, pleasant, courteous, and fun to be around. He called the lines fairly and was out to win, all the time, even in practice. He was a fierce competitor. He always came to play.

One would think that he would be much tougher to beat on a hard court than a clay court, because of his size and his serve, but that wouldn’t be accurate. He was much better on clay, and that’s because he rarely served and volleyed, choosing instead to bash a serve at you and then follow it up with a blistering forehand. He was good on a hard court, too, just not as good as on clay.

One would think that he would be much tougher to beat on a hard court than a clay court, because of his size and his serve, but that wouldn’t be accurate. He was much better on clay, and that’s because he rarely served and volleyed, choosing instead to bash a serve at you and then follow it up with a blistering forehand. He was good on a hard court, too, just not as good as on clay.

As an aside, at the time, I was also practicing with Brian Gottfried, who went on to be about number three in the world a few years later, and Eddie Dibbs, who was one of the top ten players in the world not long thereafter, too. Before I would go to play with any of the three, I would practice with someone else first. I had to be ready to play right from the get-go or their games would simply overpower mine. I was a server and volleyer and didn’t like to stay at the baseline. With them, I had to be able to keep the ball in play before getting to the net, one way or another.

So it was in September of 1963, that I, like every other Florida player, was glued to the television set, watching him play Osuna.

Anyone who saw it will remember the match, because Osuna employed a tactic rarely seen before or since … he stood 10 to 12 feet behind the baseline to return Frank’s huge serve … and won, breaking serve six times in the match. Osuna won in three straight sets, much to our collective disappointment.

The television commentators openly questioned why Frank hadn’t hit an under-handed serve, sliced serves wide to the forehand side, or done something other than pound a serve which Osuna was able to get a racket on and return, despite the velocity. Years later, I asked Frank that question.

“Because I was hitting my serves so well that I didn’t want to change a thing! My serves were digging holes in the court! I never served better in my life,” he told me. I could understand that reasoning as it was much like a power-hitter in baseball not wanting to hit the other way. That would be taking away his power. It made sense, but he lost. He never questioned his decision, though.

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“Pancho told me to get a good night’s sleep and, before going to sleep, just lie there quietly and think of all the great shots I’d ever made in my life. I did what he told me and played a great match, but I lost. Manolo kept talking to the linesmen in Spanish, telling them when to call balls out. I never had a chance, but I learned a valuable lesson. That was good advice.”

It was in 1971, however, when I took a year off from law school to play professionally, that I spent the most time with Frank. He had risen to the top of the game, after several years of hard work, and had been chosen to be a part of the Davis Cup team that was to play Ilie Nastase and Ian Tiriac in Romania. That was quite an accomplishment, one that many did not think was possible.

He played two of the singles matches for the U.S. Stan Smith played the other two. Stan and Bob Lutz were the doubles team.

On the first day, Smith beat Tiriac and Froehling lost to Nastase. Smith and Lutz won the doubles point on the second day. After Nastase beat Smith in the opening match of the third day, the match was tied at two and was to be decided by who won the Froehling-Tiriac match.

The match was played in Romania and the U.S. team was the underdog. Nastase was the number one player in the world at the time and no one figured to beat him on his home turf, and neither Smith nor Frank had been able to do so. To win, the U.S. needed Frank to beat Tiriac. Needless to say, the crowd was entirely against him.

Frank lost the first two sets badly, 6-1 and 6-3, but he rallied gallantly and won the next two by identical scores. He then won the match 8-6 in a tense, thrilling fifth set, securing the victory for the U.S. It was his proudest moment as a player.

He reached the semi-finals of the French Open that year and continued to play at an extremely high level for the next few years. By 1974, Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg had emerged on the scene and the equipment began to change. At the end of that year, Frank retired from professional tennis and began the next stage of his life-long love affair with the game of tennis, this time as a court builder, which he did for the next forty years.

I continued to play professionally, at a much-reduced level from Frank, until 1975, when I began the practice of law, and I saw less and less of Frank over the years, but I remember those days vividly. It’s the memories of those days that I’m sharing. It’s like the song that says, “those were the days, my friends, we thought they’d never end,” but they do and they did.  

So imagine preparing yourself to return his serve … he had a huge serve that was, for the most part, flat, and was considered to be one of the two or three best serves in the game at the time, if not the best. If he missed his first serve, he’d slice in the second at a slightly reduced speed deep in the box. He hit a lot of aces and you weren’t going to attack it. Either way, you were doing your best just to get the ball back in play. No one could do much more than that.

His forehand will be remembered as one of the greatest of all time, certainly for Floridians, and probably for all Americans. He had an Eastern forehand and backhand, nothing like what is seen anywhere in the world anymore. He took his racket back and held it there, crouching down, waiting to time his swing.

His backhand was actually quite weak, compared to his forehand, that is. He’d slice it back deep, most of the time, just waiting for a chance to crush a forehand. He ran around it at every opportunity. I don’t recall him ever winning any points with his backhand, except on an occasional passing shot. I don’t remember him ever hitting over the top. It was always a slice, as best I can recall.

So you try to get the return back deep to his backhand, but if you don’t get it in the corner, he runs around his backhand and smashes a forehand cross-court. If that doesn’t win the point, a weak return to mid-court would result in him winning most of the points. He was incredibly consistent. He could rally with you all day long. He rarely made unforced errors and, therefore, rarely lost his serve.

When it was your turn to serve, you had to find his backhand and attack it at every opportunity. He would beat you, and almost everyone else in the world, if you didn’t. It was that simple … hit the ball to his backhand. Unfortunately, not quite so easily done.

Being a lefty, I had an advantage, as I could slice serves to his backhand and prevent him from running around it. I would then follow my serve into the net, on both serves, and do my best to hold serve. However, to win, I had to be able to break serve, and that rarely happened, but I could play him close and we had many great matches. Those were the days.

Even when Chuck McKinley was number one in the world, and won Wimbledon in 1963 without losing a set, Frank told me that McKinley couldn’t beat him on a clay court. He was that good.

It’s one thing to read about him or to be able to say that you saw him play, and it’s quite another to say that you played against him. I’m proud to be able to say that I was good enough to play him and hold my own, even though I lost almost all of the time. I’m also proud to be able to say that he was my friend.

As I said at the top, we have lost one of our best. He was truly a legendary figure in Florida tennis history.

 

Fare thee well, Brother Frank.

Frank shared a number of stories with me about various matches he played and his career, and one of the most interesting things he told me that I think might be of interest to readers has to do with his match preparation. I, like most players I knew back then, would get up early, get a good workout in of hitting some drills, practicing serves, getting the muscle-memory thing working, then shower, rest, and be ready to play. Not Frank. He wanted to be on a practice court half an hour before match time, practicing at full speed, and then go straight from the practice court to the match. I never knew anyone else who did that. I still don’t.

Another insight Frank gave me that I found intriguing was about a time he was to play Manuel Santana, the Spaniard who was in the top two or three in the world at the time, in a Davis Cup match to be held in Spain. Frank was the underdog and he badly wanted to win. He was nervous about it and asked Pancho Gonzalez for advice.

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