Chuck McKinley

Chuck McKinley
Chuck McKinley
Born 5 January 1941
St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Died 10 August 1986(1986-08-10) (aged 45)

Charles Robert "Chuck" McKinley Jr. (5 January 1941 – 10 August 1986) was an American men’s amateur tennis player of the 1960s. He is remembered as an undersized, hard working dynamo, whose relentless effort and competitive spirit led American tennis to the top of the sport during a period heavily dominated by Australians.

McKinley won the 1963 Men's Singles Championship at Wimbledon, and as a result was ranked the number one player in the world.[1] He paired with his college rival, Dennis Ralston, to win the 1963 Davis Cup, the only interruption in eight unbroken years of Australian dominance. He also paired with Ralston to win the U.S. men’s doubles championships three times, in 1961, 1963, and 1964.


McKinley was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of a local pipe fitter, and grew up in a “rough neighborhood” on the north side of town. As a boy, McKinley used to drop by the local YMCA where he was taught table tennis by volunteer instructor Bill Price. Eventually Price, who was also a tennis professional, took McKinley and some of the other boys to the public tennis courts. McKinley soon became so good that Price advised him to quit all other sports and concentrate on tennis.[2]

McKinley was small for a tennis player, as a grown man he stood only 5’ 8” tall and weighed 160 pounds. But unlike Bobby Riggs, the “Junk Champion,” and other short men of the era, McKinley did not use off speed shots but relied instead on a power game. He was able to do this because of an all-round athletic ability that would have allowed him to star in almost any sport. To succeed at tennis McKinley combined this athleticism with an all out style of play and an unquenchable desire to win. According to a contemporary Sports Illustrated article, “Not in years has an American fledgling combined so much box-office appeal with so much pure ability – or crashed the tight little world of big-time tennis with so much confidence. 'If I didn't think I could be the best tennis player in the world,' Chuck McKinley says, 'I don't think I'd want to play.'" Bill Talbert, a former U.S. doubles champion described the young McKinley by saying, “There is nothing he can't do on the court. He has all the strokes. He's fast. He's strong. He has marvelous reflexes. He has the eyes of a hawk—sees the ball as well as anyone in the game.”[3]

In 1960 McKinley enrolled at Trinity University where he joined another leading American player, Frank Froehling, under the tutelage of coach Clarence Mabry, who also coached John Newcombe and other professionals. This gave Trinity arguably the best collegiate men’s tennis team in America. However, during this period Trinity never won the NCAA championship because the NCAA scheduled the championship tournament opposite Wimbledon, and both McKinley and Froehling chose to participate in Wimbledon rather than the collegiate tournament. (Trinity would win the NCAA Division I championship of men’s tennis in 1972 with Dick Stockton as captain.)[4]

McKinley’s decision to play Wimbledon was justified when in 1961, as a college sophomore, he reached the Wimbledon Men's Singles Finals. In the finals, however, he was defeated by Rod Laver, arguably the best player of all time, in straight sets. He would also win the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships in 1962 and 1963.

His intense desire to win, his habit of screaming, “Oh Charley, you missed that one,” at himself after a bad shot, and the fact that he drew a four month suspension for heaving his tennis racket into the crowd at a Davis Cup match,[5] gave him the reputation of the, “bad boy of international tennis.”[6]

But McKinley refused to be defeated. In 1963, with Laver safely in the professional ranks, McKinley won Wimbledon without losing a set. He was helped in this by the fact that favorite Roy Emerson was eliminated by little known German, Wilhelm Bungert. After McKinley eliminated Bungert the press asked the German if he had been tired. “I was tired,” said Bungert, “Tired from those five set matches earlier. And tired from watching McKinley run.” According to Time Magazine, McKinley played the tournament, “with an astounding lack of grace. He leaps, he lunges, he scrambles, he slides, he falls, he dives, he skins his elbows and knees, and he flails at the ball as if he were clubbing a rat. His nerves are as taut as the strings of his racket.”[7] In the finals McKinley met big server Fred Stolle who had beaten McKinley four out of six previous meetings. But when Stolle tried to blow McKinley off the court this time, "He knocked it down my throat," groaned Stolle. "In the end, I didn't know where to serve or what he was going to do."[8]

In December of 1963 McKinley and Dennis Ralston, who was both McKinley’s rival, as captain of the University of Southern California tennis team, and his doubles partner at the U.S. Championships, played all of the matches for the U.S. in winning the Davis Cup from Australia. The Australians had not lost the cup for four years and would not relinquish it again for another four. In the decisive match McKinley defeated a young John Newcombe.

After graduation from Trinity, McKinley elected not to go into professional tennis and became a stock broker in New York City. He died in Dallas, Texas[9] in 1986 of a brain tumor at the age of 45. McKinley has been elected to the Trinity University Hall of Fame and to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.[10]

Grand Slam singles finals

Outcome Year Championship Surface Opponent in the final Score in the final
Runner-up 1961 Wimbledon Grass Australia Rod Laver 6–3, 6–1, 6–4
Winner 1963 Wimbledon Grass Australia Fred Stolle 9–7, 6–1, 6–4
  1. ^ (Trinity University Hall of Fame website,
  2. ^ (Sports Illustrated, “Little Man with a Big Wallop,” 16/MAY/1960, accessed online at
  3. ^ (Sports Illustrated, “Little Man with a Big Wallop,” 16/MAY/1960, accessed online at
  4. ^ (Trinity Hall of Fame website.
  5. ^ (Time Magazine, “One for the Yanks”, 12/JUL/1963, accessed online at,9171,940309,00.html )
  6. ^ (Sports Illustrated, “Better Than Fancy Pants”, 15/JUL/1953 accessed online at
  7. ^ (Time Magazine, “One for the Yanks”, 12/JUL/1963, accessed online at,9171,940309,00.html)
  8. ^ (Time Magazine, “One for the Yanks”, 12/JUL/1963, accessed online at,9171,940309,00.html)
  9. ^ International Tennis Hall of Fame, Profile of Charles McKinley. accessed online at
  10. ^ Trinity University Athletics Hall of Fame

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