One of Australia’s better tennis players, Fred Stolle was the unwitting victim of bad timing.
He spent his singles career facing one giant of the game after another, and that is just the Australian players with whom he had to contend. Laver, Rosewall, Emerson, Roche and Newcombe were some of the names standing on the other side of the net from Stolle. He also had to deal at times with Tony Roche, Bob Hewitt and Ken Fletcher.
At the level at which he participated, the four Grand Slam events of tennis serve to define a player’s legacy. Stolle was to be relegated to the role of also-ran more times than any man in history. It is slightly ironic, then, that at his best, he achieved the number two-world ranking in 1966, the year he defeated John Newcombe in order to capture his second Grand Slam Singles victory at the U.S. Open. His was a career of twos.
His overall record for men’s singles and doubles is quite impressive. In singles, he compiled 214 victories against 144 losses. He and one of his partners won 189 times, losing 101 matches. Stolle was ranked number one in doubles in 1964.
He began playing on the amateur tour in 1958. Remember, before 1968 and the dawn of the true Open Era of tennis, the top level of tennis consisted of amateurs. He had nine years of amateur experience when he turned professional in 1967 and those nine years when combined with the nine he spent as a professional left him with a total record of 652 wins and 245 losses. These figures include his contributions to the Australian side in three consecutive Davis Cup championships from 1964-1966
Frederick “Fred” Sydney Stolle was born 8 October 1938. We do not claim to know if Sydney was chosen for a middle name due to his being born in the Sydney suburb of Hornsby, but wouldn’t Hornsby have also made a fine middle name?
Stolle was another of the Aussie male players to receive tutelage from the taciturn and demanding Harry Hopman. At 1.9 metres, it must have seemed to his opponents as though his first serve was delivered with the speed and weight of a piano attached to a bank safe dropped from a 100 story skyscraper. About the time they managed to get a racquet on the ball, if and when they had the good fortune, and then have a glance across the net, there would be Stolle standing at the net waiting to unleash one of his signature volleys that seldom led to any second opportunities.
His game, with his preference for the serve-and-volley style that dominated men’s tennis when three of the four Grand Slam Majors were played on grass, generates additional awe, if it were truly necessary to do so, for the other Aussie player who managed to get the better of Stolle in Grand Slam finals on five occasions, Roy Emmerson. Emmo must have been able to get into Stolle’s head, because he denied Stolle twice at Wimbledon, twice in the Australian Championships and once in the U.S Championships. The only other person to snatch finals victory from Fred was American Chuck McKinley in 1963, Stolle’s first Grand Slam final. John Newcombe in the 1966 U.S. Championship and Tony Roche in the 1965 French Championships were on the short side of the equation in the 1966 U.S. Championship for Stolle’s two Grand Slam Singles titles.
Stolle’s win at the French Championships in 1965 must have had the French muttering sacrebleu and tennis fans the world over scratching their heads to see two Aussies, Fred Stolle and Tony Roche centre court on the slow clay of Roland Garros, where serve-and-volley players seldom had much success.
More than a few bookies offering odds on either of the two to make the finals would have found their bags lightened.
As proficient as Fred was in singles, it was in doubles where he was truly impressive, almost beyond description. He took 10 Grand Slam titles and posted six runner-up finishes. The first was when he partnered countryman Bob Hewitt to win Wimbledon in 1962. That pair made it to six Grand Slam finals betwixt 1961 and 1964, winning four times and losing twice.
In 1965, Stolle formed an association with Roy Emerson. When Emmo had disposed of Stolle in the singles final, he would stroll to Stolles’ side of the net, where the two men reached five finals, winning four of those, including the 1965 French Championships, where Stolle had won the singles title over Tony Roche. He and Emmo beat two Australians, Ken Fletcher and Bob Hewitt in an all-Australia final. Double(s) sacrebleu!
Stolle would next pair with Ken Rosewall to win the French Open in 1968. Emerson may have regretted switching partners, because not even the services of Rodney the Rocket Laver could prevent Stolle and Rosewall from enjoying a rather lopsided straight set victory.
Stolle and Rosewall would reach an additional four finals, but they were runners-up to Newcombe and Roche in the 1968 Wimbledon and to Laver and Emmerson in the 1969 Australian Open. They won the 1969 U.S. Open, and then concluded their partnership with a runner-up finish to Newcombe and Roche in the 1970 Wimbledon.
Stolle continued playing as a professional until 1977, but he never again appeared in any Grand Slam finals. He turned his attention to coaching in the now-defunct World Team Tennis League, winning top honours with the New York Apples in 1976 and 1977. He also spend six years as coach of Vital Gerulaitis from 1977 to 1983. Gerulaitis made it to three Grand Slam finals, winning the Australian Open in 1977. Stolle moved comfortably into the role of television commentator for CBS in the United States and he has filled a similar role for Fox Sports Australia and the Nine Network. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985, the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1988, received the Australian Sports Medal in 2000 and was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2005.
The 1960s was a remarkable decade for Australian tennis. Men and women achieved a level of dominance that is nothing short of breathtaking. Fred Stolle came along at a time when the competition was relentless. There were no easy matches any time he lined up against a fellow Australian. His accomplishments deserve to be commemorated, for in that 10-year period in which he participated, he was a constant fixture in championship matches that truly mattered.