The most exciting tennis player in the U.S. today is a broad-backed, brown-eyed, irrepressible Missourian named Charles Robert McKinley. A year ago he was just another talented youngster. Now, at the still tender age of 19, he is whipping some of the finest amateurs in the game. To the delight of the galleries, he plays with a headlong exuberance seldom seen in amateur tennis since the days of Pancho Segura. 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."
McKinley looks more like a stocky fullback than a tennis player. Only 5 feet 8 inches tall, he is as short as Bobby Riggs but, at 160, he weighs some 20 pounds more than Riggs did when he was winning at Wimbledon and Forest Hills. McKinley has broad shoulders, thick biceps and the wrists and hands of a blacksmith. He is what most topflight American tennis players are not—an honest-to-goodness athlete who would stand out in almost any sport.
On the court McKinley's nerves are stretched as tautly as the strings of his racket ("It all builds up inside me; if I'm not nervous, I lose"), and it is transparently clear that he does not intend to finish where nice guys traditionally do. "You don't want to give 'em anything," he says. "You're out there to win the same as they are, and you can't for one minute be nice. If you get ahead you can't afford to let up and let 'em win a few games."
COLORFUL AND ENERGETIC
As McKinley leaps, lunges, runs full tilt and whacks the ball violently, he burns energy at a furious rate. When he really leans into an overhead smash he looks as though he is going to bounce the ball into the next township. A fine shot brings a quick, broad grin to his face, and when an opponent misses, he often chirps a falsetto "Out!" to supplement the linesman's call. But when he commits an error, he is likely to bring his racket savagely downward as if clubbing a snake, or to tell himself, so courtsiders can hear him, "Oh, Charley, you missed that one."
Since all this is spontaneous and unmarred by the sulkiness so commonly seen on tennis courts today, spectators who have watched McKinley in action are fascinated by him. He has color, a rare and precious quality for which they are grateful, but beyond that they sense his impending arrival as a major star.
In the considered judgment of Bill Talbert, former national doubles champion and frequent contributor to these pages, McKinley has everything a champion needs except experience. "There is nothing he can't do on the court," Talbert says. "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.
"Right now Chuck tends to over-hit. He simply needs more experience. He will make a fabulous shot and then a silly schoolboy error. It's just a question of time, and not very much time, I think, until he is playing percentage tennis on every stroke."
McKinley's lack of height is a handicap, but Talbert believes he can compensate for it with his speed. " Jack Kramer wasn't fast," Talbert says, "so he had to make compensations—and he became the best player in the world. Riggs was small, but he had first-rate control. Chuck, on the other hand, is a power player. Riggs would make his opponents lose points. This kid will win points."
McKinley began beating the country's best players as long ago as last August, when he a gave the veteran Dick Savitt a 6-4, 6-8, 6-4 licking in the eastern grass court championships at South Orange, N.J. In the national doubles at Brookline, Mass. McKinley reached the quarter-finals with Martin Riessen of Hinsdale, Ill., after upsetting Tut Bartzen and Ron Holmberg. In September he removed the Mexican champion, Antonio Palafox, from the national championships at Forest Hills before losing in the fourth round to Alex Olmedo, who later lost in the finals to Neale Fraser.