Kovaleski… Fred Kovaleski

Silliman on Sports


He’s sprier than you and he’s spy-er than you.

Eighty nine year old Fred Kovaleski can play tennis better than you, most of you, anyway. He’s the best 85-and-older player in the world. At the age of twenty five, he was playing Wimbledon as the 13th best player in the world. In the late 40s at William and Mary, he was twice a NCAA tennis champ.

In a TV story from CBS in New York, we find that Fred Kovaleski traveled all over Europe playing pro tennis from 1951 to 1961 while also working for the CIA. He used tennis as his cover.

That’s a story that should inspire a television series. Here’s a guy traveling around Europe winning Culps and they should have made… Whoops, did I just say “winning Culps” as in Robert Culp, instead of cups? Did Fred Kovaleski have a funny jello-pop eating black trainer traveling with him?

“Is that a tennis ball in your pocket… or did Natasha just knee you in the groin?”

“That ball was out, umpire. Clearly out! If necessary, I’ll show you the picture I took of it with my shoe camera.”

“Wow, that was a close one. How do you feel after barely pulling out that match, Mr. Kovaleski?” “Shaken… not stirred.”

“Sorry, Fred, you only serve twice!”

“The Spy who Loved Tennis.”

Fred was recruited into the service in 1951, at a U.S. Embassy during a match in Egypt because he spoke both Russian and Polish. Part of his job was to get Russian players to talk to him, find out what they knew. If it meant sidling up to pretty Russian tennis chicks, well, it was a dirty job but someone had to do it. “Tatiana, do you want to come to my room and see my Etch-A-Sketch I drew of Khrushchev?”

Mostly, Fred’s job was to turn KGB agents into defectors, especially any who loved tennis. Fred also worked at the safe houses with Russian speaking defectors. You can read a fascinating story on Fred’s double life on line by finding Serge Kovaleski (Fred’s son) article “The Most Dangerous Game.” Please check it out.

After ten years, in 1961, Fred left the life of a secret agent and traveling pro-tennis player to concentrate on his family and took a full time job with Pepsi-Cola, International. “Yes, I could give you the secret soda formula… but then, I’d have to kill you.”

Kovaleski is prepping to return to Europe for the World 85-and-over Tennis Championship. Will he encounter any old commie tennis contacts while he’s there? “So, how do you practice, alone, when your wall have been torn down?”

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