A fan favorite with his animated, quick-footed play, Okker, the "Flying Dutchman," was a slight but canny player who often defeated larger, more powerful opponents. Usually nervous, "Tom the Twitch" is Holland's greatest tennis player and one of the top Jewish ones ever. In 2003, he was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. Feb. 22, 1944
Tom, whose father was Jewish, began to consider tennis as a career after winning a few junior championships. After winning the Dutch Championship in 1964 (a title he held until turning pro in 1968), Okker trained in Austrailia with other young tennis players and surprised everyone at the 1965 Maccabiah Games, winning the singles and mixed doubles. In 1968, he turned professional and won his first major tournament at the Italian singles and doubles championship (with Marty Riessen). That year, Okker was runner-up to Arthur Ashe at the very first U.S. Open, losing in 5 sets (14-12, 5-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3). He ranked in the top 10 for five consecutive years in the early 1970s; his highest ranking was No.3 in the world, achieved in 1969.
Tom proved to be a terrific doubles player as well, winning the United States indoor doubles championship. In 1976, he had his greatest victory when he won the doubles championship with Marty Riessen at the U.S. Open; the following year, Okker was ranked No. 1 in men's doubles. His best finish in a Grand Slam singles was at the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1978. Tom ended his outstanding career with 20 singles titles and 78 doubles titles. Although officially retired, Okker continues to play in senior tennis tournaments and owns an art gallery in Amsterdam.
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Great Jews in Sports, by Robert Slater (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)