© AELTC/Michael Cole

Former British No. 2 Graham Stilwell, a founding member of the ATP, in action on Centre Court at Wimbledon in the late 1960s.

Graham Stilwell: 1945-2019

Gentleman Brit, with a dry sense of humour

Graham Stilwell, a founding member of the ATP, as well as an outstanding British junior player and doubles finalist at the 1964 US Nationals, has passed away aged 73. He had been suffering from a neuro-muscular disorder that resulted in loss of mobility.

Educated at Parmiter's school in east London, the stocky 5’8” Stilwell won British under-18 (1963) and under-21 titles (1965), finished runner-up to John Newcombe in the 1963 junior Australian Championships final and, the following year, in the junior doubles final (w/Stanley Matthews).

Aged 18, he partnered Mike Sangster to the 1964 US National doubles final, where they lost to Chuck McKinley and Dennis Ralston 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 and in 1967 picked up the New Zealand title with Mark Cox and reached the Wimbledon semi-finals with Peter Curtis.

Mark Cox told ATPTour.com, “Graham was a very talented and gifted player, who arguably could have gone much further in the game than he did. He enjoyed life. Easy going would be an understatement, always enjoying a glass of beer and very good fun to be around.”

In the first full year of 'Open Tennis', 1969, Stilwell beat Manuel Santana and Fred Stolle en route to the Internazionali BNL d'Italia quarter-finals (l. to Okker), and recorded five Davis Cup singles rubber wins (10-2 overall record) — including over Ilie Nastase and Ion Tiriac — to take Great Britain to the brink of the Challenge Round [final]. He was adjudged by Lance Tingay, the tennis correspondent of The Daily Telegraph of London, to have finished the season at No. 10 in the world.

Cox added, “The year when he made a huge impact in British tennis was 1969 when Great Britain reached the round before the Davis Cup final, with a singles record of 10 wins and two losses. In those days we had five rounds to get to that stage. Graham virtually single-handedly carried Great Britain to that stage and even in that key round against Romania he beat both Tiriac and Nastase. The Davis Cup captain, Healey Baxter, had embarked early in the year upon a serious fitness campaign to get Graham fit, which he did and his results illustrated, that in peak condition, he had the ability to beat some of the very best. This performance contributed to him being invited to join WCT.”

His best Grand Slam championship singles performances came in fourth-round exits at the 1966 US Nationals, when he lost to seventh seed Clark Graebner 9-11, 8-6, 6-3, 7-5 and in June 1975, four months before he retired, at Wimbledon. He lost in the fourth round 6-2, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 to eventual Wimbledon champion and sixth seed Arthur Ashe, six years on from a 12-10 fifth set exit to the same player.

Stilwell signed as a contract pro for World Championship Tennis (WCT) on 1 February 1970 for a reported £9,000 plus a year, for four years. The best singles victories of his career came over Newcombe (Queensland State), Stolle and Santana (1969 Rome), Rod Laver (1970 Paris Indoors), Andres Gimeno (1971 London), Ashe (1972 Toronto-WCT) and Guillermo Vilas (1975 Stockholm).

The right-hander, who possessed a dry sense of humour, won two tour-level doubles titles in 1973 at Columbus (w/Gerald Battrick) and Cologne-WCT (w/Cox). He also finished runner-up at Stockholm in 1969 (w/Gimeno) and at three events in 1973 — London, Chicago (both w/Battrick) and Copenhagen-WCT (w/Cox). In 1974, Stilwell played for the Chicago Aces in the inaugural World Team Tennis season.

In playing retirement, Stilwell coached in Great Britain and in the United States. He had recently coached young tournament players at the 4 Star Tennis Academy in Merryfield, Virginia, and at Onelife Fitness - Skyline, in Falls Church, Virginia. He is survived by five children: two sons and three daughters.

Graham Rodney Stilwell, tennis player and coach, born 15 November 1945, died 31 January 2019.

More stories like this in: