The story behind Britain's greatest tennis stars
Andy Murray and his brother Jamie together with Dominic Inglot, James Ward and Daniel Evans could be on the brink of ending a very long wait to reclaim one of sport's most prestigious prizes. Victory over the Belgians in Ghent at the weekend will mark the first time in 79 years that the GB team has brought home the Davis Cup title.
If the Brits come out on top, the headlines almost write themselves. A long drought finally ended, a golden age of British tennis, Murray as the greatest Brit since Perry (and possibly greater): expect to hear all of this in a mini re-run of the response that greeted Andy’s 2013 SW19 victory over Novak Djokovic.
In light of all this, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Britain was a star-free zone between Fred Perry hanging up his racquet and Andy Murray appearing on the scene. In fact, the last 80 years has seen a number of inspirational figures – and here’s a rundown of the biggest and best.
In an age of gentleman amateurs, Fred Perry offered a glimpse of a new era. Born in 1909 and with a trade unionist father who would later become a Co-Operative MP, in the eyes of the tennis establishment, he could hardly have been further away from the right side of the tracks. Perry’s golden period came in the mid-thirties, with Wimbledon singles’ wins in 1934, 1935 and 1936. The decade would also bring two singles victories at the US Open, and one each at the Australian and French Grand Slams. On top of a slew of doubles tournament wins, Perry was also key to Britain’s four consecutive Davis Cup victories between 1933 and 1936.
His style was quick and aggressive with immense all-court ability. These days, we’d assume that tournament wins and titles would be enough to guarantee crowd-favourite status – but things were different in the thirties. He was ambitious – and not afraid to show it, and neither was he immune to occasional displays of gamesmanship. Following the 1934 men’s final, for instance, at least one press correspondent noted the crowd’s distinctly lukewarm reaction to his victory.
After 1936, the run of Grand Slam wins was to come to an end. This wasn’t because of any sudden collapse of form, but because Perry switched to the nascent pro circuit and moved to the US.
Perry’s team-mate for each of those four Davis Cup wins was Henry Wilfred (Bunny) Austin; who, on his death in 2000 was described as the “most admirable failure in the history of British tennis”. Although it was Perry who was to go on to start his own clothing brand, it was Austin who cut the Beckham-esque figure at the time the pair were at their height. Good-looking and debonair with a film-star wife, he was one of the first players to wear shorts on court.
He was to reach No. 2 in the world, reaching the men’s Wimbledon final in 1932 and 1938, losing on each occasion. He was also finalist at the French Open in 1932. As war loomed, he became closely involved in the Moral Re-Armament movement and after he retired in 1938, he moved to the US where he lectured on Christianity and pacifism.
Careless commentators who in 2013, without qualification, declared Andy Murray the first British Wimbledon champion since the thirties, were wrong on several counts. For one thing, this missed out the various junior and doubles titles holders over the years (Laura Robson and Jamie Murray among them). More importantly, it overlooked Virginia Wade.
The time was right for a British win in 1977. This was the centenary year of the All England Club. It was also Silver Jubilee year, and the Queen just so happened to be in the crowd to present the trophy to the winner. Also, there was also an element of “now or never”, as although no-one knew it at the time, the following year was to see the beginning of a reign of dominance by a certain Martina Navratilova that would see her ‘boss’ Wimbledon for more than a decade.
Displaying her athletic all-court, serve and volley game at its best, Wade dispatched the reigning champ and star of the moment, Chris Evert in the semi before beating Betty Stove over three sets. This was the crowning glory of a career which had seen Wade pick up US and Australian Open titles in 1968 and 1972 respectively.
Angela Mortimer only started playing tennis at 15, yet at the age of 19 she was making her mark at the majors. Partial deafness meant that Mortimer could hear the crowd - but couldn’t hear the sound of the ball. This disability didn’t stop her from winning grand slam titles in France and Australia in 1955 and 1958 respectively.
Her final and most significant major title was to come in 1961 when the 29-year-old faced Christine Truman Janes in the first all-British Ladies Wimbledon final in 47 years. Having beaten the No 1 seed, Sandra Reynolds 11-9, 6-3 in the semi finals, Mortimer overcame Janes over three sets. She went on to captain the British Fed Cup squad from 1967-1970.
His wins at Wimbledon in 2013 and Flushing Meadows a year earlier mean that Andy Murray’s place in British tennis history is secured. So what will be the next big chapter in the Andy Murray story? Are there any more grand slam titles to come?
Novak Djokovic is undoubtedly the best player in the world at present, having won no fewer than six grand slams since his 2013 Wimbledon defeat. A series of eight successive losses made it seem as if beating Djokovic had turned into an impossible feat for Murray. That drought finally came to an end in August with a victory over three sets at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, which saw Murray pick up his 35th career title. So beating the World No 1 isn’t impossible; something which bodes well for the Australian Open at the start of next year - and beyond.