by Cathy Moran
I remember as a young girl growing up in the newly emerging Open era and being captivated by the elegance and beauty of the celebrated female tennis stars. My sepia toned recollections begin really with a library book, the autobiography of Ann Jones, Game to Love, a photo and anecdote filled treat which inspired my own affair with the most beautiful game.
I feel so lucky to have grown up with parents who adored tennis, played regularly in the local park and discussed the game over the dinner table. The legend of giants like King, Court, Wade, Laver, Rosewall, Segura and Stolle made a lasting impression on my enquiring mind and I developed a love for tennis that continued to grow. It was a magical era for a sport that was so individual in comparison to autumn’s football Saturdays.
As a youngster my first racquet came from the local news store, it was regally emblazoned ‘Royal’. Sure, it wasn’t the Maxply Fort of my idols, but it served me well on the grass courts near our home. Summer holidays were a frenetic opportunity to play as much as possible, and the crowning glory, of course was Wimbledon fortnight. Back then the Championship was held in the last two weeks of June. As a student, this meant rushing home from school hoping to see my heroes and heroines on our tiny TV and enjoy the skills and excitement I could only hope to emulate.
Wimbledon Weekdays and Weekends
Wimbledon weekends were bliss, with the velvety, tones of Dan Maskell exclaiming “Well played, well played indeed” as a forehand was whipped down the line or a sublime drop volley narrowly missed caressing the net.
Looking back at footage of the early 70s now, I marvel at the skill and dexterity of the players, lacking the technical innovation to give them a power game, but skillfully manipulating the tools of their trade to create a work of art on grass. Taken aback and enthralled at the emergence of big servers like Roscoe Tanner, nevertheless the grace of those grass court champions is what inspired and entertained not only me, but all the viewers.
The Women’s Friday Final
Now, the real challenge for a ten year old in 1971 who wanted nothing more than to watch Goolagong and Court in the Ladies Singles final, was how to watch a final held on a Friday. How inconsiderate the schedulers back then. The ladies were playing not only for the Venus Rosewater dish but prize money of £1,800, the men for £3,375. The inequity of this didn’t cross my young mind, just as Billie Jean playing as “Mrs L. W. King” hardly seemed out of place in the Centre Court cradle of traditionalism.
So, Friday afternoon, when the TV audience was, basically homemakers, seemed the perfect slot for the ladies. From my own perspective, I’d already decided that nothing, not even school, would get in the way of my own enjoyment. Having spent a fortnight swept away by tanned limbs gliding across the scorched grass in Tinling creations I was fortunate enough to count on the unwavering support of my mom. She agreed to me skipping school and damn the consequences.
50 years later, the memory of those long, hot summer days, a glass of Robinson’s Barley Water and sharing this most precious of days with my mom is imprinted on my mind. Changes to the women’s game have brought progress, courted controversy, and most importantly of all, inspired while creating historic moments in the most individually challenging of sports.
Cathy Moran is a celebrated writer based in England who’s love for tennis has taken her to so many of the grass court venues in Britain she has lost count of how many. She is looking forward to this year’s Men’s Gentleman’s final with bated breath.