There is universal agreement in the tennis world, along with the sports world in general, that the Wimbledon Championship is to tennis what the Melbourne Cups is to Australian horse racing.
Everyone who has ever picked up a racquet and played a match at any level, at least those who are willing to admit it, has engaged in the reverie of a dramatic victory on the grass courts of the of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Here are some details regarding the Australian men who have won the ultimate tennis prize.
Norman Brookes was the first Australian man to claim victory in the Men’s Singles in 1907.
He was the first non-British man to claim the title since The Championships, as the Brits are wont to call them, originated in 1877. He won again in 1914, putting a stop to Anthony Wilding after that New Zealander had won four consecutive, by beating Wilding in straight sets. He partnered with Wilding in both 1907 and 1914 to take the Men’s Doubles. Brookes was born in 1877, the first year The Championships were held. Brookes’ birth in St. Kilda also marked the inception of the St. Kilda Saints in the VFA, so if he was a footy fan, he was an early sufferer.
He played two matches for the Saints in 1898, where he kicked two goals. And no, those were not the only two goals the Saints tallied in the 90s. Norman Brookes was already 29 when he won Wimbledon for the first time, although he had been runner-up in 1905. Like another famous Australian player that came along much later, Rod Somebody-Or-Other, Brookes was a left-hander, something we right-handed tennis players often resent when returning serve.
After his 1914 win, the tournament took a pause for World War I. Brookes finished runner up to the second Australian man to win the Singles, Gerald Patterson, in 1919. Patterson added a second title in 1922, after finishing runner-up to Bill Tilden in 1920 It would be 1933 before another Australian man won, that being J. H. Crawford. Crawford had a chance to repeat in 1934, but his timing would be considered off in that he ran into American Fred Perry, who won the first of what would be three consecutive titles.
Almost 20 years would elapse, although the Second World War meant that The Championships were skipped for five years, before Frank Sedgman of the Melbourne suburb of Mont Albert won in 1952. He also won the U.S. Championships that year, also winning in 1951. He was the Wimbledon runner-up in 1950. He would also win three Wimbledon Doubles titles in 1948, 51 and 52.
The waiting was just four years to Lew Hoad, the man one of the greatest players of all time, Jack Kramer, credited with being one of the 21 best players of all time. Lew Hoad played the majority of his career as an amateur in the days when professional tennis was considered beneath the dignity of the top players.
He did turn professional in 1957 before retiring in 1967, although with the advent of the Open Era in 1968, he did attempt to compete from time to time. He competed as an amateur from 1951 – 1957, winning the two aforementioned Wimbledon titles. He spent most of those years ranked in the top 10 in the world for amateurs, culminating in 1956 when he was number one.
His first Wimbledon win in 1956 came at the expense of fellow countryman Ken Rosewall, with whom he had teamed to take the Doubles title in 1953. When Hoad won the next year, it came at the expense of another Australian, Ashley Cooper, who was swept in three sets, winning only five games.
Cooper would rebound to win Wimbledon in 1958, beating Neal Fraser in four sets after dropping the first. The final set, since this was prior to the tiebreaker era, required 24 games, in all probability featuring many deuces and ads, for Cooper to win 13 – 11. Cooper’s win was the third consecutive by the Australian men. That three consecutive win streak was duplicated beginning in 1960, when Neale Fraser, another left-hander from Melbourne, sent young Rod Laver to his second consecutive finals runner-up finish.
Fraser had been the losing finalist in 1958 and won the Doubles in 1959 and 1961 when he partnered with Roy Emerson. Two consecutive by yet another left-hander, Rod Laver, followed in 1961 and 1962. Laver lost only eight games in a three-set sweep of American Chuck McKinley in 1961.
He dropped only five games in beating his countryman Martin Mulligan in 1962. Laver’s record is well beyond the scope of this article, so we will simply mention that he won the Championships twice more, in the first year of the Open era, in 1968, and again in 1969. Following Laver’s first two wins, Roy Emerson took two consecutive in 1964 and 1965.
The Australians took the following year off before John Newcombe concluded the so-called Amateur era by winning in 1967, so when Laver won two more in 1968 and 1969, it was the third time that Australian men had won three consecutive Singles titles. When Newcombe came along in 1970 and 1971 to win for the third and fourth time, it made five consecutive for the Australian men.
That first win by Hoad in 1956 and the last by Newcombe in 1971 marked a period when an Australian man won the Singles title 13 times in a 16-year span. It would be another 16 years before Pat Cash of Melbourne won in 1987. During that period, Ken Rosewall was the only Australian to reach the finals, where he lost to Jimmy Connors. Patrick Rafter reached the finals in 2000 and 2001, losing to Pete Sampras in the first year, where Sampras was winning his fourth consecutive.
Rafter gave Sampras all he could handle, with the first two sets going to tiebreakers. In 2001, Rafter fell to Goran Ivanisevic in another hard-fought match.
Lleyton Hewitt broke the 15-year drought when he took the title over David Nalbandian of Argentina, losing only six games in a straight-set victory. Mark Philippoussis, another Melbourner, advanced to the finals in 2003, but ran into Roger Federer, who was winning the first of his eventual five consecutive Wimbledon victories.
The remarkable era beginning with Lew Hoad and culminating with John Newcombe may never be seen again, but then again, never is too long a time over which to be making predictions.