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A tribute to Australian tennis legends

Fri 5th Mar 2021

For Australians, sporting excellence is a large part of the national identity, and tennis is no exception. Tennis is quickly becoming a summer staple on the televisions of sport lovers across the nation, so it's important to look back and reflect on the legends that made the sport what it is today. As the events of the 2021 Australian Open last week begin to fade into the past, we remember just some of the tennis players that shaped the sport.

Thelma Coyne Long

Thelma Coyne posing with a tennis racquet in Brisbane, 1932. Photo: State Library of Queensland
Thelma Coyne posing with a tennis racquet in Brisbane, 1932. Photo: State Library of Queensland

Thelma Coyne Long was one of the many women in mid-century tennis who dominated the sport in Australia. Over the course of her exceptional career, she won 19 Grand Slam titles, and was ranked in the top 10 in the world by Lance Tingay of The Daily Telegraph in 1952 and 1954, reaching a high of number 7. At the end of her playing career, Long went on to coach promising tennis players in New South Wales. Her achievements were well recognised by a long list of honours, including a Life Membership of the State Association by Tennis NSW in 1985, the Australian Sports Medal in 2000, an induction into the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame in 2002 and an induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2013. Interestingly, during WWII, Long joined the Red Cross and then the Australian Women's Army Service, rising through the ranks to become Captain in 1944. Long was awarded the War Medal and Australia Service Medal for her contribution. Thelma Coyne Long passed away in 2015 at the age of 96.

Sir Norman Brookes

Sir Norman Brookes, namesake of the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, in 1919. Photo: Bibliothèque nationale de France
Sir Norman Brookes, namesake of the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, in 1919. Photo: Bibliothèque nationale de France

As a Knight Bachelor, International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee and namesake to the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, it's safe to say that Sir Norman Brookes was a legend of the game. During his illustrious career, Brookes brought home three Grand Slam titles, won Wimbledon in 1907 and 1914 (becoming the first left-handed player and the first non-British player to win) and the Australasian Championships in 1911. Brookes was also part of the Davis Cup team, winning on six occasions. Throughout his decorated career, he also served in WWI in Egypt as a commissioner of the Australian Red Cross. Brookes passed away in South Yarra, Victoria at the age of 90 in 1968.

Suzanne Twelftree

Suzanne Twelftree preparing for the Paralympic powerlifting competition. Photo: Australian Paralympic Committee, CC BY-SA 3.0
Suzanne Twelftree preparing for the Paralympic powerlifting competition. Photo: Australian Paralympic Committee, CC BY-SA 3.0

Suzanne Twelftree may have been a less well-known member of the Australian sporting world, but her inspiring story definitely makes her worthy of legend status. Originally from Wallaroo, South Australia, Twelftree became a paraplegic at the age of 30 from a combination of arteriovenous malformation and a surgical mishap. Twelftree didn't let her condition slow her down and went on to take up wheelchair tennis, competing as a member of the team that won the bronze at the World Team Cup in 1991. She also competed in the 1992 Barcelona Paralympics. She also competed in the 2000 Sydney Paralympic as a powerlifter in the up to 48kg category, placing ninth. She was also a board member of the Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Association of South Australia, demonstrating her devotion to helping people like her. She passed away in 2019 at the age of 62, leaving behind her husband, Greg and their children, Todd, Nick and Abbey.

Ashley Cooper AO

Ashley Cooper in 1958, at the height of his career. Photo: Bilsen, Joop van / Anefo, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL.
Ashley Cooper in 1958, at the height of his career. Photo: Bilsen, Joop van / Anefo, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL.

During his active years, Ashley John Cooper was recognised as the world's best amateur player. Cooper won four singles titles, including Wimbledon, and four double titles throughout his career, all before he was considered a professional player. Cooper was the top ranked player in the world in 1957 and 1958. After he retired as a player, he went on to work with Tennis Queensland for nearly 50 years, also sitting on the board of Tennis Australia during this time. Notably, the top-tier tennis player married Helen Wood, who was Miss Australia 1957, in 1959 in a ceremony surrounded by an estimated crowd of 5,000 unruly fans. In his retirement years, Cooper was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame (1987), the International Tennis Hall of Fame (1991) and was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia in the Queen's Birthday Honours List of 2007 for his services to tennis. Ashley Cooper passed away in May of last year at the age of 83.

Daphne Akhurst

Daphne Akhurst in 1925. Photo: Bassano Ltd
Daphne Akhurst in 1925. Photo: Bassano Ltd

According to Wallis Myers of The Daily Telegraph, Daphne Akhurst, also known by her married name, Daphne Cozens, was the number 3 tennis player in the world in 1928. Akhurst remains as fourth on the list of winners of the most women's singles titles at the Australian Championships, placing only behind Margaret Court, Serena Williams and Nancye Wynne Bolton. She not only won five women's singles titles, but also achieved five women's double titles. She also reached the mixed doubles finals in 1928, but lost. Akhurst also won the singles at the German Championships in 1928. Unfortunately, in 1933, the life of the talented player was cut short due to an ectopic pregnancy as she passed away at age 29. Since the year after her passing, the winner of the women's singles title at the Australian Open is awarded the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup in her honour. She was also posthumously inducted into the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame in 2006 and the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2013

Peter McNamara

Peter McNamara, Paul McNamee, Neale Fraser, John Fitzgerald & Pat Cash celebrating 1986 Davis Cup won by Australia.
Peter McNamara, Paul McNamee, Neale Fraser, John Fitzgerald & Pat Cash celebrating 1986 Davis Cup won by Australia.

At the height of his career, Peter McNamara was number 7 in the world. In 1980 and 1982, with partner Paul McNamee, he won the doubles titles at Wimbledon, and the Australian Open in 1979. Notably, after his retirement from playing, McNamara went on to coach some of the world's best players, including Mark Philippoussis, Grigor Dimitrov, Matthew Ebden and Wang Qiang. After his passing at his home in Germany in 2019 due to prostate cancer, his lifelong friend and former tennis partner, McNamee, said ""He lived life to the fullest. He was just great company. I mean, I was lucky to know him for over 50 years as a friend." McNamara won 19 doubles titles in total, most with McNamee and some with other international players. He is remembered not only for his exceptional sporting prowess, but also for his outstanding sportsmanship and team work skills.

Mary Hawton

Mary Hawton's book is still available for purchase to this day. Photo: Amazon
Mary Hawton's book is still available for purchase to this day. Photo: Amazon

Mary Hawton was another exceptional Australian sportswoman of the 1940s and 1950s. Hawton took home five Australian Championship doubles titles and one mixed doubles title in 1958. She was also captain of the Australian Fed Cup team from 1979 to 1980 and would go on to become the director of the NSW Tennis Association. At the end of her career, she has six Grand Slam titles. Hawton published a book in 1979 titled How to Play Winning Tennis, passing on her wisdom to the next generation of eager tennis players. Her namesake, the Mary Hawton Trophy, is awarded to the winner of the Australian teams championships for girls. Mary Hawton passed away in 1981 in Sydney, leaving behind a legacy of excellence in women's sporting.

Brad Drewett

Brad Drewett was a tennis legend, both on and off the court. Photo: Red Photographic Ltd., CC BY-SA 3.0
Brad Drewett was a tennis legend, both on and off the court. Photo: Red Photographic Ltd., CC BY-SA 3.0

Brad Drewett showed exceptional talent from a very early age. In 1975 and 1977, Drewett took home the Australian Open junior championship at the age of 17, the youngest to do so since Ken Rosewall and John Newcombe. Throughout his playing career, Drewett won two singles titles and seven doubles titles, reaching a singles ranking of world number 34 in 1984 and a doubles ranking of world number 18 in 1988. After his retirement from playing, Drewett became a commentator for Channel 9 and Channel 10, and was also appointed to the Association of Tennis Professionals, serving as Executive chairman and President for a time. In 2013, Drewett announced that he would be stepping down from his position, as he had been diagnosed with motor neuron disease. He passed away at home less than four months later. The ATP World Tour Finals Trophy was renamed "The Brad Drewett Trophy" in honour of his contribution to the association and the sport. A memorial bust of Drewett, cast in brass, resides at Melbourne Park, and reads "A top-40 player, Australian Davis Cup representative, ATP Executive Chairman and President, Brad left an indelible mark on the sport he loved, ensuring our great game was in a better place than he found it.'

Margaret Molesworth

Margaret Molesworth paved the way for Australian females in tennis. Photo: Public domain
Margaret Molesworth paved the way for Australian females in tennis. Photo: Public domain

Maud Margaret Molesworth saw much adversity throughout her career, but she still managed to come out on top of one of the world's best players. The girl from Queensland won her first major doubles title in 1914, but soon after, her career came to a screeching halt. Due to the outbreak of WWI, most sporting competitions in Australia were cancelled over the next five years. When the war ended, Molesworth made an epic comeback, winning both national and international tennis titles, including the very first Australian Championships in 1922. Molesworth also won in 1923, defending her championship title. Molesworth was the first woman tennis player to reach the world's top ten ranked tennis players, putting her at number 10 during the years she won the Australian Championships. She retired in 1924 for health reasons, but came back with a vengeance ten years later, reaching the singles final in Australia once again and played overseas for the first time in France and Wimbledon. After her official retirement for competition, she became one of the first female professional coaches Australia had seen. Molesworth received the British Empire Medal in the 1972 Queen's Birthday Honours for her service to the community of Ku-ring-gai, NSW. She maintained her lifelong love of tennis until she passed in 1985 at the age of 90.

Todd Reid

Todd Reid playing during the 2002 Australian Open. Picture: Getty Images
Todd Reid playing during the 2002 Australian Open. Picture: Getty Images

Despite his young age, Todd Reid was one of Australia's golden boys of tennis in the 2000s, ranking number 3 in Australia after only Lleyton Hewitt and Mark Philippoussis. The prodigy from New South Wales won the 2002 Wimbledon boy's singles title while still in high school. In 2004, Reid played a fierce 2004 Australian Open, where he reached the third round of the men's singles competition before losing to Roger Federer. Despite this loss, he reached a career-high tour ranking of 105 that same year. Unfortunately, Reid was forced to retire from the sport in 2006 off the back of several injuries and glandular fever. He passed away in 2018 at the age of 34, with a cause of death never being announced.

Nancye Wynne Bolton

Nancye Wynne Bolton in 1938. Photo: Bassano Ltd
Nancye Wynne Bolton in 1938. Photo: Bassano Ltd

Finally, Nancye Wynne Bolton was another one of Australian tennis' golden girls of the mid century, holding records to this day. Bolton holds some of the most Australian Championship women's titles of any sports woman today, beaten only by Margaret Court and Serena Williams. Having won six Aussie titles throughout her career, she reached a world ranking of number 4 from 1947 to 1948. According to the American Lawn Tennis magazine of the time, Bolton was ranked as the second best player in the world in 1947, behind Louise Brough. For her exceptional performances that still hold true to this day, Bolton was posthumously inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2004. She passed away in 2001 in Melbourne, at the age of 84.

By Claudia Slack

Sources:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzanne_Twelftree
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Brookes#Honours
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brad_Drewett#Illness_and_death
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daphne_Akhurst
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Hawton
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_McNamara
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Molesworth
  • https://www.tennis.com.au/news/2019/07/22/in-memoriam-peter-mcnamara
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashley_Cooper_(tennis)
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thelma_Coyne_Long
  • https://www.news.com.au/sport/tennis/australian-tennis-star-todd-reid-dead-at-34/news-story/caa94fb132d7b0ae19bdf6f4756b41ee
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Todd_Reid
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancye_Wynne_Bolton