Fred Perry, Wimbledon's true champion, dies at 85

Fred Perry, the last British tennis player to win the men's singles title at Wimbledon, died in a Melbourne hospital yesterday, writes Mark Burton. Perry, who was 85, suffered broken ribs in a fall in his hotel bathroom on Sunday and his condition deteriorated quickly.

Perry's fourth wife, Bobby, was with him in Melbourne where he had been watching the Australian Open championships, which finished on Sunday. His daughter Penny was on her way from London when Perry died.

When he won the men's crown three times in succession in the Thirties, Perry became the darling of the Wimbledon crowds, even though his background - he grew up in Stockport the son of a Labour MP - contrasted sharply with the privileged background of many All England Club patrons in those days.

His triumphant sequence at Wimbledon culminated in his 6-1, 6-1, 6-0 victory over the German Baron Gottfried von Cramm in 1936. Taking him only 40 minutes, it was the quickest final this century and the second shortest of all time.

He was virtually ostracised by the tennis establishment when he turned professional shortly after completing that hat-trick of Centre Court singles triumphs, and he was not accorded full recognition by tennis authorities for his remarkable and unprecedented contribution to British tennis until his twilight years.

However, the esteem in which he was latterly held in the game was reflected in the words of the All England chairman, John Curry, yesterday: "Fred Perry was a superlative ambassador for our sport throughout the world. He was a great character, big-hearted and a true champion in every sense.

"He won the affection and admiration of all those involved in tennis - the players, the fans, the media, and officials. Fred was one of those rare individuals. He was at ease with all - from the youngest fans to royalty."

His significance to the game and to the Wimbledon championship are marked by the Fred Perry Gates and his statue in the club's grounds, put up in 1984 to mark the 50th anniversary of his first singles title.

Among many tributes to Perry, Britain's new Davis Cup captain, David Lloyd, said: "Fred was a great man. Not only did he win Wimbledon, he did so much for the game for so long. I think his name will always be remembered as one of the all-time greats in any sport. He had an aura, something special that all great people have and you couldn't but respect him."

A Lawn Tennis Association statement spoke of "his wit and warm personality" and described him "as a wonderful ambassador for the game".

Obituary, page 16

John Roberts, page 40

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