Lew Hoad, the first 'classy Aussie' tennis star, dies

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PETE SAMPRAS'S goal is to emulate a group of players to whom the young American champion of Wimbledon refers as 'those classy Aussies'. Lew Hoad, one of the classiest, died yesterday of leukaemia, aged 59.

Blond, handsome and powerful, Hoad cut a heroic figure during an all too brief reign before joining the professional circuit. He followed Frank Sedgman and preceded Ashley Cooper, Neale Fraser, Rod Laver and Roy Emerson as Australia reasserted its influence on the All England Club in the Fifties and Sixties.

Hoad was also a compatriot, friend and rival of Ken Rosewall, arguably the greatest player never to win the Wimbledon title. Hoad contributed to Rosewall's frustration in that respect, defeating him in four sets in the 1956 final. The following year, Hoad completed a successful defence with a straight- sets victory against Cooper.

That was Hoad's last performance as an amateur. The next day, he flew to New York to turn professional for what was then a record guarantee of dollars 30,000. He returned to Wimbledon in the open era, winning only two singles matches in three appearances, his career curtailed by back problems.

He later settled in Spain as a teaching professional and eventually acquired a club of his own.

As well as winning Wimbledon twice, and doubles successes in 1953, 1955 and 1956, Hoad was the Australian and French singles champion in 1956 and was a member of the Australian Davis Cup team from 1953 to 1956.

In contrast to today's mega-rich leading players, Hoad belonged to an era when it was possible to combine fierce competition with warm camaraderie, and many a beer was consumed after matches. The Australians were among the few who travelled the world playing tournaments virtually the year round, which enabled them to retain form and fitness. That, and their natural gifts, made them professional in the competitive sense if not in terms of financial reward.

Fraser said: 'He was the first of the charismatic players we saw in the Fifties. He produced a brand of tennis that was exciting, different and a joy to watch.'

The International Tennis Federation's president, Brian Tobin, said: 'Tennis has lost one of its true legends. Many of his contemporaries believe that, at his best, Lew was one of the greatest players ever to grace the game.'

Obituary, page 14