Fred Perry, father of British tennis, dies

`He was a superlative ambassador for sport throughout the world. He was a great character, big-hearted, and a true champion'

The great Fred Perry has died, aged 85. Britain's last link with the Wimbledon men's singles title passed away last evening at a hospital in Melbourne, where he had been cared for since falling in a hotel bath and breaking four ribs.

Perry, who always kept in close touch with the sport, had gone to Australia to watch the tennis championships, which ended last Sunday. His fourth wife, Barbara, known to all as "Bobby", was with him, and his daughter, Penny, was on her way to Melbourne when he died.

In the 1930s, Perry became the first player in history to have his name inscribed on the world's four major singles trophies, those of Wimbledon, France, the United States and Australia, though he did not accomplish this in the same calendar year, a featwhich came to be known as the Grand Slam.

It was at Wimbledon that Perry achieved his greatest glory. In 1936 he won a third consecutive singles title, the first Briton to win three in a row since Laurie Doherty in 1903. Afterwards, Perry went to America and turned professional, leaving British tennis with a void it has been unable to fill. He became a United States citizen in 1939.

Millions in Wimbledon profits have been spent by the Lawn Tennis Association in an attempt to create a system to produce players capable at least of making a challenge on the professional circuits, let alone of emulating Perry and Virginia Wade, the lastBriton to win the women's singles title at the All England Club, in 1977.

In 1984, the 50th anniverary of Perry's first Wimbledon triumph, a statue was erected in the Wimbledon grounds, and the gates at the Somerset Road entrance were dedicated in his honour. The belated tributes were in stark contrast to the manner in which he was treated by the tennis establishment during his amateur career.

This was encapsulated after his initial Wimbledon victory against "Gentleman" Jack Crawford in 1934. Perry, soaking in the bath, overheard a member of the All England Club's committee tell his Australian opponent, "This was one day when the best man did not win." Crawford was presented with a bottle of champagne and Perry's honorary member's tie was left draped over the back of his chair.

Born in Stockport, Cheshire, the son of a cotton spinner who became a Labour MP, the forthright Perry was a fiercely determined competitor who could not abide snobbishness. The qualities that made him a magnificent champion, both as an individual and also as a member of victorious Davis Cup teams, were not always appreciated by the LTA. He was regarded as a rebel, and worse after he turned professional.

Perry and his fellow pros were virtual outlaws, discouraged from playing on any tennis court at any tennis club attached to any tennis federation. They had make do with improvised arenas, once playing at the Kop end of the Liverpool football ground at Anfield.

Versatile as a sportsman - he won the world table tennis title before turning to tennis - Perry was popular with the Hollywood set after turning professional and later the flanelled hero made a name in the sportswear industry.

John Curry, the All England Club's chairman, summarised the man well in paying tribute last night. "Fred Perry was a superlative ambassador for our sport throughout the world," Curry said. "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."

Christine Janes, a former Wimbledon singles finalist and co-commentator with Perry on BBC Radio, said on Five Live: "Fred was one of those indestructible people who one hoped would go on forever. He was unique. He was always optimistic and, although he was much older than many of those people he was mixing with, always seemed to stay very young at heart and be involved with people of all ages. You can't really replace him."

Also speaking on Radio Five Live was "Bunny" Austin, a Davis Cup team-mate of Perry's in the 1930s. He said: "I have the recollection of a magnificent athlete who was a sort of genius.

"He was the table tennis champion of London, Middlesex and the world. He went to a park one day and saw a game which he found out was called lawn tennis. He said `I like that game', got himself a racket and went on to play tennis exactly the same way he'd played table tennis.

"I think that if he had been trained they probably would have ruined him. He was a kind of genius. He did everything wrong, but he won. I think he was a first-class sportsman."

Chris Bailey, the recently retired British player remembered for a stirring performance against Goran Ivanisevic on the Centre Court, said: "It's a shame no one has been able to emulate what he achieved. He was a great man and a great character. He came to a few Davis Cup matches and used to support the British players - however badly we played."

David Lloyd, Britain's Davis Cup captain elect, said Perry "had an aura, something special that all great people have, and you couldn't but respect him."

Your correspondent's last conversation with our Fred was by telephone last Monday, inquiring about his health at the Epworth hospital before leaving Melbourne. We discussed the previous day's Australian Open men's singles final, in which Andre Agassi haddefeated his American compatriot, Pete Sampras.

Perry, who had watched the match on television, expressed concerned about Sampras's feet, which had blistered during the tournament. "In my day," he said, "we used to put moleskin on the soles of our feet to protect them from blisters. You could bathe and shower with it on, and when the tournament was finished, the moleskin would peel away without any trouble."

Was it still available? "Yes," he said, "I've got some with me."

Obituary, page 16

THE PERRY CREDO `Play the game on and off the court learn to accept defeat gracefully and be ever ready to appreciate your conqueror's success. Never sacrifice your strokes for the sake of winning a match. Take the long view. Let the young player adopt athree year plan of development. Practise taking the ball early. Speed is essential in modern tennis. Remember that attack is the best form of defence. Never play for safety! The courageous policy will pay in the long run. Play to the umpire. Do not insult him by throwing away points after a doubtful decision in your favour.'

l From Fred Perry's 1934 autobiography: `My Story'.

FRED PERRY 1909 Born Stockport, 18 May.

1929 Won world table-tennis championship.

1931 Reached Wimbledon semi-final, losing to the eventual champion, Sidney Woods. First played for Britain in Davis Cup, and reached challenge round, in which they lost 3-2 to France.

1932 Won mixed doubles at French Championships with Betty Nuthall. Runners-up in men's doubles at Wimbledon with Pat Hughes. Won mixed doubles at US Championships with Sarah Palfrey.

1933 Won men's doubles at French Championships with Hughes and runner-up in mixed doubles with Nuthall. Won US Championship, his first major singles title. Helped Britain win Davis Cup for first time since 1912.

1934 Won singles and doubles, with Hughes, in Australian Championships. Won Wimbledon singles for first time. Won US Championship for second time. Helped Britain win Davis Cup for second successive year.

1935 Runner-up in singles and doubles, with Hughes, at Australian Championships. Won French Championship singles, and became first player in game's history to win all four major titles. Won Wimbledon singles for second time, and mixed doubles with Dorothy Round. Helped Britain win Davis Cup for third time running.

1936 Runner-up in French Championship singles. Won Wimbledon singles for third year running, and mixed doubles for second time with Round. Won US Championship singles for third time. Helped Britain win Davis Cup for fourth successive year, having won in career 34 of 38 Cup singles and 11 of 14 doubles. Turned professional.

1939 Became US citizen.

1948 Won Slazenger Professional tournament at Eastbourne.

1950 Won Slazenger Tournament for second time.

1951 Won Slazenger Tournament for third time.

1984 Had Wimbledon statue erected in All England Club grounds, and had Somerset Road gates named after him.

1995 Died 2 February, Melbourne.

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