Britons took complex Czech to their hearts

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The Independent Online

Jaroslav Drobny, who died last Friday, aged 79, personified Czech complexity. A naturalised Briton who lived in Putney, Drobny first came to Wimbledon as a 16-year-old from Prague in 1938, and eventually won the men's singles title as a 32-year-old Egyptian in 1954, having represented Bohemia Moravia along the way.

Unlike Ivan Lendl, from Ostrava, whose decision to live in the United States was taken for practical and commercial purposes, Drobny was turned into a nomad by pre-war and post-war political turmoil.

Defeated in Wimbledon finals by the American Ted Schroeder in 1949 and Frank Sedgman, of Australia, in 1952, the bespectacled, left-handed Drobny was adopted by the British public even before he triumphed against Australia's Ken Rosewall. Their 1954 match produced the most games in a Wimbledon final: 58.

Rosewall went on to lose in three further Wimbledon finals. In common with Lendl, a finalist in 1986 and 1987, he retired with only the Wimbledon title missing from his collection.

Drobny sympathised with Lendl, up to a point. "In our day, it was different," Drobny said, "because we were recognised by what we did at Wimbledon. These days you can lose at Wimbledon, as Lendl has, and still be No 1 in the world."