Scotland's only winner of a Grand Slam. So far

Historians have recently discovered the truth about Harold Segerson Mahony, who won his only major title in 1896

I bet you thought that, until Andy Murray came along, the Scottish Hall of Tennis Fame was rather like the List of Famous Baffin Islanders, or the Norfolk Hut of Mountaineering Fame: a little on the underpopulated side.

Well, how half-wrong you'd be. There's Jamie Murray (Wimbledon mixed doubles, 2007), two boys' Wimbledon title-holders (Willie Shaw, 1964; Ken Revie, 1974), and three girls' champions (Norah Mackintosh, 1927; Jean Nicoll, 1938; and Norma Steacy, 1947). But above them all – at least until around late afternoon in Australia today – there's the only Scottish-born man ever to win a major title: Harold Sergerson Mahony.

Never heard of him? Neither, until we checked, had we. And nor, until a few years ago, had Scottish tennis's historians. They assumed that because Mahony was raised in Ireland, he had been born there. But, it turned out, the 1896 Wimbledon champion first opened his eyes at 21 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh on 13 February 1867.

His background – unlike the middle-of-the-road one of Murray – was upholstered in rich privilege. His father, Richard John Mahony, a barrister whose main activities were the family estates and oyster-raising, was the sixth largest landowner in Ireland. He had a home in Scotland – Dalmore Lodge in Leith – and Dromore Castle, in County Kerry, Ireland – a castellated Toad Hall of a place built for the family in mid-century. It had – after Harold, an only son, expressed an interest in the sport – its own tennis court.

Aided by these on-site practice facilities, young Harold was soon cutting something of a swath through the lower echelons and into the top flight. In 1890, when he was 23, he made his Wimbledon debut, going out in the opening round. But thereafter, until the early 1900s, he was one of the players to be reckoned with.

Wimbledon was a curious thing in those days. Not quite the vicarage garden party which is how it is often portrayed (even at the first final, in 1877, there were 200 spectators paying a shilling a time to sit on planks around the court), the championships of the 1890s were nevertheless the showpiece of a sport only in its infancy. It had been invented a mere 30-odd years before, the overhead serve was only a decade old, and the championships consisted of two events: an "all-comers" contest which whittled the entrants down to one winner, who then faced the previous year's title-holder in the "challenge round".

In 1891, Mahony reached the semi-final of the all-comers event, did so again the following year, and, in 1893, went one better. He was becoming a testing opponent – 6ft 3ins tall, and with a spiteful backhand, and

a long reach that made it difficult to get the ball past him when he rushed the net, which he frequently did. These qualities made up for a curiously under-developed forehand. One contemporary, George Hillyard – himself married to six-times Wimbledon ladies' champion Blanche Bingley – wrote that he "never did acquire the right method of hitting the ball on the forehand".

Yet, in 1896, his game strengthened by a spell in America, he returned, sweeping through to the challenge round, and there he defeated the reigning champion, Wilfred Baddeley, 6-2, 6-8, 5-7, 8-6, 6-3. (Mahony was one of a number of champions and near-champions of that time who had upper-class connections in Ireland. Among them was the extraordinary Vere St Leger Goold, runner-up in 1879, and the only major-tournament finalist to be convicted of murder after he and his wife bumped off one of their creditors in Monte Carlo and wedged her remains into a trunk.)

Although Mahony appeared in more semi-finals, and even won an Olympic silver medal for tennis in 1900, he was never a top champion again. But one has the impression that it would not have unduly worried him. Contemporaries wrote of his "casual and irresponsible attitude", his "generous heart", banter with the crowds and perpetual good humour. But most of all, they wrote of his eye for, and success with, "the ladies". He was much in demand for country-house coaching sessions, and he maintained a pad in London, at Earls Court, where he, an accomplished amateur musician, did much discreet entertaining.

Tantalisingly, an entry in the 1891 census returns raises the question of whether he had a romantic dalliance with England's greatest sportswoman. She was Charlotte Dod, the prodigy who had already, at 19, twice won Wimbledon and would go on to win it three times more. The census shows that, on the night of 5 April, Mahony was staying as a guest at the Cheshire home of Charlotte Dod and her widowed mother. She also spent holidays in Scotland around this time.

In 1905, the tall, handsome, charming man who is still Scotland's only winner of a major tennis tournament, went for a bicycle ride. He never came back. His body was found, alongside his broken bike, at the foot of a steep hill near his County Kerry castle. He was 37. And Lottie Dod? She never married.

News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea