May 9, 1915 - Tennis ace Anthony Wilding loses his life in the World War I


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May 9, 1915 - Tennis ace Anthony Wilding loses his life in the World War I

The Battle of Aubers Ridge near near Neuve-Chapelle, one of the numerous trench battles of the Western front in the First World War, took place on May 9, 1915, and among some 11000 casualties on the British side was Anthony Wilding, one of the best tennis players of the pre-World War II era (the second best before WWI, following Laurie Doherty)! This 31-year-old from Christchurch, New Zealand, joined the British army soon after the war erupted (he studied law at Cambridge), and he lost his life on that fatal day on the battlefield in France, while in command of some 30 men.

102 years later, we remind you of this outstanding player, who won 6 Grand Slam titles in singles (4 at Wimbledon) and 5 in doubles, 4 Davis Cups, Olympic bronze medal in Stockholm 19012 and some 118 tournaments in total.

Wilding won his Grand Slam crowns on grass but he was a clay court giant, conquering some 75 tournaments on that surface between 1900-1914, which is an unprecedented number. Anthony was a true playboy of his time, traveling across Europe on his motorcycle and playing against the politicians and nobility.

In 1978, he was introduced into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Wilding was born in 1883 in the sporting family and he trained at home, as they had a tennis court. After some early success at home, Anthony moved to England in 1902 and he graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1905.

From 1904, he began to play tournaments in England, mainly on grass, starting from Sheffield, but he always preferred to go to continental Europe and compete on clay. Also, Wilding, in general, liked to travel and play everywhere he could, and for example, his season could start at home in New Zealand, then he would move to French Riviera in March, Paris in April, London in May, Austria at the end of May and again in July, and of course at Wimbledon in between.

The other months were filled as well, and he was spending winters in Austria. From May 1910, he probably never lost on clay inclusive with the World Hard Court Championships in Paris in 1914, a span of some 30 tournaments and more than 120 matches! For an illustration, Wilding conquered all 11 clay events he played in 1914, winning some 50 matches without getting beaten.

When we talk about everything that Rafael Nadal has accomplished on clay, we should always remember Wilding as well, as he fully deserves that. Back in the day, the world of tennis wasn't familiar with a term of Grand Slam, and there were 3 major Championships, on 3 different surfaces.

In 1913, Anthony Wilding won them all, The World Hard Court Championship (in Paris, on clay), The World Lawn Tennis Championship (at Wimbledon on grass) and The World Covered Court Championship (in Stockholm on indoor wood), which was a great accomplishment and a zenith of his career.

In 1910, Wilding went all the way to win his first Wimbledon crown, beating Arthur Gore in the final match. That meant he only had to win one match in 1911 to defend his crown, in the system known as the Challenge Round (it was abolished in 1922), and he did that against Herbert Roper Barrett who retired before the start of the 5th set.

In 1912 Arthur Gore again reached the title match but Anthony was too strong, celebrating in 4 sets for his 3rd Wimbledon crown in a row. Maurice McLoughlin fell in 1913 final, but Wilding finally lost to Norman Brookes in the final of 1914, the Australian took him down by 6-4 6-4 7-5.

He beat Brooked twice that spring at the Riviera and he didn't train like he used to before that Wimbledon final, confident that he can topple his rival again. The outcome was, as we can see, completely different, and Wilding never got a chance to play at Wimbledon again.

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