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100 year old Former Champion Dies

Unfortunately, Phyllis King, the oldest surviving Wimbledon champion, died on January 27 2006. She was 100 years old. Below is the article we published on Mrs King - a Ladies' Doubles winner in 1931 - to celebrate her 100th birthday in August 2005.

On 23 August 2005, the oldest surviving Wimbledon champion celebrated her 100th birthday.

Mrs Phyllis King nee Mudford - Wimbledon Ladies’ Doubles champion with Mrs Shepherd-Barron in 1931 - still vividly remembers her time as an amateur player in the 1930s, in particular the day she was crowned champion.

"It was lovely," she recalls. "My husband and I came home and changed and we went to The Savoy for dinner afterwards. I won a nice gold medal and a £10 shopping voucher. You had to buy something that was a luxury item, not a domestic appliance because of the amateur rules."

On court King wore a pleated skirt that fell just above the knee, a white shirt and a coloured bandeau in her hair. When the queen was present she was required to wear white stockings. "The clothes were not so tight and clingy as they are now," she laughs.

"The crowds didn’t paint their faces or make heckles, they weren’t so noisy, but the stands were just as full and Wimbledon looks exactly the same as when I played there."

Wallington-born King began playing tennis as a youngster at Horley Lawn Tennis Club in Surrey, but it wasn’t until the age of 20 that she started playing tennis on the amateur circuit.

Spotted by the Lawn Tennis Association, King was then invited to play abroad with the LTA funding her travelling expenses. She then reached the singles semi-finals of the US Championships in 1931 and 1935, won the ladies doubles at Wimbledon in 1931 and was a runner up in 1937. Very often her opponents took the form of Helen Wills Moody and Helen Jacobs, while she teamed up with Fred Perry on international trips abroad.

King also played in the Wightman Cup between 1930 and 1932, again in 1935 and captained the team to victory over America in 1938. Then the Second World War happened and The Championships were suspended. "There was a gap between the war years but during that time you played exhibition matches, people paid to watch and funds were donated to the Red Cross," she explains.

In fact, Horley Bowls Club became a venue for one of these famous matches. The bowlers allowed their precious green to be transformed into a tennis court when the grass courts at Horley LTC were deemed not up to standard.

King, whose highest singles world ranking was No.7, might be getting on in years but her passion for the game has not dwindled. "I watch every single match of The Championships," she says.

But that passion is something she fears could be lost among the stars of today as they become 'distracted' with sponsorship, advertising and making money. "It was a sport in my day, we weren’t allowed to accept any money.

"I enjoyed hitting the ball, it was fun. You played because you liked hitting tennis ball and you were playing for your country, but today it’s their chief jobs. They have trainers and managers, we didn’t have any of that."

Indeed, King possessed a consistent, baseline game which saw her equally comfortable on both sides of the court. Her style of play is one that is emulated by much of the top ten women today, but when asked to name her favourite players, King is reluctant. "I like them all," she laughs.

The former champion continued playing socially well into her eighties before deciding to hang up her racket. Now she enjoys the quiet life. Even though she has been a member of the All England Club since 1948, she prefers to watch Wimbledon on the television.

And King has certainly earned that right. It might be over 60 years since she played at the famous All England Club, but Phyllis King is still making history and long may she go on.

Written by Helen Gilbert




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