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
"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