Tennis’s first matinee idol

'Anyone for tennis?' Anthony Wilding around 1910 (click for image credit)

'Anyone for tennis?' Anthony Wilding around 1910 (click for image credit)

On Tuesday 9 September two albums containing black and white photographs of New Zealand’s greatest tennis player, Anthony Wilding, will go under the hammer at Cordy’s auction house in Auckland. There aren’t a lot of photos of Wilding – in New Zealand-based public collections at least – so this auction will be of interest to libraries and collectors alike.

Wilding was renowned for his physical fitness and his so-called ‘manly brand of tennis’. His first biographer, A. W. Myers, described him as tennis’s first ‘matinee idol’. The photographs in these albums show the idol in action at Wimbledon in 1910.

Anthony Wilding was born in Christchurch in 1883. His family were a sporting lot and the house was full of sports equipment, trophies and visiting sportspeople. At 17 he won his first tennis tournament, and he also excelled at football and cricket.

Like his father, Frederick Wilding, Anthony qualified as a lawyer and, after studying at Cambridge University in England, intended to join his father’s Christchurch practice. However, he had played competitive tennis throughout his studies and the lure of life on the international tennis circuit won out over law in sedate Christchurch.

Wilding was undoubtedly the top male player of his era and remains New Zealand’s most successful international tennis player. He won the Wimbledon singles title from 1910 to 1913, the doubles title in 1907, 1908, 1910 and 1914, and the Davis Cup as part of the Australasian team from 1907 to 1909, and again in 1914. He won a bronze medal at the Stockholm Olympic Games in 1912 and collected various English and European tennis titles.

Wilding was killed during a First World War battle near Neuve-Chappelle in France in 1915, when he was at the peak of his sporting career. At age 31 he would have had a few years more competitive tennis left. He is commemorated in the Anthony Wilding Memorial Challenge Shield, a men’s inter-association team competition instituted between 1921 and 1922, and his name also adorns a retirement village in Christchurch.

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