Tennis legends serve to up more city history

John McEnroe will play at this week's event. Picture: TSPL
John McEnroe will play at this week's event. Picture: TSPL
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aNOTHER chapter will be added to an noble Edinburgh tennis history tomorrow when the venerable Brodies Champions Tour event rolls into town until Sunday.

Headlined by former Wimbledon champions John McEnroe and Goran Ivanisevic the event also includes Brits Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, French Open runner-up Carlos Moya as well as grand-slam finalists Marc Philippoussis, Thomas Enqvist and Mikael Pernfors. Completing the glittering line-up will be Olympic silver-medallist Wayne Ferreira.

To have so many stars playing in the same tournament is certainly unique for the Capital, if laying out the welcome mat for the great and good of the tennis world is not.

Indeed, a major tennis event at the home of Edinburgh Academicals rugby club at Raeburn Place was held over a century ago in the form of the Scottish Championships, while the Capital can boast its own Wimbledon singles winner in 1896 kingpin Harold Segerson Mahony, who was born at 21 Charlotte Square.

Mahony may have been mainly brought up in Ireland, but his birthright is indisputable and he remained the only Scottish-born winner of a grand slam title until Andy Murray’s triumph in the US Open last year.

In 1939, three former Wimbledon champions helped open Craiglockhart’s courts and Tennis Scotland Honorary President Dennis Carmichael OBE, from Edinburgh, recalled: “Donald Budge, Bill Tilden and Ellesworth Vines, along with a fellow professional from Sweden, opened Craiglockhart on September 1, 1939.

“It wasn’t a great success because two days later the courts closed with the outbreak of the Second World War and not many people had attended the exhibition matches.

“Not only did the tennis public have their minds on other matters, but the players were wondering how they were going to get home!”

If the war was a blow to the development of the Craiglockhart tennis centre, many other luminaries pitched up once hostilities ceased. Among them was Bobby Riggs, Wimbledon men’s champion when war broke out but best remembered for an audacious “Battle of the Sexes” challenge, aged 55, to Billie Jean King, then a leading woman player.

Mrs King’s victory in a $100,000 winner-takes-all challenge helped pave the way for the establishment of the Women’s Professional Tour (WTA) in 1973.

Fred Perry, Margaret Osborne duPont, Louise Brough and others beat a path to Edinburgh and the arrival of Brit John Clifton, on the scene towards the end of the 1960s, contributed to the hosting of a Davis Cup tie between Great Britain and Austria in 1970.

Sadly it rained for most of the three days and the tennis establishment was much more comfortable hosting a leg of the popular Dewar Cup series indoors at Meadowbank during the early 1970s, featuring the likes of Ilie Nastase and Jimmy Connors, as well as rising young Briton, Buster Mottram,

Clifton was one of those excelling in this event too, as did a certain Virginia Wade, born in South Africa but who spent part of her childhood living in the Capital and playing at the Dean Club.

Back in 2009, Dean TC celebrated a 125th anniversary and Wade told the Evening News: “Dean is a club that I will always remember with great fondness and good memories as being a major part of a short period of my life when I was 12-years-old, That, along with the most enduring memory of a wonderful experience of living in Edinburgh,

“We were in Edinburgh for a few months as my father was exchanging with the Dean of Edinburgh, so we were staying in a lovely house in Ainslie Place and I would wander up to the tennis club as much as I could. It was a really beautiful summer that year, in 1958.”

Not long after Wade had put down temporary roots in Edinburgh, this correspondent recalls having his tennis interest kindled by a visit to Craiglockhart by the great Rod Laver, Lew Hoad, Luis Ayala and Kurt Neilson as part of another professional tour. In fact, my letter to The Hotspur comic boasting of receiving Rod Laver’s autograph was not only published, but yielded a 10-shilling postal order prize, so a journalistic career was born – for better or worse!

The advent of the Open game in 1968 put paid to the “circus” events featuring only pros, but Craiglockhart was still able to host some big names.

In 1976 the Scottish women’s singles was won by Mariana Simonescu – better known as Mrs Bjorn Borg – while the name Martina Navratilova was engraved on the trophy 12 months later.

Fast forward to the 1980s and while Gabriela Sabatina flew the flag for women’s tennis at Craiglockhart, she competed for attention between 1987 and 1989 with John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Vitas Gerulaitis on the scene.

Alas, a scheduled appearance by Ivan Lendl, now coaching Andy Murray, was ill-fated as the Czech duly arrived, contracted influenza, and withdrew.

With the Craiglockhart grass courts being replaced by an all-weather surface, Edinburgh became something of a tennis backwater again – a visit by a budding Tim Henman for a junior event apart.

Now the Brodies Champions of Tennis event is set to roll back the years to some glory days and forgive me wondering, should any young enthusiast collect the autograph of McEnroe, Henman etc and duly write about the experience, where it might eventually lead . . .