From The Archives

Young Tennis Talent at Roehampton Club, 1921

In April 1921 The Sphere publication carried a feature on the promising future of several junior tennis players who had made an appearance in the Surrey Hard Court Championships at Roehampton Club that year. The event was roundly applauded by the author of the article S Powell Blackmore in which he stated that ‘there has been no better instance in the history of lawn tennis of how keen and efficient organisation will be immediately reflected and bear good results than on the courts of the Surrey hard court championships held at Roehampton Club last week’. He went on to praise the occasion for the inspiring idea of encouraging the game among the youngsters with a special mention of the committee men of the Roehampton Club who were among the forerunners in this crusade. Interestingly, the journalist also refers to the following unofficial motto of the Club ‘Give the boys and girls a place in the sun’. 

It was against this background that the Club set out in their annual spring tennis tournament, to attract a large juvenile entry and the result constituted a record number of players. Thirty-five boys and thirty-six girls competed in the event for their respective open singles. In the Boys event, the feature of the play was the good form of H. W. Austin, described as ‘a little fellow with pink and white cheeks and a keen eye, giving promise for the future. He looked not a day more than eleven, but proudly claimed to be fourteen and a half years old. The young Austin had a triumphal run through the earlier rounds and reached the semi-final with the loss of only three games to all his opponents. In the semi-final he met G. L. Oliff of St. Paul’s School, who had also done very well. The match was described with both boys showing a good conception of the elements of stroke play on the drive with Austin maintaining a fine length ball throughout beating his opponent 6-1, 6-4. Austin was mentioned as showing every promise of being good, although he was beaten in the final round by E. A. Dearman. In the previous year, Austin had beaten Dearman in the final of the Surrey Junior Grass Championships by 2 sets to 1. This was even more remarkable as Dearman was eighteen years of age and stands about 5 feet 10 inches while Austin was barely being able to see over the net on his tip-toes. Both Austin and Dearman were regarded at the time as promising players for the future.

Amongst the girl competitors, predictions were also made for the likelihood of future lady tennis champions following the match in the final round involving Miss J. W. Austin, another member of the Austin family who beat Miss B. H. Colyer. Miss Austin showed a marked superiority against all her opponents reaching the final without losing a single set. She was eighteen years of age and was the holder of the girl’s tennis championships from the previous year but still had the appearance of looking less than her age.

The baby of the tournament was undoubtedly, Miss Betty Nuthall, at the age of nine years regarded at the time as a child prodigy and was pictured in the newspapers at the time both in the Daily Mirror and The Sphere. She was also featured in another photograph in the Centenary Book by Elizabeth Hennessey in 1926 at the reception for the Wimbledon Championships alongside Suzanne Lenglen – a famous tennis star from the 1920’s whose name is now immortalised as one of the principal show courts at Roland Garros in Paris. From these early beginnings playing in junior tennis events at event, a generation of prominent tennis personalities have emerged in keeping with the tradition behind the unofficial motto of this amazing Club “Give the boys and girls their place in the sun”.

Steve Riedlinger | Club Archivist