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NZ’s Wimbledon hero remembered in new book

NZ’s Wimbledon hero remembered in new book

He has been described as “tennis’ first matinee idol” and remains the only New Zealander to have won the Wimbledon men’s singles title, yet many Kiwis today know little about Anthony Wilding.

A new book published by Canterbury University Press, Anthony Wilding: A Sporting Life, aims to change that.

Written by historians and University of Canterbury alumni Len and Shelley Richardson, the biography fleshes out the life of the sporting legend who sits alongside the likes of Olympic champion Jack Lovelock as one of the most important sporting icons of New Zealand’s twentieth-century history.

Anthony Wilding won the Wimbledon men’s lawn tennis title in 1910 and dominated the international tennis world for the next three years defending his Wimbledon title at three successive championships. In 1913 the handsome, athletic New Zealander won world titles on clay, grass and wood, and was thought invincible.

The closest a New Zealander has got to Wilding’s achievements since was when Chris Lewis made the Wimbledon men’s singles final in 1983 against John McEnroe.

However Anthony Wilding: A Sporting Life is more than simply a sports book, says author Dr Len Richardson.

“Wilding was a young, physically fit colonial making his way in the international tennis world and achieving the highest honours. His story offers insights into how New Zealanders saw themselves and how they wished to be seen abroad. In many ways Wilding may be seen as the Ed Hillary of his day.”

As well as offering inspiration for tennis players and all sportspeople aiming for the top, the book is a window into the social and cultural milieu of Wilding’s day.

“Being a Wimbledon champion gave Wilding an entry into a world he would never have had otherwise. He was able to ‘weekend’ with families of note and observe these people at close quarters, so you get a real feel for the social life of the tennis set in Britain and continental Europe in the decade before the Great War,” says Dr Richardson.

Wilding was killed in action during World War 1 and the circumstances of his death ensured his life would continue to be seen as confirming the sporting ideal with which his name had become synonymous during his life.

Anthony Wilding: A Sporting Life is the product of nearly a decade of research by father-daughter duo Len and Shelley Richardson. It draws on the rich historical records available in Australia, Great Britain and the USA to paint a vivid portrait of a sportsman of exceptional talent who first blossomed in a unique New Zealand environment.

Canterbury University Press will launch Anthony Wilding: A Sporting Life this week to coincide with Wimbledon 2005.

• Anthony Wilding: A Sporting Life, by Len and Shelley Richardson, published by Canterbury University Press, May 2005, RRP NZ$49.95, Paperback. ISBN 1-877257-01-X.

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