Virginia Wade: The Forgotten Champion Who Remains The Last British Woman To Win The Wimbledon Singles Title

Virginia Wade: The Forgotten Champion Who Remains The Last British Woman To Win The Wimbledon Singles Title
10:30, 01 Jul 2019

In 2013, Andy Murray ended a staggering 77-year wait for a British men’s champion at Wimbledon. Three years later the Scot repeated the feat. A year before Murray’s first triumph, fellow Brit Jonathan Marray was one-half of a successful men’s doubles partnership that tasted gold. More recently, Andy’s brother Jamie Murray won the mixed doubles in 2017 - for the second time - and Heather Watson succeeded in the same event a year prior.

However, there are two notable absentees. Britain has not produced a women’s doubles champion in the Open Era, with Angela Buxton the last success way back in 1956. Meanwhile, perhaps more agonisingly, it’s been 42 years since a British woman won the singles event back in 1977.

Watched by a passionate 14,000 home crowd including the Queen in the Royal Box during her Silver Jubilee year, Virginia Wade valiantly fought back from a set down to beat Betty Stove 4-6 6-3 6-1 to win the 100th edition of the most famous tournament in all of tennis. 

“Miss Wade had at last proved herself a champion,” read The Guardian’s report of the Final. “Not only to herself, but to the thousands who she said, had the out-of-date notion that she had not the guts to make it.” Cheers at the end were described as “deafening,” and Wade’s efforts saw her scoop £13,500 in prize money - a first round loser in 2019 will have a sizeable £45,000 dropped into their bank account, while this year’s winner will bag a wallet-bulging £2,350,000.

Wade headed into the 1977 installment of Wimbledon ranked third in the world. She already had two Grand Slams (singles) in the trophy cabinet, the 1968 US Open and the 1972 Australian Open, plus four major doubles titles. In the first round she brushed aside fellow Brit Jo Durie, a wildcard, in straight sets. American Betsy Nagelsen and South African Yvonne Vermaak were also beaten without the drop of a set, before a hard-fought 9-7 6-3 win over Mariana Simionescu of Romania.

Rosie Casals, winner of five Wimbledon doubles titles, then stood in Wade’s way in the last-eight. Again Wade won in straight sets, setting up a semi-final clash against America’s Chris Evert, the defending champion and top seed. The duo traded sets before Wade romped home in the third, 6-1, to condemn Evert to only her second defeat in 56 matches. Unfortunately, Wimbledon was denied a first all-British women’s singles Final since 1961 after Sue Barker lost out to Betty Stove in three sets.

In the Final, Wade stuttered out of the blocks, losing the first set to her big-serving opponent. But, at 3-3 in the second set the home favourite began to take control, as she reeled off three straight games to set up a decider. Stove would only card one more game as Wade romped to victory in front of a delighted Centre Court crowd who chorused For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow as she has handed the famous Venus Rosewater Dish by none other than the Queen.

The Guardian's report of Virginia Wade's 1977 Wimbledon triumph
The Guardian's report of Virginia Wade's 1977 Wimbledon triumph

42 years may not seem a large portion of time compared to the 77-year wait us Brits had to wait for a male to once again finish top of the pile, yet it’s frequently overlooked. Just look at the reaction from these media outlets to Murray’s first triumph:

Andy Murray ends 77 years of waiting for a British champion, ignorantly screamed the Daily Mail. Murray ends 77-year wait for British win, The Times incorrectly printed. Then Prime Minister David Cameron also failed to check the history books:

“To become the first British player to win Wimbledon for 77 years is a fantastic achievement.”

Airbrushed out of history it seemed.

Not only is Wade the last of her countrywomen to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish, she’s also the last to reach the Final. Up until 2017 Wade was also the last British woman to reach the semi-finals (1978): Johanna Konta ended that rotten run, but that’s where her tournament ended.

Since Wade’s win five different American women have triumphed, accumulating 23 wins between them. Two Germans have a combined seven wins. Amelie Mauresmo and Mario Bartoli of France have been victorious, as have Spain's Conchita Martinez and Garbine Muguruza. Even an Australian has won, Evonne Goolagong Cawle, while Petra Kvitová (Czech Republic) has two wins to her name. Maria Sharapova (Russia) and Martina Higgins (Switzerland) are the two other champions. 

But there's been no British success.

This year’s Wimbledon Championships will be the 133rd edition of the most prestigious tournament in tennis. It's a very open field with World No.1 Ashleigh Bartry, Karolina Pliskova, seven-time winner Serena Williams, and defending champion Angelique Kerber amongst the favourites for glory. Further afield you'll find Johanna Konta, a semi-finalist two years ago, at 25/1. With Murray absent from the singles, Konta once again shoulders British expectations as she bids to end 42 years of hurt.

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