Monday 2 February 2015


Sir Norman Brookes - a portrait of the Wizard 
Sir Norman Brookes passed away in 1968, however his name isn't and it comes to life at the conclusion of the Australian Open, when the winner of men's singles is presented with Norman Brookes Challenge Cup. The first left-hander and the first non-Brit to win the prestigious Wimbledon title, he was at the helm of Australian Tennis and was instrumental in the development of tennis through his long stay with the Australian Lawn Tennis Association and being one of the 'brains' behind the creation of 'Australian Open' which he won once in 1911.

It was in the 1880's, the colonial game of tennis reached the shores of Australia and New Zealand. With limited transportation and geographical constraints, tennis down under was pretty much an inter-state affair. Victoria (1880) and New South Wales (1885)  rose early to embrace lawn tennis - and within few years, impressed by the success of these inter-colonial games - New Zealand (1886), Queensland (1888), South Australia (1890), Tasmania (1893) and Western Australia (1895) started to host state championships. It was in this environment, Norman Brookes began his tennis career from Victoria.

An elegant left-handed player, he made headlines when he played a five-setter (and lost) against the well-known Wilberforce Eaves (Australian who played tennis in the UK), who later went on to coach him. Under his guidance, Brookes underwent few changes in his technique and in mindset and strengthened his overall play. Together with Alf Dunlop, they formed a team which would take Australia tennis to the world - a result which helped to create the Australasia Lawn Tennis Association together with New Zealand, a crucial first step to gain an entry to play in the coveted Davis Cup.

With Australasia participating in the 1905 Davis Cup, many of the leading Australian tennis players felt the need to participate in the Wimbledon championships since the Davis Cup was held in the British Isles (Britain being the defending champions). Norman Brookes led the pack and reached the challenge round (finals) before his progress was halted by Laurence Doherty. And in the Davis Cup, Australasia were humbled by the USA in the final round (challenge round was the ultimate finals back then).

It was in 1907 when Norman Brookes would showcase some of his best tennis. Norman Brookes stunned the locals when he won the singles title 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 defeating Arthur Gore in the process becoming the first non-Brit and the first left hander to win the Wimbledon title. Soon after, partnering with Tony Wilding he would win the doubles title as well. Carrying on this momentum, the duo of Brookes and Wilding would defeat USA in the final round of Davis Cup 3-2 and by the same margin defeat the British team in the challenge round to lift their first Davis Cup title.

In 1908, the defending champions Australasia would win it again - and this time in front of the home crowd in Melbourne. He would win four more Davis Cup titles (1909, 1911, 1914 and 1919). And due to his business obligations he could not make a trip to Wimbledon to defend his title.
After having formed the national association for tennis, the Australasian championships on the lines of Wimbledon, US Open and French Open was started in 1905. Norman Brookes for many reasons (business and away trips) could not take part in the Australasia championships and finally made his maiden appearance in 1911, which he won comfortably.

Tony Wilding and Sir Norman Brookes 
Months before the war broke out in the year 1914, Norman Brookes would win the singles title at Wimbledon  defeating his mate Tony Wilding and the duo would win the doubles title and later the Davis Cup. While Tony Wilding registered with the British Army for the war, Brookes was not selected owing to his ill-condition of stomach ulcers. He was instead posted in various places in the capacity of administrator during the war. Wilding-Brookes, the name which brought many glories to Australasian tennis would no longer play a match together as Wilding became a war casualty (died in 1915). Tennis would resume post war and Brookes spearheads once again to win another Davis Cup title, this time without his friend, mate Tony Wilding. With his best years behind him, he focuses his life more on business matters and played occasional tournaments. Even during his fading years, he managed to win doubles title at US Open in 1919 and Australasian Open in 1924. 

After having a successful career which saw him many championships, it was time for Brookes to take the next step, the role of a administrator and be the necessary conduit for the continued success of Australian tennis. Personally, this is a crucial phase of any athlete's career - post his or her playing days and how relevant their contributions are towards the game. He first became the President of the Victorian Tennis - a post which he held for 12 years and then from 1926 for 28 years, he was the top man of Lawn Tennis Association of Australia. By this time, an international calendar was in place and the international governing body had recognised the four major tournaments to be exclusive - a honour which is still in place. During his reign as the administrator, Australia won the Davis Cup six more times and had helped to build a structure which enabled Australian players to dominate world tennis from the late 50's up until early 80's.

For his services to tennis, he was knighted by the British Government in 1939. A man who put Australia on the world tennis map, the best honour came from his home country. St. Kilda, a neighbourhood where he once lived his life and South Yarra where he breathed his last are all the sub-urban areas shadowed by the more popular Victorian city of 'Melbourne'. It is here at the beginning of each year, many male tennis players showcase their talents in pursuit of Norman Brookes Challenge Cup (Australian Open men's singles title) and it is here the legend of Norman Brookes comes to life year after year.  

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