Born: October 31, 1883
in Christchurch, New Zealand
Died: May 9, 1915
Both World Wars tragically ended the lives of members of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and interrupted burgeoning careers of many others who returned from duty. Anthony Wilding was one of the game’s brightest stars, a four-time Wimbledon champion (1910-13) and two-time titlist at the Australian Championships (1906, 1909).
Athletic, handsome – some referred the 6-foot-2 Wilding as being debonair – the New Zealander was physically fit and regarded as a fair and honest sportsman. He played tennis in concert with the era – a baseliner who hit balls with precision, control, power and accuracy. While his game looked similar to his counterparts, it was vastly different because Wilding could execute those shots better than most.
He began playing competitive tournament tennis at age 17 in 1901, winning the Canterbury Championships over Richard Harman, 2–6, 8–6, 3–6, 6–0, 6–3. Three years later he made his Wimbledon debut, but it wasn’t until six years later that he was able to hoist the trophy. In the All-Comers draw had a rousing comeback five-setter victory over American Beals Wright, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3, and in the Challenge Round he took out Brit Arthur Gore, 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 becoming the first and only New Zealander to win a Wimbledon championship. In 1911 British opponent Herbert Roper Barrett retired after the fourth set and the match tied 2-2; in 1912 Wilding defeated Gore in a tight match, 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4; and in 1913 Wilding played his finest Wimbledon Gentleman Singles final in defeating American Maurice McLoughlin, known as the “California Comet,” 8-6, 6-3, 10-8. Wilding’s bid to win a fifth straight Wimbledon was stymied by doubles partner Norman Brookes in 1915, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5.
In the midst of his Wimbledon dominance in 1913, Wilding won world titles on clay (World Hard Court Championships), grass (World Lawn Tennis Championships) and wood (World Covered Court Championship), and was thought invincible, though Brookes did find a flaw one year later. While the era’s record keeping has several sources, none of which have total verification, it’s been chronicled that Wilding ranks as the leader, or at the very least among the all-time record holders, in clay court victories (75) and singles titles won in a season (23 in 1906), among major statistical categories.
When Wilding focused on doubles, he and Brookes in particular were a superb team. They captured Wimbledon Gentleman doubles titles in 1907 and 1914, while Wilding won the 1908 and 1910 titles with Brit Josiah Ritchie. Wilding and Brookes were teammates on the Australasia (Australia and New Zealand) Davis Cup team, leading to victories in the 1907, 1908, 1909, and 1914 championships over the United States each time. They won a huge five-setter match in 1908 over Americans Fred Alexander and Wright, 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 2-6, 6-4; a three setter over Melville Long and McLoughlin in 1909, 12-10, 9-7, 6-3; and a 6-3, 8-6, 9-7 triumph over Thomas Bundy and McLoughlin in 1914.
In 1906 and 1909, Wilding impressively won the Australian Championships in singles action. His first title came over fellow New Zealander Francis Fisher, 6-0, 6-4, 6-4, and his second over Aussie Ernest Parker, 6-1, 7-5, 6-2.
Wilding missed playing in the 1908 Olympics Games in London due to what was called an “administrative bungling,” but returned to compete at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, winning a Bronze Medal in the men’s indoor singles.
At the start of World War I, Tony Wilding joined the Royal Marines and served as a Captain with the Royal Naval Armoured Car Division in the battlefields of France. On May 9, 1915, during the Battle of Aubers Ridge at Neuve-Chapelle, France, he was killed in action. He was 31. He was soon to marry Broadway star Maxine Elliot.
His biography, A Sporting Life, was published, co-written by Len and Shelley Richardson and released in 2005.