Class of 1989
World No.1 (1919)
Grand Slam Results
10-time major champion, 12-time finalist
Member of the Australasian/Australian Davis Cup Team 1919, 1920, 1922, 1924, 1925, 1928
Member of the Australasian Championship Team 1919
Overall Record: 32-14
Singles Record: 21-10
Doubles Record: 11-4
The slow motion YouTube clip lasts six seconds. If it were played in real time, the footage would last two, maybe three seconds tops. Blink an eye and you’ll miss the whole sequence. The video depicts the picture perfect form of Gerald Patterson serving during a match. What you don’t see, though, is Patterson’s opponent attempting to return a tennis ball that seemingly had the same velocity as ballistic missile being launched from a submarine. One of the early forerunners of a never-ending array of great male Australian tennis, Patterson was nicknamed the “Human Catapult” for his booming serve, but that was just one of several catch phrases used to describe Patterson’s game. His arsenal of shots were classified with such colorful adjectives as “lethal forehand,” “mighty overhead smash,” and “explosive serve.” Power was clearly a cornerstone of his game.
Norman Brookes first paved the way for a legion of great Australian men’s tennis players. The southpaw won seven majors, three coming in singles. He passed the torch to Patterson, who was more than capable of nurturing the Aussie brand. He was big and brawny and full of athletic talent that translated to a fierce tennis game. His strokes, whether on serve, off the ground, at net, or in the air, were hit forcefully and purposefully. There was no middle ground for Patterson – he either won or lost going full steam. Patterson’s career lasted 18 years and he played hard every step of the way. From 1914 to 1932, he played in 22 major finals, winning three in singles (four finalists), six in men’s doubles (eight finalists) and one in mixed doubles. Patterson performed capably at all the majors, but was partial to the Australian Championships where he won six of his major titles and at Wimbledon, where he won two in singles, was a two-time finalist in doubles and won a mixed doubles cup.
Patterson nearly earned legendary status at age 19, reaching the finals of the 1914 Australasian Championships. He tussled with fellow Aussie Arthur O’Hara Wood in a tough four setter, losing 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1. He earned a measure of redemption by winning the doubles competition with compatriot Ashley Campbell over Wood and Rodney Heath, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. Patterson’s parting gift to Brookes as the elder statesmen of Aussie tennis, who was playing in his last Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Singles Championship in 1919, was a three-set loss in the final, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2. The Melbourne-based Argus newspaper wrote on July 9, 1919, “Norman E. Brookes, the holder of the championship since 1914, has had to strike his flag to a younger player, and while there will be sympathy for the defeated, there will be satisfaction throughout Australia that the championship is still held by an Australian … it is notable that Brookes’s conqueror was not a year old when Brookes played his first interstate match … Gerald Leighton Paterson, the new champion, is an old Scotch Collegian, and the victory will further add to the joy of old “Scotchies,” in that it was gained over an old Melburnian … to be champion of the world at 23 is a feat indeed and lie merits a long and successful tennis career.”
Patterson obliged the newspaper reports, returning to the Wimbledon final in 1920. He faced Bill Tilden, who was on the verge on winning back-to-back Wimbledon titles (1920, 1921) and six straight U.S. Nationals Men’s Singles Championships (1920-25). Despite the daunting prospects of playing a future legend, Patterson took Tilden to a fourth set in defeat, 6-2, 2-6, 3-6, 4-6, and got better as the match progressed. Patterson would be a finalist at the 1922 and 1925 Australasian Championships against fellow Aussie James Anderson. Prior to the 1922 Australasian final, Patterson and Anderson brought their stuffed kangaroo mascots onto Centre Court and posed for a photo that would be transmitted worldwide. It depicted the lighter side of both players, especially Patterson who was known for his sportsmanship, spirit and dignity. Patterson lost both finals to Anderson, but sandwiched around those defeats were the 1922 Wimbledon title over Brit Randolph Lycett in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 and a coveted Australian Championship over John Hawkes in 1927. Hawkes, also an Aussie, made Patterson work his tail off for the title, 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 18-16, 6-3.
Patterson had teetering success at the other major tournaments, advancing to the fourth round of the French Championships (1928) and two semifinal finishes at the U.S. Nationals (1922, 1924). He stockpiled the majority of his major titles in doubles, winning five of six in Australia (1914, 1922, 1925, 1926, 1927). His regular partner was Hawkes, who teamed with Patterson to win in 1922, 1926, and 1927. Patterson and Hawkes were finalists at the U.S. Nationals (1925, 1928) and Wimbledon (1928). Arthur O’Hara Wood helped Patterson reach five major doubles finals, but the duo was only able to win the 1925 Australian Championship. Patterson captured one mixed doubles major, teaming with French star Suzanne Lenglen to win Wimbledon in 1920 over Elizabeth Ryan and Lycett, 7-5, 6-3.
Patterson was ranked in the World Top 10 six times between 1919 and 1925.
His time spent with the Australian Davis Cup team (1919, 1920, 1922, 1924, 1925, 1928) didn’t result in a slew of championships, but he was part of the Aussie team that won the 1919 cup.
During World War II, Patterson was an officer in the Royal Field Artillery, and was awarded a Military Cross, presented in recognition of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy. He was inducted into the Sports Australia Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame in 1997. Following his retirement at the end of 1928, Patterson served as Managing Director of A.G.Spalding.
Australian Championships: W 1927
Wimbledon: W 1919, 1922
U.S. Nationals: SF 1922, 1924
Australian Championships: W 1914, 1922, 1925, 1926, 1927
Wimbledon: F 1922, 1928
U.S. Nationals: W 1919
Wimbledon: W 1920