Class of 2006
World No. 1 (1887)
Grand Slam Results
1-time major winner, 5-time finalist
For Herbert Lawford, what’s more distinguishing: being Wimbledon’s all-time runner-up with five unsuccessful trips to the winners circle, or the 1887 Gentlemen Singles Champion in his tenth trip to the championships? Lawford’s six finalist appearances put him in rarified company, joining such immortals as Rod Laver, Jimmy Connors, Björn Borg, and Roger Federer who frequented the hallowed championship-day lawn at least a half dozen times.
Lawford was distinctive looking, with his thick handlebar-mustache, often wearing hats and shirts that were adorned with black and white stripes like sporting officials used to wear. Lawford distinguished himself while playing by battling the Hall of Famer brother tandem of William and Ernest Renshaw in five straight championship matches from 1884-88. Had the Renshaw twins not been gobbling up the lion’s share of Wimbledon titles during the era, Lawford could have easily won five or six trophies, further cementing his place in history.
At the advanced age of 27, Lawford played in Wimbledon’s second year of existence in 1878 and displayed patience by gutting it out for 10 years before winning his only championship by defeating Ernest Renshaw in the 1887 final, 1-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4. By that time, Lawford was 36 years old and only played two more years, losing to Ernest Renshaw in the 1888 Wimbledon finals and again to his brother William Renshaw in the 1889 Wimbledon semifinals.
What Lawford brought to tennis may be decidedly more significant than his Wimbledon triumph. He is credited for introducing topspin to tennis. He played with an extreme Western grip – imagine picking up a frying pan from the bottom of the handle and rolling your pointer finger over the handle bevel. The grip isn’t natural, but it does force the racquet to roll over the ball and produce tremendous spin. The Western grip was popularized by Borg in the 1970s, but Lawford mastered the shot in his era.
Lawford, who was raised in London but attended Edinburgh Academy in Scotland, won the first major men’s doubles tennis tournament — the Oxford University Men’s Doubles Championship — in 1879 with Robert Erskine. The event served was the precursor to the Wimbledon Men’s Doubles event that started in 1884.
The accounts of the rivalry between Lawford and William Renshaw are depicted in the book Lawn Tennis Recollections (1898), by Herbert Chipp, a lawn tennis player and first honorary secretary of the British Lawn Association.
During his era Lawford was featured in several pieces of art. One such illustration appeared in the London News, showcasing a match between John Thorneycroft Hartley and a lunging Lawford in pursuit of a backhand shot.
Wimbledon: W 1887