This article is dedicated to the 110th anniversary of the first Australian Championship
Written by Karoly Mazak
Lawn tennis quickly took root in the Australian colonies. The first Victorian Championships was carried out in January 1880 in Melbourne. Until 1891, asphalt was the surface of the Victorian Championships. In 1885 New South Wales followed suite on grass, and the first intercolonial (interstate) championship was also played in Sydney between New South Wales and Victoria. State championships were also introduced in New Zealand (1886), Queensland (1888), South Australia (1890), Tasmania (1893) and Western Australia (1895).
Because of its geographical isolation, Australia had few contacts with the international tennis world. The first contact happened in 1888 when John Hartley (aged 39), the former Wimbledon champion who had retired from tennis for five years, entered the Victorian Championships and lost in the final to Percy Colquhoun.
Wilberforce Eaves, born in Melbourne settled in England and entered a few tournaments there without much success. In 1891 he came back to Australia, where he beat defending champion Dudley Webb for the New South Wales title. Between 1892 and 1894 Dudley Webb defeated Victorian champion Ben Green three times to add three more New South Wales titles to his collection. But the result of Eaves proved that Australian men did not yet belong to the world class.
The same can be said about the Australian ladies. In 1896 Kate Nunneley, immigrated to New Zealand two years ago from England, won the New South Wales Championships. However, already next year she was dethroned by Phoebe Howitt from Victoria who for three years collected both the New South Wales and Victorian titles.
In 1897 Wilberforce Eaves won the Irish Championships, the first major title for a player from Australia. He also reached the challenge round of the US Championships in Newport, losing to defending champions Bob Wrenn. In 1899 Gus Kearney became the first man to win both the New South Wales and Victorian titles in the same year.
In 1900 rising talent Rose Payten, with an attacking style and decisive volleys, demolished Howitt for the New South Wales title that she defended whenever she was healthy in the following years….to be continued.