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Throwback Thursday: The many faces of Jaroslav Drobny

Jaroslav Drobny at Wimbledon
by Sarah Kirkham
Thursday 7 August 2014

Wimbledon's Throwback Thursday series returns with the tale of Jaroslav Drobny and his many nationalities. Wimbledon.com explains...

What do Czechoslovakia, Eqypt, Bohemia and Moravia and Great Britain have in common? The 1954 Wimbledon Champion Jaroslav Drobny represented all four countries during his 33 year tennis career.

He first represented Czechoslovakia at Wimbledon in 1938 at the age of 16. He went on to play for Bohemia and Moravia in 1939. However, the Second World War interrupted his international career. Instead he spent the war years working in Prague, not returning to tennis until after the war. Following the Communist liberation of Czechoslovakia, sport primarily became centred on success. As a result, every match defeat turned Drobny into a scapegoat. Drobny later remarked in his autobiography that “Sport is the best and cheapest form of propaganda”. Partly as a result of this, Drobny, along with fellow Czech tennis player Vladimir Cernik, decided to go into exile in 1949. During his exile he discovered more tennis opportunities, eventually gaining Egyptian citizenship in 1950.

Representing Egypt in 1954, Drobny reached the Gentlemen’s Singles final. Unlike many players prior to a Championship final – practicing and strategising– Drobny was in a state of complete calm and tranquillity. He lived in Sussex and spent the day leading up to the match fishing in his lake, followed by an afternoon of watching Ken Rosewall in his Doubles match.

“The Singles is the most important title at Wimbledon and if I did get beaten early on then I could have a pleasant holiday watching the other players”. This seems to perfectly sum up Drobny’s attitude prior to the 1954 Championships. He would have seemed more like someone enjoying a casual Friday than a player awaiting the final of a Grand Slam Tournament 

His pre-match preparations simply consisted of a short warm up with Abe Segal, a South African player who was defeated in the First Round that year, leaving enough time to watch a Ladies Doubles semi-final match.  Throughout the final Drobny, ranked 11th, delivered smash after smash, encouraging Rosewall, ranked 3rd, to lob deeper into the baseline. This surge of lobbing resulted with the first set finishing 13-11 in Drobny’s favour, and with Rosewall taking the second set 6-4. The third set saw Drobny increase his attack against Rosewell’s emphatic lob to win 6-2. The fourth and final set, however, proved to be much more of a challenge with Rosewall serving shot after shot to win several games. Eventually, just over 2 hours 30 minutes into the match, Rosewall mishit the ball into the net giving Drobny the win. The final score was 13-11, 4-6, 6-2, 9-7 and was the highest number of games played in a match at that time.

This would be his only Championship win at Wimbledon, despite going on to represent Great Britain twice after becoming naturalized in 1960.

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