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Throwback Thursday: Sidney Wood wins without winning

Sidney Wood wins Wimbledon in 1931
by Sarah Kirkham
Thursday 28 August 2014

Wimbledon's Throwback Thursday series moves onto Sidney Wood, the only player to win Wimbledon without winning the final. Wimbledon.com explains...

In The Championships’ 128-year history (not counting the two World Wars) there has been only one year in which the Gentlemen’s Singles Final did not take place. The cause? One thing players fear of sustaining ahead of a major match: Injury! In 1931, 19 year-old Sidney Wood was declared Champion with a walk over - the only player to win Wimbledon without having to compete in the Final.

Wood was due to play his fellow Davis Cup team mate and friend Frank Shields (the grandfather of actress Brooke Shields) in an all-American Final scheduled for the last Saturday of The Championships. The two weeks commenced without a hitch. Wood was in good form after he defeated Fred Perry in their four set Semi-Final and Shields appeared to be on the same path. However, Shields’ Semi-Final win against Jean Borotra came at a cost. He sustained an injury to his knee which would later prove to be an issue.

Despite his injury, Shields competed with Wood in the Gentlemen’s Doubles Semi-Final against Jacques Brugnon and Henri Cochet the day before the Singles Final. Shields noticeably struggled with his knee injury and the pair lost the match. This defeat sent warning signals to the American Tennis Association (USTA). Both players were due to compete in the Davis Cup against Great Britain, scheduled to take place in Paris two weeks after the Wimbledon Final. 

Believing they were in danger of losing one of their valued Davis Cup players, they immediately took action. They ordered Shields to withdraw from the Wimbledon Final so as not to aggravate his injury and to ensure that he had enough time to recover in order to be on fighting form ahead of their clash with Great Britain.

Assuming that they would both certainly meet in a Wimbledon Final again, Shields followed his orders and withdrew from the Final. This resulted in Wood becoming Champion by default.  Wood later remarked that both players believed it was an ‘affront to Wimbledon’ and tennis fans, but unfortunately it was a decision that was out of their control. As it turned out the US LTA’s decision to withdraw Shields did not help the USA Davis Cup team to obtain a victory. Great Britain defeated them 3-2.

The decision to withdraw Shields did not sit well with Wood. Wood refused to keep the trophy and instead entrusted it to fellow American tennis Champion Maud Barger-Wallach (1908 American National Championships). Both players decided to come to an understanding with regards to this issue. They decided that the next time they both met in the Final of a grass court tournament it would be the occasion to decide once and for all who should keep the Singles trophy. They had to wait another three years before they would finally meet at the Queen’s Club tournament in 1934 where Wood defeated Shields and gained ownership of the trophy.

The Final that never was bears some resemblance to a recent injury-dominated Final. Rafael Nadal was the favourite to win the Final of the Australian Open 2014 against Stan Wawrinka but was eventually defeated partly due to injury.

Would this have been the same fate for Shields if he had competed? Who knows...

Want to learn more about Wimbledon's history? Why not visit the Museum...

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