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Tuesday 3 January 2017 11:22 AM GMT
From the archive: The mothers that won Wimbledon
With Azarenka potentially a contender to become one of the few mothers to win The Championships, looks back at those who acheived the feat... READ MORE

Victoria Azarenka, twice a Grand Slam champion and twice a runner-up, has just had her first baby at the age of 27 and wants eventually to return to top-flight competition, but history shows how hard it can be for mothers to succeed at the highest level. Remarkably, only four mothers have won the Ladies’ Singles title at The Championships since the event was first contested in 1884.

Indeed, in the last 103 years the feat has been achieved only once, by Evonne Cawley (nee Goolagong) in 1980. It is not as if Wimbledon has proved especially difficult for mothers in comparison with other tournaments: in the Open era the only other mothers who have won Grand Slam singles titles have been Margaret Court, who in 1973 won the Australian, French and US Opens but lost in the semi-finals at The Championships, and Kim Clijsters, who took the US Open in 2009. 

Wimbledon 2012 Day Eight Highlights: Tamira Paszek v Victoria Azarenka

The mothers who won at The Championships before the World War I were all famed for their longevity. Blanche Hillyard (nee Bingley) won the Ladies’ Singles four times as a mother (in 1894, 1897, 1899 and 1900), Charlotte Sterry (nee Cooper) did so once (in 1908) and Dorothea Lambert Chambers (nee Douglass) matched Hillyard’s feat with victories in 1910, 1911, 1913 and 1914.

Hillyard played in the very first Ladies’ Singles competition at The Championships in 1884 and made her last appearance in 1913, when she reached the semi-finals at the age of 48. She shares with Serena Williams the record for the longest gap between Wimbledon singles titles, having won the first of her six in 1886 and her last in 1900.

Having married in 1887, Hillyard gave birth to Jack in 1891 and to Marjorie in 1896, after which she won the title on three more occasions. She played at The Championships a total of 24 times.

Sterry, who was completely deaf for most of her career after losing her hearing at 26, also had great staying power. She won the last of her five Wimbledon singles titles in 1908 at the age of 37, which makes her the oldest ladies’ singles champion in Wimbledon history. She did not drop a set in winning the title that year, with Lambert Chambers among her victims.

After marrying in 1901, Sterry gave birth in 1903 to a son, Rex, and in 1905 to a daughter, Gwen, who went on to play in The Championships every year between 1925 and 1932. 

Blanche Hillyard won The Championships four times as a mother
Blanche Hillyard won The Championships four times as a mother

Sterry’s record of eight consecutive appearances in Wimbledon finals, between 1895 and 1902, stood for 88 years until Martina Navratilova broke it in 1990. Having reached the third round in 1914, Sterry played again in 1919 when competition resumed after the war and at the age of 48 she was still good enough to win a round.

Lambert Chambers was perhaps the greatest female player of the pre-First World War years. She played in 11 singles finals at The Championships – only Hillyard (13) and Navratilova (12) have played in more – and would probably have set a never-to-be-beaten record but for the war. She was 41 when she played in her last final in 1920 and continued to play at The Championships until 1927. She won two of her seven Wimbledon singles titles after the birth of her first son, Douglas, in 1909 and two more after her second, Graham, in 1912.

At the age of 40 Lambert Chambers played in one of the most famous matches in Wimbledon history when she was beaten 10-8, 4-6, 7-9 in the final by Suzanne Lenglen, who was half her age. It was the first of the Frenchwoman’s six Wimbledon singles titles and the closest she ever went to losing at the All England Club. With Lenglen struggling physically in the third set and taking sips of brandy during the changeovers to try to revive herself, Lambert Chambers had two match points when serving at 6-5 and 40-15 but was unable to close out victory.

In 1925, at the age of 46, Lambert Chambers captained Britain’s Wightman Cup team against the United States and played a key role in her team’s 4-3 victory at Forest Hills by beating 30-year-old Eleanor Goss. She also played in the competition as captain the following year.

Evonne Goolagong Cawley holds aloft the Venus Rosewater dish in 1971
Evonne Goolagong Cawley holds aloft the Venus Rosewater dish in 1971

Like the three mothers before her who claimed the Wimbledon singles title, Cawley had already triumphed previously at The Championships. The Australian’s victory in 1971, at the age of 19 and in only her second appearance, was the stuff of fairytales.  She had grown up in New South Wales in a small country town where her family were the only Aboriginals. One of her first rackets was made from a wooden fruit box. 

Her free-spirited nature and graceful game quickly captured the hearts of the Wimbledon crowd. She lost in the second round in 1970,  but 12 months later swept through the tournament, dropping only one set. She beat Billie Jean King in the semi-finals and Court in the final.

Having married Roger Cawley, who had been a promising British junior player, in 1975, she gave birth to a daughter, Kelly, in 1977, and a son, Morgan, in 1981. Her career was regularly punctuated by injuries, but she won seven Grand Slam singles titles, six in doubles and one in mixed doubles.

Her finest hour was arguably that 1980 victory.

Cawley went into The Championships seriously short of match practice after a seven-week absence with injury but played herself into form. She lost the first sets to both Betty Stove and Hana Mandlikova in the third and fourth rounds respectively and faced a huge challenge in the semi-finals against Tracy Austin, who had won 35 of her previous 36 matches. Cawley won 6-3, 0-6, 6-4 and beat another American, Chris Evert, 6-1, 7-4(4) in the first Wimbledon singles final to be decided by a tie-break.

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