article by Nicholas Pucci

To read Angela Mortimer’s tennis curriculumit immediately catches the eye that throughout the 1950s she was one of the most punctual female performers in appearing not only in the decisive phases of the big tournaments, but also in the rankings of merit which at the time, still in the absence of an official system that judged the skill of the tennis players, were drawn up by the insiders.

In fact this English girl born in Plymouth on April 21, 1932, already in 1955 he managed to sign the golden register of Roland-Garros, triumphing on Parisian clay in the final against the American Dorothy Head, losing instead the following year against Althea Gibson. E in 1958, in her first but also only participation in the Australian Open, she broke the bank even at those latitudes, dominating Lorraine Coghlan in two sets, 6-3 6-4, not failing, in 1953, to reach the quarterfinals at the US Open, ousted by Doris Hart. In short, the attitude of a great player almost everywhere, as also certified by the success in doubles at Wimbledon in 1955 coupled with compatriot and friend Anne Shilcocksurpassing two other British women, Shirley Bloomer and Patricia Ward in the settlement act.

Already, Wimbledon, where every tennis player would really like to be able to lift the trophy (in this case a silver tray, with a diameter of 48 centimeters and decorated with figures from mythology), even more so if you are a native English speaker. And Angela Mortimer, of course, is no exception, trying since its debut, in 1951, to act as a protagonist, however immediately yielding to the Dutchman Nel Hermsen in two quick sets, 6-3 6-2. And if the following year is the “regina” Maureen Connolly to oust her, again in two sets, 6-4 6-3, in the third round, the quarterfinals reached in 1953 and 1954, when she surrenders to Dorothy Head and Louise Brough, seem only the prelude to a full success that seems certain in the years to come.

But it’s not time yet, because a couple of premature exitsin the second round in 1955 against the Hungarian Zsuzsa Körmöczy and in the third round in 1957 against the American Karol Fageros, interspersed with the 1956 quarterfinal against Patrica WardMortimer’s illusions of giving a worthy follow-up to her first Grand Slam success, precisely in Paris in 1955, to which is added, in January 1958, an encore in Australia.

Just 1958, to be honest, would seem to be the right year to break the spell of Wimbledon too. Angela, who has been battling a rare form of amoebic dysentery for two years and is gradually losing her hearing, is not included among the top seeds, but after taking out the Chilean Carmen Ibarra, the South African Sandra Reynolds, the German Edda Budding and the Belgian Christiane Mercelis, she earns the semifinal by beating the American Margaret Osborne. Here she takes her revenge with Zsuzsa Körmöczy, on whom she inflicts a peremptory 6-0 6-1 that opens the doors to the final where waiting for her is that Althea Gibson who is none other than the holder of the titleas well as number 1 in the world. It ends 8-6 6-2 for champion South Carolinawhich postpones Mortimer’s dreams of glory to a later date.

Yeah, but when will it be? Certainly not in 1959, credited with the second seed but eliminated in the quarterfinals by Reynolds, 7-5 8-6, nor in 1960, when, again in the quarterfinals, the Brazilian Maria Esther Bueno, later winner of the tournament, inflicts a severe lesson, 6-1 6-1. And one wonders, in spite of the undoubted class and the excellent level of play achieved, if that beautiful silver tray will ever keep company with the two trophies already collected in the Major tournaments.

It is the year 1961and in the absence not only of Gibson, who had already become a professional two years ago, but also of Bueno herself, who had inherited her legacy on the London lawns, forced to forfeit by an attack of jaundice, Outgoing finalist Sandra Reynolds heads a draw featuring Mortimer as the seventh seed, placed right in the slice of the draw occupied by the South African, by the Australian Lesley Turner, number 4, and by the Mexican Yola Ramirez, number 5 in place of Darlene Hard. The very young Margaret Smith, already twice winner in Australia, the two other English Ann Haydon and Christine Truman, and the American Karen Hantze, respectively number 2, 3, 6 and 8, are instead the favorites of the upper part of the draw, for a platoon of eight players who, at least on paper, will have to contend for the scepter of “regina d’Ingjilterra“.

Haydon and Turner are the only two victims of the first roundsknocked out respectively by the South African Renée Schuurman, still a finalist in Australia in 1959, and by the American Mimi Arnold, who in turn ran into the Czechoslovakian Vera Sukova in the round of 16, and if Reynolds and Smith make a single mouthful of the opponents proposed by draw, Mortimer, after taking advantage of Joyce Barclay’s forfeit in the first round, easily overcomes Honor Durose, 6-0 6-0, the Austrian Doris Schuster, 6-2 6-0, and the American Justina Bricka, 6- 4 9-7, giving herself a challenge as a favorite against Sukova in the quarterfinals, who in fact surrenders in two sets, 6-3 6-4.

In the meantime the tournament loses Smith along the way, who yields to Truman at the end of a close battle, 6-3 3-6 7-9, and if the semifinal against Schuurman, Hantze’s killer in three sets, 6-4 2-6 7-5, is an almost unique opportunity for both to grab that final at Wimbledon always dreamed of, finally it is the Englishman who wins with a double 6-4, guaranteeing at least one British presence in the match that will be worth the title.

Which then become two, because Mortimer in turn subverts the prediction, playing flawless tennis that allows her to beat Reynolds, 11-9 6-3, returning to the final three years after being defeated by Gibson. And this time with concrete chances to emerge victorious.

A final between two English players has been missing since 1914when the tournament had a decidedly autarkic connotation and Dorothea Lambert Chambers defeated Ethel Larcombe forfeiting the seventh and last career success, and what comes out of it, on July 5, 1961, it’s a close match, interrupted by rain for more than 40 minutes, with Mortimer, who is partially deaf enough to hear only the applause of the crowd but not the noise of the ball, who relies on solid baseline play to counter the goals of the Truman. That takes the first set, 6-4, and has a break point to go and serve for the title on 5-3 of the second set when, instead, he falls in an attempt to recover a drop ball from the net, injuring his leg. That same leg that had suffered a thrombosis at the beginning of the year, and that in the continuation of the match conditions Truman, forced to give up the second set, 6-4, to then suffer the break at 3-3 of the decisive set also thanks to an incorrect call of the score by the chair umpire.

Mortimer, who had already defeated Truman in seven of her ten matches, seizes the opportunity on the fly, and by dint of lobs and effective shots from the baseline rejects the rival’s attempt to subvert the inertia of the match, and finally, as the score admits, 4-6 6-4 7-5, wins a 11th Career Wimbledon Queen’s Epic Head-Girdling Battle. As she always dreamed.

When it comes to perseverance

2023-04-19 05:59:00


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