A new book on Daphne Akhurst, Australia’s first international female tennis star

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black friday 2021

This is a guest post by sports historian Richard Naughton, the author of “The Woman behind the Trophy”, a book on the 1920s Australian player Daphne Akhurst.

The name “Daphne Akhurst” is relatively well known because the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup is awarded to the winner of the women’s singles at the Australian Open each year. It is a large and impressive silver trophy and stands alongside the Venus Rosewater Dish – awarded to the Wimbledon winner – in its significance as a grand slam trophy.

As with most tennis trophies there is a wonderful story behind what is now typically called the “Daphne”. That story involves Akhurst, who was Australia’s leading female tennis player of the 1920s. She won the Australian Championship 5 times and died tragically at the age of 29. After marrying and retiring from tennis, Akhurst suffered an ectopic pregnancy and died while being treated under anaesthetic.

Daphne grew up in Sydney, in the State of New South Wales, and it was the New South Wales Lawn Tennis Association that donated the memorial trophy for this grand slam event.

The book titled “The Woman Behind the Trophy” covers the story of two Australian women’s international tennis teams that travelled abroad in 1925 and 1928 – for some reason, this important part of sport history has never been told before. As well as Akhurst, there were five or six other Australian women’s tennis players capable of competing at an international level during the 1920s.

When Daphne travelled the world in 1928, she beat the best South African player Bobbie Heine, the top Englishwoman Eileen Bennett, and two future Wimbledon champions – Cilly Aussem (Germany), and Helen Jacobs (USA). At the end of the year, she was world-ranked number 3 and had earned the nickname “The Shy Lady of Wimbledon.”

Akhurst was a highly talented individual: a gifted pianist who gave public concerts as a child, trained at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, a schoolteacher, a newspaper columnist, and an accomplished athlete. Daphne was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2013.

Since the creation of the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, Margaret Court is an 11-time winner of the Australian championship, and Serena Williams who is chasing the Court record of 24 grand slam titles has 7 Australian Open wins. Nancye Bolton, another of Australia’s early great stars, won the championship 6 times.

Until this book little actual detail has been known about Daphne Akhurst, but she was clearly a fine athlete, and a remarkable Australian. The book is now available in Australian bookstores and through the slatterymedia.com website, as well as e-book and Amazon sites.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Extremely well written. Daphne was lucky to find such a gifted biographer, but when one considers her story, she well deserves it. The book successfully captures an era very different from our own, in a way I did not at all expect when I picked it up.

  2. Ric lucas, thanks for the feedback. We generally have only a vague idea about the tennis world a century ago. Things were completely different and it’s hard for us to even imagine. We should broaden our horizons and books such as this one are a perfect tool for that.

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