Although tennis now plays a relatively minor role in the life of Ashbrooke Sports Club, this was not always the case. The tennis section of the club existed in a previous life – founded, along with the bowling club in 1883 – four years before the opening of the Ashbrooke Ground. We are lucky enough to have in our archives a small handwritten book from 1886 which lists the tennis members and the games played.
Tennis must have been played soon after the opening of Ashbrooke in 1887. In the remarkable opening day photograph tennis courts can be clearly seen as marked out on what was later to become the hockey pitch (See 14 May blog).
In a booklet prepared for a club bazaar in 1895, one tennis member noted;
‘So far as the town and immediate district of Sunderland are concerned, Lawn Tennis has never been very popular’.
However all this had changed by the early twentieth century when Sunderland Tennis Club boasted a ladies’ side which represented club and county and was feared throughout the land. The success was based on the efforts of the Aitcheson family one of which – Helen – won Wimbledon titles and Olympic medals. During the First World War when the entire club committee system was abandoned, the ladies of the tennis section seem to have kept the club going.
The Edwardian period also started the club’s long and exciting role as hosts to the prestigious Sunderland and Durham Championships which for many years were linked strongly to the Wimbledon championships. The ladies championship dates back to 1903 and, at one time or another, was won by all three British ladies who were to become Wimbledon singles champions – Ann Jones, Angela Mortimer and Virginia Wade. Wade was victorious in the year England won the Football World Cup. The men’s championship started in 1910 and one final in the 1930s between New Zealander Cam Malfroy and Yugoslav Dragutin Mitic was featured in a tennis text book as an example of a top class match.
Older members will recall when there were tennis courts where the flats now stand and the fact that both Brian Clough and Kate Adie were both involved in club tennis. Tennis tournaments continued until fairly recent times but professional tennis and the growth of a specific tennis centre in Sunderland has resulted in a decline in the importance of the tennis section. Nevertheless all club members can look back with pride at a tennis heritage which is arguably of both national and international importance.