Yesterday, along with most of the country, I celebrated Andy Murray’s historic straight-set triumph over Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon men’s final. Murray’s was a victory behind which everyone could rally, and, according to much of the UK media, he is the first British champion in 77 years.
Except, he isn’t.
According to most of the media coverage surrounding Wimbledon, the last time we had a British Wimbledon champion was when Fred Perry took the title in 1936. On the contrary, we actually had our last champion 41 years later in 1977, when 31 year-old Bournemouth-born Virginia Wade won the women’s singles tournament. In lieu of that fact, why is it that more people haven’t heard of her?
The sad truth is, Wade’s name has been all but erased from any of the coverage surrounding this year’s championships. I was alerted to the injustice of her exclusion by a handful of memes and articles, and am ashamed to admit I knew nothing of her achievement until earlier this morning. Though most reports of Murray’s win at least specify that he was the first male winner in 77 years, I haven’t seen a single one yet mention Wade. Media coverage of the qualifying rounds and Murray’s chances at the title often erroneously claimed that no Brit had won the tournament since Perry, and The Times even ran with the headline ‘Murray ends 77-year wait for British win’ (a mistake that they have since attempted to rectify in follow-up articles).
So why the decision to omit Wade from coverage? The cynics among you may see it as a sexist omission: the focus on men’s tennis is far greater, and Wade’s achievement has been overshadowed by Murray’s by virtue of his gender. Disturbing thought though that is, there may be some truth to it. It was only recently that women were offered the same prize money as men at Wimbledon, and comes in the wake of Southampton alumni John Inverdale suggesting that this year’s female champion Marion Bartoli “was never going to be a looker”.
Unfortunately, this wilful ignorance of female champions doesn’t end with Wade. There have, in fact, been three other British women to win Wimbledon since Perry’s victory in ’36:
- Dorothy Round Little, a year later in 1937.
- Angela Mortimer Barrett, in an all-UK final in 1961.
- Ann Haydon Jones, beating US legend Billie Jean King in 1969.
Hopefully it won’t be a long time before we have another British Wimbledon champion. But if a woman gets there first, let’s hope that she gets the recognition she deserves.