Whereas many of us may feel a pang of guilt at beating the youngster of the competition in the semi-finals, that was not the over-riding emotion of Jewish tennis player Lennie Lawrence when he made it through to the finals last month.
“I was giving him five years,” said Lawrence, speaking to Jewish News this week. “He only turned 85 this year.”
Lawrence, 90, went on to win the Singles at the British Seniors’ Closed Grass Court Championships for Over 85s at Wimbledon at the end of August, and reached the semi-final of the Doubles with his partner Len Phillips, born five years later, in 1934.
“I have won Wimbledon four times in different age groups,” said Lawrence. “In 2015, my tennis partner and I were 85+ World Doubles Champions.”
Despite the medals haul, he was a relatively late starter in tennis terms, having first picked up a racket competitively aged 35, but appears to have made up for lost time, reaching world champion status in later life. He is currently ranked 42 in the world.
How does the Jewish tennis champ feel after his latest Wimbledon victory? “I felt very pleased at winning the title, and felt even more pleased at beating the No.1 seed in the semi-final as I was giving him five years – he only turned 85 this year!
“In the final, I played the No. 2 seed and won the first game fairly comfortable, 6-2, but had a hard tussle in the second set and managed to win it in the tie break, 10-8,” adding that it was “an extremely hot day”.
Lawrence now lives in Watford, but was born in the East End of London, to a religious family, in 1929. He first tried tennis in his teens, near the end of the Second World War, but preferred table tennis. Only 20 years later did he rediscover a passion for the court, joining the Chandos Tennis Club in the 1960s.
“I first tried to join a club called Templars, round the corner from where I lived, but they were not very interested in taking Jewish people at the time. When I told them I was Jewish, they said that they had a quota for Jews and suggested I try Chandos.”
More accepting of his Jewish background, Lawrence’s new club proved a blessing. “I liked it so much I took it up seriously and nagged all the good players at Chandos to play with me. They very kindly did, and I progressed.”
He is now the Club’s president and admits that remaining an active 90-year old sportsman “has its challenges,” including injuries. Among his many court wounds has been a “completely torn tendon” in the shoulder, which required extensive surgery to reattach it.
“When I had my shoulder injury, I had my arm in a sling 24/7. I had to sleep in it and shower in it, for nine weeks. I couldn’t play tennis for ten months.”
Yet far from showing signs of slowing down, Lawrence is full-steam ahead. “On Thursday I will be captaining the UK Men’s 85+ and we’re going to Croatia for the World Championships. The following week, I’ll play in the Super Seniors’ Singles tournament.” It makes you tired just listening to him.
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