By Randy Walker
The tennis world was quite abuzz Thursday when His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales attended the Australian Open and watched the final set of the second round match between Roger Federer and Victor Hanescu. Following the match, the Prince was able to meet privately with Federer, as well as No. 1 WTA player Serena Williams.
One must wonder if William told Federer that his great-grandfather, like him, played Wimbledon too?
In 1926, Wimbledon’s Jubilee 50th Year Celebration featured William’s great grandfather, King George VI, actually competing in the event. As the Duke of York, George played in the doubles competition but was defeated in the opening round.
Hall of Fame tennis historian and journalist Bud Collins discusses the King’s brief 1926 on-court appearance at the All England Club in his fabled book THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS ($35.95, New Chapter Press, www.NewChapterMedia.com). Writes Collins, “Uncommon attention focused on a men’s doubles first-rounder as the left-handed 31-year-old Duke of York (later King George VI) played alongside Louis Grieg. Perhaps it was the aura of the Jubilee that lured the ill-advised Duke. He and Grieg were soundly beaten, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2, by a couple of commoners, old crocks and ex-champs, Herbert Roper Barrett, 52, and Arthur Gore, 58. (Was the draw rigged to give His Royal Highness a sporting chance?) He looked His Royal Hackerness just the same. Embarrassed, the lone member of the royal family ever to compete thereafter abstained as an entrant.”
George’s parents, King George V and Queen Mary, bestowed medals on champions as part of the Jubilee celebration that year. William’s great grandfather later returned to the All England Club in 1947 to award Jack Kramer his championship trophy after winning the men’s singles title. William’s grandmother, the current Queen Elizabeth II, has been absent from Wimbledon, except during 100-year Wimbledon celebration in 1977 when she famously presented the women’s singles plate to Britain’s own Virginia Wade. William’s mother, Princess Diana, frequented Wimbledon as a guest before her untimely death in 1997.
On Thursday night in Melbourne, the future King of England received applause from the 15,000 spectators at Rod Laver Arena when he sat in front row of Tennis Australia’s box alongside Geoff Pollard, the president of Tennis Australia.
Federer was asked by Jim Courier, who is working as a TV broadcaster and on-court interviewer for Australia’s Channel 7, during the on-court post-match interview to address the Prince and welcome him to the sport of tennis. Federer than addressed William and said, “Your royal highness, welcome to the world of tennis, thanks for coming.”
In his post-match interview, Federer later said: “Tonight was obviously extremely special. It was an honor playing in front of him. We got a little chance to talk afterwards. He was happy he could make it. He looked really happy coming to a sports venue. I think he’s had a very busy schedule the last few days. He shook a lot of hands, and I knew mine was one more.”