x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Time for Andy Murray to bury the Bunny habit

Chuck Culpepper hopes the Scotsman will not be remembered as the last British man to play in a Wimbledon final like Bunny Austin currently is.

There is more to the life of Bunny Austin than just his defeat to Don Budge in the 1938 Wimbledon men's singles final, as our columnist finds out. AFP
There is more to the life of Bunny Austin than just his defeat to Don Budge in the 1938 Wimbledon men's singles final, as our columnist finds out. AFP

My apology, Bunny, for I suspect I shall not be typing your name so much anymore.

Across the years I have typed it several times, "Bunny Austin," never stopping enough to learn by heart its entirety of "Henry Wilfried 'Bunny' Austin."

I know colleagues who have typed it many more times, for your relevance to the present exceeded even your death, and by 12 years. There you would be, right there again in the sentence, "No British man has appeared in a Wimbledon final since Bunny Austin in 1938." That sentence did not appear as often as, "No British man has won Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936," but then, society always slights beaten finalists.

In my usual haste with the day at hand, I never knew you were the first player to wear shorts, or maybe I sort of read it sometime and forgot, not being a fashion type.

I never knew any details about your 1938 final, never knew you lost to the American kingpin Don Budge by 6-1, 6-0, 6-3, even though that oversight might have been for the best. Scores can fade over years, and sometimes happily. On the bright side, you won the same number of games as the great Roger Federer against Rafael Nadal in the 2008 French Open final.

I follow tennis yet never knew you met your wife on a cruise ship heading for America, or that she was an actress headed to a New York stage production, or that she appeared in four Hitchcock films among her 11. I never knew that with your father's influence you joined a tennis club at six, but that must have been adorable.

I never knew until reading multiple sources last week that for your finalist efforts in 1938, you received a gift voucher for a jeweler worth £10 (Dh57), but I guess that figures. Our forefathers had a startling inability to lavish money and gifts upon their athletes. And I certainly never knew you were a "charismatic" exemplar of "good sportsmanship" until I read your International Tennis Hall of Fame bio, but I think I would have liked you in that case.

Mostly though, I never really grasped a sufficient sense of the vividness of your era until I read your old draws.

You lost the 1931 Wimbledon quarter-final, 6-1 in the fifth set, to the American Frank Shields, who proceeded to the final and then... didn't play it.

The United States Tennis Association ordered him to withdraw to prepare for Davis Cup. I also never stopped to grasp that Frank Shields had an acting career in seven films right there in the 1930s, or that he was the grandfather of the model and actress Brooke Shields.

Can you imagine, say, Novak Djokovic, studying scripts and attending rehearsals between training and avoiding gluten?

You lurched all the way to the final in 1932, where you lost decisively to Ellsworth Vines, who later became a professional golfer who tied for 24th at the 1947 Masters and for 14th at the 1948 and 1949 US Opens. Can you imagine Federer following this with that?

Well, his swing would figure to be fluid.

In the 1933 quarter-finals, you lost a fifth set by 6-2 to Jiro Satoh, the Japanese star who, during a trip to the 1934 Davis Cup, committed suicide in the Strait of Malacca.

And on your way to that 1938 final, you lost four-set semi-finals in 1936 and 1937 to Germany's Gottfried von Cramm, most famous for a rousing Davis Cup decider against Budge in 1937, during which von Cramm led the fifth set 4-1 but lost 8-6, and after which Budge revealed that von Cramm looked pale early on, having received a pre-match phone call from Adolf Hitler.

Another Nazi flag appears by a name for a 1938 semi-final, but you bested Hemer Henkel in straight sets to turn up opposite Budge. That is not even to mention your fourth-round, five-set survival of Constantine "Gene" Mako, the Hungary-born Hall of Famer, US Navy World War II veteran and Los Angeles art-gallery proprietor.

I didn't know that despite being born in 1906, you made it all the way to 2000 and died on your 94th birthday. It just goes to show that even some of the richest, most vivid lives can distill to a quick mention after a while, and then one faraway Sunday, another clever British player walks out to play a Wimbledon final.

Here comes Andy Murray to Centre Court, ensuring that no British man will have appeared in a Wimbledon final since Andy Murray in 2012. Surely you would have applauded, but still, I'm sorry, Bunny.


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