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Tennis

Winnie Shaw reaches Wimbledon semis 1972

Winnie Shaw

© SCRAN

Scots have excelled at many sports over the centuries. In fact we can lay claim to have invented many of the modern forms of games played around the globe today. If there is one sport however, at which Scots have struggled, then tennis is surely it. Tennis has often struggled north of the border with the perception as being a game of the English middle classes, and this fact alone makes the success of our greatest tennis player all the more remarkable.

Winifred Mason Shaw was born in Glasgow in 1947. Sport was clearly something important in her family – her grandfather had been the provost who had opened the main stand of Ibrox Stadium – and it soon became apparent during her time at Hutcheson's Grammar, and the Clarkston tennis club that here was something of a prodigy on the court.

By the turn of the 1960s, Shaw began to scoop up Scottish titles with regularity, and by 1964, at the age of only 17 Winnie collected the British Junior Hardcourt Championship at Wimbledon, a quite remarkable feat.

After this success Shaw turned professional, and she began to compete at the very top level. Although she was not to win a major title, in an age when women's tennis was completely dominated by Billie-Jean King, Shaw's accomplishments within the sport mark her down as a very special talent.

In singles competition, Shaw's highest points came in the Wimbledon tournaments of 1970 and 1971, when she made it to the quarter-finals, before being put out in straight sets by top seed, and losing finalist Margaret Court in 1970, and by Rosie Casals, again in straight sets, in 1971. The following year, Winnie made it to the fourth round of the competition, where she was eliminated again in straight sets, this time by that year's winner, Billie-Jean King.

Shaw also managed to reach the semi-finals of the Australian Open in 1970 and 1971, where she was to be denied by Australians on both occasions, firstly by Kerry Melville, and, in the latter year, by the great Evonne Goolagong.

However, much greater success was to come for Shaw in doubles competition, where, with a succession of able partners, particularly with the Dundee player Joyce Williams, Winnie was able to progress regularly to the latter stages of competitions. In the Australian Open, where she had done so well in Singles, she reached the semi-finals of the Ladies Doubles twice, in 1970 and 1971.

Winnie Shaw and Joyce Williams

© SCRAN

Even greater success was to come on the clay courts of the French Open, where she managed to reach the final of the mixed doubles in 1971, partnering the Russian, Tomas Lejus, and the final of the Ladies doubles the following year partnering Nell Truman, making Winnie the only Scot to have reached the final of a Tennis Grand Slam tournament.

However, for any British tennis player, the yardstick of achievement comes at Wimbledon, and here in the doubles Winnie did not disappoint. Playing alongside her friend and compatriot Joyce Williams, Winnie progressed to the semi-finals stage when, in a tight match, the Scots duo were eliminated by the outstanding partnership of Billie-Jean King and Betty Stove.

Her nationality was something which Winnie was very proud of. During a Federation Cup match in Greece, the umpire twice referred to “Shaw, representing England”, to which Winnie replied in a polite but firm tone: “I'm Scottish and I'm representing Great Britain, not England.”

Tragically, Winnie was to die in 1992, at the age of only 45, from a brain tumour. She may never have won a major during her career, but her legacy in popularising the sport of tennis throughout Scotland can be seen in the success today of the likes of rising stars Elena Baltacha and Andrew Murray.

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