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The Renshaw Years

The Renshaw twins dominated the Wimbledon Championships in the 1880s. They were 20-year-olds and students at Cheltenham College when they first played at Wimbledon. The participation in the all-comers’ round has whittled down to 48 and William Renshaw, having qualified for the challenge round against Reverend Hartley, had 2,500 spectators watching him. While the younger player volleyed and smashed, the clergyman’s baseline game was affected by an attack of cholera. Reverend Hartley however agreed that even in the best of form it would have been difficult for him to beat the young Renshaw, who had won the trophy in 37 minutes conceding only two games.

William Renshaw beat his brother Earnest in five sets in front of a capacity crowd to retain the trophy in 1882. The height of the tennis court net was now standardized, but the entries to the all comers’ rounds had dwindled down to 28. William then won the championship for the third year in succession in 1883, again beating his brother in five sets, to make the trophy his own. He then proceeded to win the All England Club’s Cup for three years in a row, from 1884 to 1886, beating Lawford all three times, and shelved the new Cup too. The latter however broke through, in the absence of William Renshaw who suffered from a tennis elbow that year, to win the Cup in 1887, and then Earnest Renshaw won in 1888.

In 1889 William Renshaw won the all comers’ finals in one of the most sensational matches played at Wimbledon. He beat Harry Barlow after saving six match points and trailing 0-5 in the final set. He entered the challenge round and met his brother Earnest, whom he beat to pocket his seventh title.

The Lawn tennis Association was formed in 1888 and the All England Club handed over to them the running of the Championships. William Renshaw was the first president of the LTA. The Renshaw era at Wimbledon however came to an abrupt end in 1890 when William Renshaw lost to Irishman, Willoughby Hamilton in five sets.

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