As the world’s best female tennis players descend on Birmingham this month, whet your appetite by reading about our City’s role in the birth of lawn tennis
The origins of lawn tennis date back over 130 years when, in 1859, a Major Harry Gem and Augurio Perera marked out a court and first played the game in Ampton Road, Edgbaston. Over the next decade they developed the laws of the game and soon most of the respectable homes in Edgbaston had their very own courts.
It was only natural then that the first clubs emerged close to Ampton Road in Edgbaston. Amongst these was the Priory Lawn Tennis Club, which first occupied two courts on Pershore Road before moving to its current site in the early 1880s.
Nearby on Edgbaston Park Road, the Edgbaston Cricket and Lawn Tennis Club was founded in 1878. It was set in the grounds of ‘The Vale’ and is now home to Birmingham’s university students. Edgbaston Priory Club as we know it today is the result of a merger between the two long established clubs. It came about in May 1963 when a disastrous fire completely destroyed Priory’s clubhouse. The club has continued to play a key role in the development of lawn tennis through hosting international tournaments and nurturing the next generation of talent.
King’s Heath born, Ann Jones, a life member of the Club enjoyed a glittering tennis career, winning Wimbledon in 1969, two French Open singles titles, and reaching six other Grand Slam singles finals. It was she, with the support of the Lawn Tennis Association, who brought the Edgbaston Cup, now known as the Aegon Classic Birmingham, to the Club in 1982.
Many more tennis legends have graced Edgbaston Priory Club’s courts, among them, Fred Perry, Dan Maskell (for many years the BBC’s voice of Wimbledon), Bjorn Borg, and Martina Navratilova, and more recently, Greg Rusedski and Maria Sharapova. Maria Sharapova, who barely qualified for her first Edgbaston tournament as a 17-year-old in 2004, went on to win at Edgbaston Priory and at Wimbledon the following month.
This year’s Aegon Classic Birmingham boasts the best player line up in the tournament’s history, including ten of the world’s top 20, three Grand Slam champions and two former world No.1 players.
Grand Slam winner, Victoria Azarenka, looking ahead to to her first trip to Birmingham said: “I always love coming to Britain for the grass court tournaments. I have heard great things about Birmingham and the tournament, and I’m really looking forward to playing.”
Set in 14 acres of sheltered, landscaped grounds, the club welcomes new members to enjoy its superb facilities for tennis, squash and racketball. If racket sports aren’t your thing, there are indoor and outdoor swimming pools (heated all year round), a fitness suite and exercise studio, steam room and outdoor spa, as well as massages and beauty treatments and, of course, the wonderful club house in which to relax when the workout is done.
For more information, visit edgbastonpriory.com
Research for the article came from At the Heart of the Game, The History of Edgbaston Priory Club, written by the Club’s Historian, Dr Matt Cole.