Eastern

2022 Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame: Virginia Wade

Scott Sode | August 12, 2022


Virginia Wade enjoys the 2019 US Open women's singles final. She won the event herself in 1968. Credit: Mike Lawrence/USTA

Virginia Wade will be inducted into the Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame at the 35th Annual Eastern Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, to be held Friday, August 26, 2022. Proceeds from the event—including ticket sales—will benefit the Junior Tennis Foundation (JTF), which helps provide scholarships to junior and adaptive players across the Eastern Section. You can purchase tickets to the event here. Learn more about the ceremony and the JTF here.

Virginia Wade is a former professional player and seven-time major champion who has lived in the greater New York City area since the 1970s. Notably, the British native captured all three of the Grand Slam women’s singles finals that she contested: the 1968 US Open (where she defeated home favorite Billie Jean King), the 1972 Australian Open (where she defeated home favorite Evonne Goolagong) and the 1977 Wimbledon Championships (where, as the home favorite, she rallied from a set down to defeat Betty Stove). From 1967 until 1979, she was consistently ranked among the world’s Top 10 players, attaining a career-high ranking of world No. 2 in 1975. By the time she retired in 1986, Wade had procured an astonishing 55 singles titles and competed in a record 26 Wimbledon Championships. For all her many, many milestones in the sport, she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1989. 

 

Of all these achievements and accolades, Wade’s 1977 victory on the grass at the All England Club stands out for both its significance and its majesty—quite literally, in fact, as Queen Elizabeth II made a special appearance in the royal box on Centre Court during the championship match. “When I found out the queen was going to be [at the final], I thought, ‘Well that’s unbelievable, because she hadn’t been [at Wimbledon] since 1962 or something,’” Wade recalls. “I said, ‘If the queen’s going to be there, I’d better be there. And if I’m there, I better win.’”

 

Wade had come close in her 15 previous attempts at lifting the Venus Rosewater dish, reaching the quarterfinals of the tournament four times and the semifinals twice. In 1975 she thought she had been playing particularly well—even good enough to capture the title—but Goolagong came up with a couple great shots in important moments during their quarterfinal bout to win 9-7 in the third set and advance.

“[By 1977] I felt that I had never really fulfilled my potential at Wimbledon,” Wade says. “It was a little bit harder to concentrate at home because there was so much attention on you. I’d always felt I got unnecessarily nervous, and I just hadn’t performed terribly well. But I was 31, I was getting to the end of my career in a way. And the last couple of years, I started to feel that I was finally ready, that I was professional enough [to win].” 

 

Over the course of the fortnight, she embraced all the experience she’d earned through her time in the sport. She marked the date of the final down in her schedule as an end goal and crossed off each match as she moved through the draw. Jerry Teegarden, her coach at the event, proved remarkably adept at dispelling the typical negative thoughts that in the past had creeped up at her home slam—“He’d say things like, ‘There’s nothing wrong with your forehand, stop fretting about it,” Wade recalls—as well as providing astute tactical advice for each competitor she faced.

Wade with Queen Elizabeth II at the 1977 Wimbledon Championships

It all seemed to be the right mix for success. Against defending champion Chris Evert in the semifinals, Wade held her nerve, patiently waited for her opportunities to come forward and made 78% of her first serves in the third set to upset the top-seeded American, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1. (After their match, an ecstatic British press swarmed the court and surrounded the players to take photos.) She then came back from a set down in front of a raucous crowd and a royal audience to defeat serve-and-volleyer Stove in the final. The queen presented Wade with the championship hardware. 

 

“It was such satisfaction that you’d set out to do something, and finally, you’d done it,” Wade says. “Wimbledon, for an English player, is just so important. And because it was later in my career, it was probably even more satisfying.” 

 

Of course, Wade enjoyed more than a few satisfying wins earlier in her career as well. Nine years prior, as a 23-year-old upstart, she dropped just one set and took out No. 3 seed Judy Tegart, No. 2 seed Ann Jones and No. 1 seed King en route to lifting the title at the US Open. As 1968 marked the start of the “Open era” in tennis, it was the first time the tournament offered prize money to champions; Wade collected a $6000 check for her efforts.

Wade with fellow 2022 Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame inductee Nick Bollettieri.

In 1972, she captured her second Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open. Back then, international players didn’t readily travel to this event, and so Wade faced five Australian players to lift the championship trophy—including the top-seeded Goolagong in the final. (In case you haven’t been keeping track, this means Wade defeated the top seed in all three of her major title runs.)

 

“Evonne was a great new player [then] and tough to play,” Wade says. “She was so natural, you never knew what was going to come from her. What I remember is that she would hit these low returns, so I would take a step back and make an approach shot out of it, and it worked well.” She also notes a more unconventional tactic may have aided her victory. “I remember the night before [the match] was New Year’s Eve, and there was quite the celebration,” she says with a laugh. “I think I had probably a little too much champagne. So I had a slight hangover [during the final], and that made me concentrate harder because I felt guilty about that!”

During her career, Wade also participated in World TeamTennis—the sports league created by King that allowed men and women to contribute equally to their team’s eventual result. Wade competed for the New York Sets, and in the mid-1970s she decided to create a home base in her team’s city. Even as she traveled around the world commentating post-retirement, she always kept a place in the greater New York City area, and over time she’s become entrenched in the local tennis community. For many years she was an active volunteer with the City Parks Foundation, an organization that provides free lessons in the sports to kids in parks in all five boroughs. (City Parks is supported by the Junior Tennis Foundation and is run by Mike Silverman, a 2014 inductee into the Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame.) 

 

“Their program is just sensational,” Wade says.

 

It makes sense that Wade would be drawn to an endeavor like City Parks; she knows firsthand the importance of introducing young people to tennis. After all, her own discovery of the sport at age nine led to a life she could have never imagined. 

 

“It’s a wonderful game,” she says. “I loved my time on the court, and I loved playing matches, and I found it extremely satisfying hitting a tennis ball. People would say, ‘Don’t you have to make so many sacrifices?’. And I’d say, ‘It’s not a sacrifice if that’s what you enjoy doing.’ I’m proud to have been part of it. And I’m lucky. I’m so lucky to have been part of it.”

 

Read more 2022 Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame profiles:

 

Nick Bollettieri

Robert C. "Bob" Davis

Wilbert "Billy" Davis

Ted Robinson

Caroline Stoll

 

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