In 1977, with the queen watching and Wimbledon commemorating its 100th year, Wade won her only singles title at the All England Club. Now, she’s cheering on another Briton.
Virginia Wade’s Wimbledon champion’s plate — or salver, as any proper Englishwoman would call it — is packed in a box, awaiting her imminent move from the Upper East Side of Manhattan to a new apartment near Manhasset, on Long Island.
Her most famous tennis outfit, a sleek white dress with two vertical lines of pink piping and a hot-pink cashmere cardigan with her initials embroidered in script, is on display in the Wimbledon museum.
The dress and sweater in the museum are, in fact, replicas. The originals are hidden away in Wade’s family home in Kent, about an hour south of London. Wade could not bear to part with the ensemble that was photographed into immortality on July 1, 1977, the day she won her first and only Wimbledon singles title on the 100th anniversary of the tournament.
That day, Queen Elizabeth II, celebrating 25 years since her ascendancy to the throne, decided to make a rare appearance at the All England Club. She wore a pink dress coat and hat that matched Wade’s sweater.
After Wade’s 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over the big-serving Betty Stove of the Netherlands, the queen presented Wade with the Venus Rosewater Dish. The din from the crowd, which spontaneously broke out into “For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” was so great that, to this day, Wade has no idea what the queen said to her.
The queen has been back to Wimbledon only once, to watch Andy Murray play a second-round match against Jarkko Nieminen in 2010.
On a steamy late morning on the eve of this year’s Wimbledon, Wade walked regally into Le Pain Quotidien on 77th Street and Second Avenue in New York. The place was packed, but no one recognized the former champion, just 10 days shy of her 72nd birthday and 40 years removed from that glorious day on the grass.
Wade’s Wimbledon achievements are in the news again with the success this year of Johanna Konta, the first British woman to reach the semifinals since Wade in 1978. On Thursday, Konta plays Venus Williams for a spot in the final.
Wade tries hard to live in the present and, only when pressed, remembers details from her title run. She recalls far more vividly the year she played the qualifying event at Roehampton at age 16 in 1962. (She qualified for the main draw, won a round and then lost to Judy Tegart.)
Wade also remembers 1961, after her family moved from Durban, South Africa, to Wimbledon Village; she was practicing on public courts across the street from the All England Club while Angela Mortimer of Britain was beating Christine Truman in the women’s final. Wade said she could hear the applause with every stroke she hit.
Wade did not play tennis full time until after graduating from the University of Sussex in 1966 with a dual degree in math and physics. She did not win Wimbledon until the 16th time she entered. She came close in 1975, losing to Evonne Goolagong Cawley, 5-7, 6-3, 9-7, in the quarterfinals. Wade also lost to Goolagong Cawley the next year in the semifinals.
Wade said 1975 was “the first year that I was really playing well and ready to win Wimbledon,” adding, “I knew what I was doing on the court. I knew how to play people. I was taking it very seriously and I was in good form.”
She said that when she came off the court, she thought, “Well, I was not meant to win that match.”
Wade was, however, meant to win two years later. Already a winner of the United States Open (1968) and the Australian Open (1972), Wade, who was born in London before spending 14 years in Durban, knew all too well the significance of a Wimbledon victory. No British man had won the tournament since Fred Perry in 1936, and only four British women — Kitty McKane Godfree (1924, ’26), Dorothy Round (1934, ’37), Mortimer (1961) and Ann Haydon Jones (1969) — had won since the tournament was opened to non-Britons after World War I.
“I was running out of chances to win,” said Wade, whose career stretched across 26 years and straddled the amateur and professional eras. “But you look for good omens, anything to be a motivation. So, if the queen was going to be there and it was the centenary of the tournament, that was big, very big.”
Wade had never hired a professional coach to work and travel with her until three months before that Wimbledon. She brought on Jerry Teeguarden, the father of the American player Pam Teeguarden and a former coach of Margaret Court. Not only did Teeguarden provide valuable strategy sessions, but he also tamed Wade’s nerves, which were notoriously rocky.
In the semifinals, Wade played what she called “the best match I ever played” in dispatching the top seed and the defending champion, Chris Evert, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1. Evert had lost only two of 56 matches that year.
The win over Evert put Wade in the final against Stove, who had taken out the second-seeded Martina Navratilova. Hours before the match, Wade found her way to an empty Centre Court just so that she could picture herself playing and winning there. She refused to let the attention get to her.
“The one thing I always say is that if the motivation is greater than the pressure and the nervousness, then you’ve got a chance of coasting the wave,” Wade said. “Otherwise, it all builds up and crashes you down.”
Stove was up a set and at 3-3 in the second when Wade reeled off 10 of the next 11 games to win the championship.
These days, Wade plays tennis once a week at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy on Randalls Island, but bad knees prevent her from doing much more than hitting. She occasionally plays golf at the Rockaway Hunting Club, where she is a member.
Wade is about as covert as a sentry at Buckingham Palace when it comes to her private life and her opinions on the sport’s more controversial issues.
“Why do I have to stand up and opine on these things?” said Wade, who refuses to go on social media because she does not trust her ability to hold her tongue.
If Wade is cautious, it is because she took heat several years ago for calling Murray a “drama queen” when he complained of back spasms during the 2012 French Open. She also questioned Murray’s hiring of Amélie Mauresmo as his coach in 2014, saying that she would often choke in big-match moments.
But the biggest controversy hit when Murray won Wimbledon for the first time in 2013, becoming the first British man since Perry to capture the singles title. London newspapers virtually ignored Wade with headlines like “Murray Ends 77-Year Wait for British Win” and “Andy Murray Ends 77 Years of Waiting for a British Champion.” Wade took offense.
“Andy is a fantastic player,” said Wade, who was also disappointed that Murray named his company 77 Sports Management. “I called a spade a spade and then his contemporaries got on his case, and I think that really jolted him into getting his maturity on the road.”
Wade says she does not feel as if she has been slighted by the public or by the tennis establishment. She was welcomed back into Wimbledon’s Royal Box this year, as she is every year. And despite living in the United States for more than 40 years, she said she “will always be British.” She did, however, recently apply for dual citizenship.
In 1986, Wade was honored by the queen with the distinction of Officer of the Order of the British Empire. She has not been knighted, as Murray was at the end of last year. It is something that would mean the world to her.
Dame Virginia Wade would have a nice ring to it.