The four winning mums at Wimbledon

May 5, 2017

The Championships, Wimbledon played its first Ladies' singles tournament in 1884, seven years after the first men's event, and ever since then it has been a place for the most talented women on the global tennis circuit to make their mark.

However, for the majority of women any triumphs they may achieve in tennis or any other pursuit will not be the only life-changing experience they go through. But while maternity may be the most natural of things and cause for a career break, this brings obvious challenges for female sports stars, for whom getting back in shape and form could be a significant challenge. 

This issue has come into focus recently with the news that Serena Williams is expecting. While the seven-time champion will not be defending her title this summer, however, she has promised to be back next year.  

Just four mums have won Wimbledon. Some might imagine that is a consequence of different social and lifestyle expectations for mothers in the past, but the reality is very different; most of the winning mothers played in the early years. 

The first of them was Blanche Hillyard (nee Bingley), who won Wimbledon for the first time in 1886 when she was single and again in 1889 as a married woman. As a mum of two that she came back to win the title in 1894, 1897, 1899 and 1900. 

Charlotte Sterry (nee Cooper), won three titles as a single woman in the 1890s and again as Mrs Sterry in 1901, before starting a family. She then came back to win in 1908. Her child-bearing had another Wimbledon consequence: daughter Gwen played at the championships in the 1920s and 30s. 

The third mum to win was Dorothea Lambert Chambers (nee Douglass), who won three times before she was married and then four times in five years between 1910 and 1914 as a mother. The year she didn't win, in 1912, was when she gave birth to her son Graham, making her the only woman to come back from maternity leave and win a Grand Slam twice.

With athleticism increasing and professionalism eventually emerging, the barriers to mothers repeating the feat were physical, not social. Since the first world war, only one mother has won Wimbledon, Evonne Goolagong-Cawley in 1980.

There is nothing unusual about Wimbledon in this regard; the only other mothers to win Grand Slam singles titles in the Open Era were Margaret Court at the Australian, French and US Opens of 1973 and 2009 US Open winner Kim Clijsters.

Of course, there may be other reasons behind the phenomenon, not least that women now tend to have children at later ages. Indeed, Serena Williams is now 35 and many players would have retired by that age. 

All this might appear to suggest Serena's Grand Slam-winning days are behind her. But who would bet on that? After all, she has confounded age and smashed the open-era record, so past history counts for little.

She is certainly not alone among top stars hoping to scale the heights again after a maternity break. Two-time Grand Slam winner Victoria Azarenka is back in training after having her first child at the age of 27. She won't be back in time for Wimbledon this year, but could make the US Open.


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