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A look inside Wimbledon’s Tennis Museum library
The tennis championships at Wimbledon this year have seen Ons Jabeur from Tunisia win many hearts with her determination on court and her warmth off it. In 2021 she became the first Arab woman to reach the quarter finals of the championships and after her victory over Elise Mertens of Belgium earlier this week she is in the quarter finals again at Wimbledon. She has spoken powerfully about wanting to see more women from Africa represented in tennis.
Whether she will go on to sign a book deal remains to be seen, but there is one place where all the books written by tennis players or about tennis players can be found. That place is the Kenneth Michie Memorial Library which sits just a hundred yards or so from Centre Court in the All England Lawn Tennis Club museum. It is one of the most unusual of libraries. Here the players of yesteryear who once graced the hallowed grass just a few yards away, have another life altogether, and a kind of quiet, dignified immortality.
If it is about tennis, and it exists in book or periodical form, then it is very likely in this fabulous library. Did you know that Ilie Nastase and Martina Navratilova were both novelists? Here are copies of Nastate’s Tie-Break and The Net from WH Allen, published in 1985 and 1987, respectively, and here’s Navratilova’s The Total Zone, published by Hodder in 1994.
When it comes to fiction, it seems authors have long associated the game with three things – crime, sex and money – and few would dispute that at least two of those still explain some of the fascination with the game today. So here’s a copy of Death Serves an Ace by Helen Wills and Robert Murphy, published by Scribners in 1939, and here’s The Tennis Murders: A Dion Quince Mystery by Timothy Welch, published by Popular Library New York in 1976, with its ‘read me’ subtitle: “The courts filled up with corpses as a smooth slaying killer served up death with a savage twist.”
Let’s not forget Set Point: A Win Hadley Sport Story by Mark Porter, from Grosset & Dunlap New York, 1960, with its fabulous teaser: “The tennis tournament was all-important to Win Hadley, until the bank robbery took place.” Well, even the best players surely can’t cope with a Grand Slam and a major bank job.
There is a good deal of social history here too. Among countless books that catch the eye is Arthur Ashe’s memoirs Advantage Ashe, published in 1967 by Coward-McCann Inc, New York. Its subtitle is: “The Story of the Young Negro who stormed the exclusive world of tennis to become the United States ranking amateur.” Contrast this with 2007’s Charging the Net – A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters, by Cecil Harris and Larryette Kyle-Debose, published by Ivan R. Dee of Chicago. Changing times, changing language.
Founded in 1977 by Alan Little, Honorary Librarian and compiler of the annual Wimbledon Compendium “stat-fest,” the Kenneth Ritchie Memorial Library is named after Lord Ritchie of Dundee, who was for many years a member of the management committee of the Championships.
It is a special place, visited by appointment and frequented by researchers, journalists, historians and writers. And who knows – perhaps a book by Ons Jabeur on Arab women in tennis will one day grace its shelves.