Maori tennis great longs to revisit Wimbledon

By Yvonne Tahana

In 1957 Morrison-Davy became the first Maori to compete at Wimbledon. Photo / Supplied
In 1957 Morrison-Davy became the first Maori to compete at Wimbledon. Photo / Supplied

Fans of New Zealand tennis great Ruia Morrison-Davy, who reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, are fundraising to send the Rotorua grandmother back to the All England Club.

The effort echoes that of Maori communities in 1956 to support the then-national champion. In the amateur era it was up to national bodies to nominate players for Wimbledon but it was educationist John Waititi who convinced her father that a pan-Maori effort to financially support his daughter could succeed.

"He thought it was a good idea, the Maori people thought it was a good idea to send me. He and Dad formed a little committee and that was that."

In 1957 Morrison-Davy became the first Maori to compete at Wimbledon. Now 76, she turned 21 during her first trip to London. While other women were in their prime, in tennis terms, Ms Morrison - as she was then - was on a fast learning curve.

"I was a lonely little petunia in a big onion patch," she joked.

The excitement of being at one of the world's top sporting events for the first time is something she'll never forget.

"All I wanted to do was hit a ball. I had this all-consuming passion for tennis. You get artists, musicians who feel the same and they're off the planet, and it's what drives them. That's what I had in me. I didn't want to lose."

She reached the quarter-finals at her first Wimbledon, and made the round of 16 in 1958, 1959 and 1960. At her peak Morrison-Davy was ranked ninth in the world. What she lacked in physical presence (she was a shade under 1.54m) she made up in guile and a beautiful forehand.

Still, a few extra centimetres might have helped.

"In the back of my mind I thought, 'Imagine the angles I could play, seeing the court from a bird's eye view rather than a rat looking up'."

Over the years friends have asked her to return for a visit but she has not been able to. But a sister went and told her of the champagne treatment laid on during a trip to the tournament after she mentioned to a gatekeeper that her sister had competed in the 1950s.

"He looked at her and said, 'You're really Ruia Morrison's sister?' She said, 'Yes,' and he said, 'Well, for a moment I thought it was Ruia.' He was on the gate as a young man. He remembered me."

Her sister's group was taken up to the players' lounge. A Danish player from her era, Jorgen Ulrich, heard the women mention Ruia's name, chatted to the group and wrote a little card back to Ruia.

Made an MBE in 1960, Morrison-Davy went on to have a long domestic career, finally packing away her racket in the mid-1970s.

Teaching beckoned and once she made the decision to quit - it took her two years to convince her parents - her second career became her love. She retired in 1995 having served as a principal. She has been an important member of kapa haka group Ngati Whakaue Koeke.

Aotearoa Maori Tennis spokesman Dick Garrett said the trip was about saluting her contribution to sport.

"When we were young she was the darling of the South Pacific. The whole of New Zealand loved her."

Donations:

AMTA Ruia Morrison Wimbledon

ASB Bank 12 3054 0262907 02

- NZ Herald

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