Bunny Austin

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Bunny Austin
Bunny Austin (1936).jpg
Bunny Austin with his wife Phyllis Konstam in 1936
Full nameHenry Wilfred Austin
Country (sports) Great Britain
Born(1906-08-20)20 August 1906
London, England
Died20 August 2000(2000-08-20) (aged 94)
Coulsdon, London, England
Height1.76 m (5 ft 9 in)
Turned pro1926 (amateur tour)
Retired1939
PlaysRight-handed (1-handed backhand)[1]
Int. Tennis HoF1997 (member page)
Singles
Career record455-108 (80.8%) [2]
Career titles30 [3]
Highest rankingNo. 2 (1931, A. Wallis Myers)[4]
Grand Slam Singles results
Australian OpenQF (1929)
French OpenF (1937)
WimbledonF (1932, 1938)
US OpenQF (1929)
Doubles
Grand Slam Doubles results
WimbledonSF (1926)
Grand Slam Mixed Doubles results
French OpenF (1931)
WimbledonF (1934)
US OpenF (1929)

Henry Wilfred "Bunny" Austin (26 August 1906 – 26 August 2000) was a British tennis player from England. For 74 years he was the last Briton to reach the final of the gentlemen's singles at Wimbledon, until Andy Murray did so in 2012. He was also a finalist at the 1937 French Championships and a championship winner at Queen's Club. Along with Fred Perry, he was a vital part of the British team that won the Davis Cup in three consecutive years (1933–35). He is also remembered as the first tennis player to wear shorts.[1]

Austin was brought up in South Norwood, London. The nickname "Bunny" came from the Daily Mirror comic strip Pip, Squeak and Wilfred (Wilfred was a rabbit, or bunny). Encouraged by his father, who was determined that he become a sportsman, he joined Norhurst Tennis Club aged six.

Tennis career[edit]

Austin was educated at Repton School,[5] and studied history at Pembroke College, Cambridge.[6]

While still an undergraduate at Cambridge University, he reached the semi-finals of the men's doubles at Wimbledon in 1926.[1] In 1931, A. Wallis Myers of The Daily Telegraph ranked Austin as the World No. 2.[4][7] In his first Wimbledon men's singles final in 1932, he was beaten by Ellsworth Vines of the United States in three sets.

In 1932 he decided that the traditional tennis attire, cricket flannels, weighed him down too much. He bought a pair of shorts to use at Forest Hills and subsequently became the first player to wear them at Wimbledon.[8]

Austin reached the quarter finals or better at Wimbledon 10 times. At Wimbledon 1932 Austin beat Frank Shields and Jiro Satoh before losing the final in straight sets to Ellsworth Vines.[9] At the French championships in 1937, Austin beat Yvon Petra before losing to Henner Henkel in the final.[10] At Wimbledon 1938 Austin beat Henkel but won just four games in the final against Don Budge, who was at the peak of his form and went on to win the Grand Slam. He would be the last British man to reach the final of a Grand Slam tournament until Andy Murray in 2012. At Wimbledon 1939 Austin was top seed, but lost early. It was his last appearance at Wimbledon.

In the years 1933-6 he and Fred Perry helped to win the Davis Cup for Britain.

Austin also pioneered the design of the modern tennis racquet by inventing the 'Streamline' – a racquet with a shaft that splits into three segments – allowing for aerodynamic movement.[11] The design was manufactured by Hazells and at the time was mocked in the press for looking like a snow shoe. After Austin's retirement, the design was virtually forgotten until the reintroduction of the split shaft in the late 1960s.

Personal[edit]

He married actress Phyllis Konstam in 1931, after meeting her in 1929 on a transatlantic liner while travelling for the US Open, and together they were one of the celebrity couples of the age.[1] Austin played tennis with Charlie Chaplin, was a friend of Daphne du Maurier, Ronald Colman, and Harold Lloyd, and met both Queen Mary and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In 1933, concerned by increasing threats of a renewal of European, and indeed wider, war, Austin became involved in the Oxford Group, later Moral Re-Armament, speaking on public platforms and writing press articles.[12] He and Fred Perry were the only players to raise their voice, in a letter to The Times, against the Nazi ban on Jews joining the German team for the Davis cup.[13] According to Austin's friend Peter Ustinov, Austin was "disgracefully ostracised by the All-England Club because he was a conscientious objector". In fact, soon after British declaration of the Second World War, before the question whether he might register as an objector arose, he accepted an invitation from Frank Buchman, Oxford Group founder, for a speaking tour of the USA, and went, with the apparently overt approval of the British government. In 1943, with the extension of US conscription to Allied resident citizens, he was drafted into the US Army Air Force, but a diagnosis of Gilbert's Syndrome (periodic malfunction of the liver) precluded him from combat service, and he was discharged in 1945. [The syndrome explained his occasional and sudden fatigue on the court.[14]] When he returned to Britain in 1961, a voting member of the Membership Committee of the All-England Club who had been removed from the Cambridge tennis team during Austin's captaincy used Austin's alleged proselytism for the Oxford Group as an excuse for denying him reinstatement in the All-England Club after a lapse of dues payment. His membership of the club was restored in 1984, the year the obstructing member died.

Austin's autobiography, written with his wife, A Mixed Double, was published in 1969.

After a serious fall in 1995, Austin moved to a nursing home at Coulsdon, London. He died in 2000 on his 94th birthday. A few months earlier he had joined other past Wimbledon champions and finalists on Wimbledon's Centre Court for a pre-millennium parade of champions.[15][16]

Austin was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame at Newport, Rhode Island, in 1997.

A biographical novel was published about Austin in October 2012, by Gregory Wilkin, entitled The Rabbit's Suffering Changes: Based on the True Story of Bunny Austin, the Last British Man—Until Murray—to Play in the Finals of Wimbledon.

His sister Joan Austin was also a tennis player.

Grand Slam finals[edit]

Singles (3 runners-up)[edit]

Outcome Year Championship Surface Opponent Score
Runner-up 1932 Wimbledon Championships Grass United States Ellsworth Vines 4–6, 2–6, 0–6
Runner-up 1937 French Championships Clay Germany Henner Henkel 1–6, 4–6, 3–6
Runner-up 1938 Wimbledon Championships Grass United States Don Budge 1–6, 0–6, 3–6

Mixed doubles (3 runners-up)[edit]

Outcome Year Championship Surface Partner Opponents Score
Runner-up 1929 U.S. Championships Grass United Kingdom Phyllis Covell United Kingdom Betty Nuthall
United States George Lott
3–6, 3–6
Runner-up 1931 French Championships Clay United Kingdom Dorothy Shepherd-Barron United Kingdom Betty Nuthall
South Africa Patrick Spence
3–6, 7–5, 3–6
Runner-up 1934 Wimbledon Grass United Kingdom Dorothy Shepherd-Barron United Kingdom Dorothy Round
Japan Tatsuyoshi Miki
6–3, 4–6, 0–6

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Peter Jackson (6 July 2012). "Andy Murray v Bunny Austin: Can Scot emulate 30s British great?". BBC News. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
  2. ^ "Bunny Austin: Career match record". thetennisbase.com. Tennis Base. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  3. ^ "Bunny Austin: Career match record". thetennisbase.com. Tennis Base. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  4. ^ a b United States Lawn Tennis Association (1972). Official Encyclopedia of Tennis (First Edition), p. 424.
  5. ^ Repton school website, last accessed on 24 January 2017
  6. ^ Pembroke College, Cambridge, Staff Handbook, 2 October 2014, 34 pages, History of the College, p.5 [1].
  7. ^ Gregory Wilkin, "Catching Up With the Rabbit," in Tennis, July 1996, p. 69
  8. ^ Litsky, Bob (28 August 2000). "Bunny Austin, 94, a Pioneer in Tennis Shorts" (in Spanish). The New York Times. Retrieved 19 June 2009.
  9. ^ "Wimbledon 1932". www.tennis.co.nf.
  10. ^ "French Open 1937". www.tennis.co.nf.
  11. ^ "Henry William "Bunny" Austin (UK) (1906–2000)". Archived from the original on 23 May 2016. Retrieved 19 June 2009.
  12. ^ Garth Lean, Frank Buchman - a life, Constable 1985, p.278.
  13. ^ https://uk.iofc.org/bunny-austin-1906-2000
  14. ^ Austin, H.W.; Konstam, Phyllis (1969). A Mixed Double, p. 134. London: Chatto and Windus.
  15. ^ "Bunny Austin dies aged 94", article by Derrick Whyte, The Independent, 28 August 2000 [2]
  16. ^ "Bunny Austin, 94, a Pioneer in Tennis Shorts", obituary by Frank Litsky, The New York Times, 28 August 2000 [3]

External links[edit]