On this day in history : 26th August 1906 – The birth of English tennis player Bunny Austin – the last Briton to reach the final of the men’s singles at Wimbledon until Andy Murray….

Bunny Austin – Image credit (cropped) : Willem van de Poll – Dutch National Archives CC BY-SA 3.0

Henry Wilfred Austin got his nickname ‘Bunny’ from a popular Daily Mirror cartoon strip of the time Pip, Squeak and Wilfred….the latter being a rabbit…. It was a nickname that he carried throughout his whole life, as it had been his school mates who had given it to him….

It was Bunny’s father who pushed his son into a sporting career…. He was brought up in South Norwood, London in a large, comfortable family home which he shared with his parents and sister…. His was a middle class childhood, with servants and a public school education…. He joined the Norhurst Tennis Club at the age of six….

In 1921 Bunny won the under 16s singles in the Public School Boys’ Tournament at Queens…. In 1922 he won the junior championships in the singles, doubles and mixed doubles and then in 1923 the singles and doubles at the tournament…. Success continued to be his; in 1926, his first year at Wimbledon, he made it all the way to the men’s doubles semi-finals….

By the end of 1929 Bunny had ranked ninth in the world and for the next three years he was seeded sixth at Wimbledon…. It was also in 1929 that he met English actress Phyllis Konstantinos, whilst onboard a transatlantic cruise liner travelling to America for the US Open…. They were to become a celebrity golden couple and were married in 1931, going on to have two children…. Theirs was a life of glamour, with friends such as Daphne Du Maurier, Ronald Colman, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin…. Bunny would often play tennis with Chaplin – he was even known to play the odd set or two with the Queen of Thailand….

Bunny Austin and his wife, 1936 – Image credit : Willem van de Poll – Dutch National Archives CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1932 Bunny reached his first Wimbledon singles final…. He was the first Englishman to do so in a decade – but he was to lose to American Ellsworth Vines in three sets…. However, in 1933 he was back and reached the quarter finals…. Then in 1938 he was to meet Donald Budge, one of the best world players of the era, in the Wimbledon final…. Bunny could only manage to win four games…. 1939 was to be his last Wimbledon – he was seeded No.1 but was beaten by American Elwood Cooke in straight sets….

The British Public had to wait until 2012 before another Briton reached the Wimbledon men’s singles final again…. Andy Murray went on to win the title for the first time in 2013….the first British player since Fred Perry in 1936….

Bunny Austin died in 2000, on his 94th birthday….

Hungary-England Davis Cup match 1929 – Bunny Austin far left – Public domain

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