This was originally posted by Newmark at: https://www.tennisforum.com/79641870-post4652.html
The following unsigned interview with Blanche Hillyard was published in 'Lawn Tennis' on August 4, 1897, not long after 33-year-old Blanche had won the fourth of her six singles titles at Wimbledon. In the interview she reveals quite a lot about herself, not just about her lawn tennis career, but also about her personal life. She also mentions her two children – 6-year-old Jack, who would become a successful lawn tennis player himself, and 2-year-old Marjorie Anastasia Hillyard (1895-1953). Marjorie was born mentally handicapped and did not take up lawn tennis.
From ‘Lawn Tennis’, August 4, 1897
A Chat with the Lady Champion – Mrs Blanche Hillyard
There was considerably more than a substratum of truth in a remark overheard by the writer at the recent [Wimbledon] Championship meeting, when the subject of the present sketch had beaten Miss Charlotte Cooper, and thus repossessed herself of the premier title. Quoth an enthusiastic bystander as the winning stroke was made – ‘Well, I call Mrs Hillyard a wonder; she’s like Tennyson’s brook – goes on forever!’ Considering that the lady in question first became champion in the year 1886 – more than a decade ago – and that she still holds that title, many persons (including the writer) will feel inclined to endorse the above remark.
‘Men may come and men may go’ – and women too, for that matter – but the present lady champion is apparently impervious to the wear and tear of time. Most of her contemporaries of either sex of ten years ago – Miss Louisa Martin is one of the few exceptions – have passed from the ken of the players of today, and their methods are rapidly becoming traditions only. Where, now, among the ladies are Miss Lottie Dod, Miss Maud Watson, Miss May Langrishe, Miss Margaret Bracewell, Mrs Edith Cole, Miss Lena Rice and Mrs Lilian Pine-Coffin, all names to conjure with a decade ago? Echo answers, where?
Mrs Hillyard, then Miss Blanche Bingley, first entered for the Championship in the year of its institution – 1884 – and reached the third round [semi-final] before she was beaten by Miss Maud Watson – who won the title – in a three-set match. In the following year she again had to play second to the holder – on this occasion in the final, Miss Maud Watson playing through that year. In 1886 the conditions were altered; the holder of the Championship stood out, and played the winner of the All-Comers’ Prize. In the year in question Miss Bingley succeeded in turning the tables on her conqueror of the past two years, and thus for the first time in her career achieved premier honours.
In 1887 that incomparably fine player, Miss Lottie Dod, made her first appearance at Wimbledon, and carried all before her, beating Miss Bingley very easily in the Challenge Round. This was the last match the latter engaged in under her maiden name, for the following week she was married to Mr George W. Hillyard, then and since well known as a cricketer, who himself was destined subsequently to gather laurels on the lawn tennis courts. The newly-married couple, it may be mentioned en passant, signalised the beginning of their wedded life by winning the ladies’ and gentlemen’s doubles at the Chiswick Park meeting the week following their marriage.
Miss Lottie Dod repeated, a year later at Wimbledon, her victory over Mrs Hillyard, but the latter recovered the title in 1889, defeating Miss Lena Rice in the final of the All-Comers’ after a very closely contested three-set match. As Miss Dod had expressed her intention of resigning the title, the match in question became the Championship round. The year following Mrs Hillyard in her turn retired, and Miss Rice succeeded to the vacant honour, Miss Dod again being an absentee. The latter emerged from her seclusion in 1891, however, defeated Mrs Hillyard in that year, and in 1892 and 1893 (a three-set match), but retired in 1894, when Mrs Hillyard again won, only to be conspicuous by her absence in 1895 and 1896.
This year , as everybody knows, sees her once more at the head of affairs. Apart from the Championship, to enumerate Mrs Hillyard’s various performances would probably fill a number of ‘Lawn Tennis’, and when viewing her numerous trophies, she may with justice apostrophise herself as in classic terms, and exclaim, ‘Si monumentum requiris circumspice’ (‘If you seek her monument, look around’).
In addition to the Championship she has held the Irish, Welsh, Northern and South of England Championships. Curiously enough, although a lover of hard courts, she has never yet entered for the Covered Court Championship. Her record for other events is almost equally good, for more than once she has won, partnered by Mr Ernest Renshaw, and subsequently by Mr Wilfred Baddeley, the All England Mixed Doubles, and with Miss Bertha Steedman, the All England Ladies’ Doubles Championship.
She is a baseline player pure and simple, and has been called a Herbert Lawford in petticoats, her forehand stroke reminding one not a little of that famous player’s drive. She places to a nicety either down the lines or across the court, and has on occasions been known to win an ace with a volley. Her weak point is her backhand, which possesses not a tithe of the pace which characterises her forehand, and is, moreover, returned rather high over the net. Still, the length is generally good, and therein lies her salvation with regard to this stroke. Well aware of her weakness, she not infrequently runs round the ball. And – to mention another characteristic feature of her game – she has never been known to play without gloves. To do so would probably handicap her more heavily than any point of odds, however severe. Handicappers might note this with a view to future imposts, though probably the objection of interference with the liberty of the subject would be raised.
“I can’t remember,” was her reply to a question of the writer as to when she began to play the game. “I can’t remember, but I think I began when I was 17, and I have been playing a good many years now. I never can remember dates. The other day someone asked my how many times I had won the Championship, and I could not say, nor can I say now. I know I have only missed Wimbledon three times since the Ladies’ Championship was started [in 1884]. Of course, I consider lawn tennis a most excellent game, and I think that, if possible, I am keener than ever, and you must remember I’ve played the game hard for about 15 years. The hardest match I ever played? Well, I think it was the match against Miss Lottie Dod at the Northern in 1893, in the Championship round. We were set-all, and I led her at 5 games to 4, and 40-15, and then lost. She took to lobbing [moon-balling] towards the end of the match, and I failed to go for my stroke, as I ought to have done under the circumstances.”
“You have often played matches under difficult conditions, I expect?”
“Yes, I have seldom played a match except under difficulties – rain, wind or bad light, and sometimes all three combined, as, for instance, at Manchester this year, when it actually blew a gale with heavy rain. In one match I remember we were playing quite late – 8.15 p.m. – and it was almost dark. I personally consider wind much less embarrassing than rain or bad light, but most people do not agree with me.”
“Do you like singles, doubles or mixed doubles best?”
“I like singles best of all, and then mixed doubles. I greatly dislike ladies’ doubles as they used to be and still are played – all four players at the back of the court. But with two back players and two volleyers it is not at all a bad game. For instance, Miss Ruth Dyas and Miss Helen Jackson have been playing Miss Bertha Steedman and myself in practice the last few days, and we have had some excellent sets, as the rests [rallies] were never long, the volleyer either making the stroke or losing it.”
“You must possess quite a collection of trophies?”
“Yes, I have a great many nice prizes, but I think this last Championship gave me the most pleasure of all, both for the honour of again winning it, and also because the prize is a very handsome one – a silver mirror for the dressing-table. It is now eleven years since I first won the Championship.”
“What sort of dress do you advise for match play?”
“Well, I find the most comfortable is a white serge skirt, a white flannel blouse and a sailor hat. But I know most ladies play hatless, and in duck skirts and cotton blouses. Chacune à son gout [To each her own].”
“Have you played abroad?”
“Yes, I have played at Cannes, Nice and Monte Carlo, on sand courts. I much prefer hard to grass courts, as the former are always true, and grass so seldom is – especially at tournaments where, with few exceptions, little trouble is taken to make the grass courts good. The only tournament where, in my experience, one ever finds good courts are those held on cricket grounds, such, for instance, as Brighton and Liverpool. Wimbledon is the solitary exception that occurs to me.”
“Do you intend your children to learn the game?”
“Well, at present they are too young to begin. My boy is only six and my girl two. But Jack often knocks the ball about with a racket, and I have been seriously thinking of getting him a 10 oz Tate. He has quite a good idea of hitting the ball – quite as much as many grown-up people have whom I have seen playing at garden parties. But please don’t imagine that I occupy myself exclusively with lawn tennis. I can do other things, too, and I hate people to think that lawn tennis players can do and think of nothing outside the one game – that lawn tennis is the end and aim of their existence. It is a prevalent idea, I know, but quite a mistaken one.
“At all events, I can answer for myself. I hunt four days a week, run with the beagles twice a week, and I am a very keen cyclist. Last year I organised a mixed – lawn tennis terms will cling to one, you see – a mixed tandem bicycle tour, and succeeded in getting together seven tandems – men and girls. We rode about 70 miles a day – through Cambridge, Cromer, Grantham &c. I am very fond of music, too, and used to a good player – the piano was my instrument, although I am sorry to say I never touch a note now. Animals, too, have a warm corner in my heart, and I keep dogs, cats, doves and horses. There, I think I had better stop or your readers will be bored.”