Will Fred Perry's status come through another Wimbledon intact?

Jon Henderson might have taken a calculated gamble when he chose 'The Last Champion' as the title for his biography of Fred Perry.  Then again, he probably didn't. 

Andy Murray has still some way to go, it seems, if he is to succeed where Tim Henman failed in emulating Perry's feat in winning the Wimbledon championships, which he did three times.  In any event, Murray is Scottish.  Perry will remain the last Englishman to win Wimbledon for some time to come.

Perry suffered the fate that seems regularly to befall British sporting champions in that the more successful he became, the less popular.  Winning requires a certain single-mindedness that British audiences often mistake for aloofness or arrogance, as golfers such as Nick Faldo or racing drivers such as Nigel Mansell discovered. We prefer our sporting heroes to be modest, self-effacing and only quietly confident; Perry was none of these.

Quite the opposite.  Jack Kramer, the American player who would win Wimbledon a decade after Perry, described the Englishman as 'opportunist, selfish and egotistical' and his gamesmanship was notorious.   It did not endear him to the All England Club, who had reservations about him anyway as the son of a socialist politician from Stockport in Cheshire.  When, in 1934, he became the first Englishman to win in SW19 for 25 years, a club official was overheard telling the beaten Australian, Jack Crawford, that the 'better man lost'.

When Perry turned professional in 1936, the All England Club, it seemed, couldn't wait to be rid of him.  The feeling was mutual, apparently, and it was not long before Perry renounced Britain and became an American citizen, attracted by what he perceived as a society not divided by class.

Perry wrote two autobiographies but The Last Champion: The Life of Fred Perry is the first balanced account of his life.  Jon Henderson, an excellent writer on tennis and other sports, was painstaking in his research and presents an account that has sympathy for the subject but which does not skip over his faults.

Published in hardback last year and shortlisted at the British Sports Book Awards, The Last Champion is now available in paperback.   Andre Agassi's autobiography, Open, spent several weeks among sport's best-sellers, largely on the back of his drug-taking confession, but for a pre-Wimbledon tennis read, Henderson's book probably beats it.

The Last Champion: The Life of Fred Perry is published by Yellow Jersey.

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