Brits Fred Perry and Andy Murray are contrasting champions

Sep 12, 2012, 07:48 IST | AFP

Fred Perry, the last British man to win a Grand Slam title before Andy Murray captured his US Open crown, would have done things differently and probably a lot more noisily

Newly crowned US Open champion Andy Murray has a steady girlfriend, doesn’t drink alcohol and relaxes by taking his two pet dogs, Maggie and Rusty, for long strolls in the Surrey countryside.

Fred Perry, the last British man -- until Monday -- to win a Grand Slam title by capturing the US championship in 1936, would have done things differently and probably a lot more noisily.

Murray with girlfriend Kim Sears on Monday. Pic/AFP

Perry, who died aged 85 in Melbourne in 1995, was married four times, courted 1930s Hollywood sirens Marlene Dietrich and Jean Harlow amongst his lovers, renounced his British citizenship and served in the US Air Force in World War II.

Fall out
He also fell out spectacularly with the British tennis establishment, who bristled at his professional status and his humble origins.

Born the son of a cotton factory worker in 1909 at Stockport, in England's industrial north, Perry’s father was a committed socialist.

After the family moved to London, Perry learned to play table tennis and tennis, but always endured a roller-coaster relationship with officials at his home Grand Slam event, Wimbledon. According to a 2009 biography, The Last Champion, when Perry beat Jack Crawford to win his first Wimbledon title in 1934, he overheard a club official telling the Australian runner-up that he was the “better man”.

Perry, always an outsider in the stuffy surroundings of amateur lawn tennis, thrived in the more egalitarian atmosphere of the United States, where the gregarious, athletic Englishman was an instant celebrity.

Fred Perry and his wife actress Helen Vinson in 1936

The Last Champion’s author Jon Henderson explained Perry’s popularity. “He was an extremely good looking, red-blooded lad. The girls liked him and he liked the girls. It went from there," wrote Henderson.

“One US columnist said, ‘women fell for him like ninepins and when he went to Hollywood, male film stars went and sulked in Nevada.’ ”

By the time of Perry’s death, he had finally become accepted into the British tennis culture. “Fred Perry was a superlative ambassador for our sport throughout the world. He was a great character, big-hearted and a true champion in every sense,” said former All England chairman John Curry. “He won the affection and admiration of all those involved in tennis -- the players, the fans, the media, and officials. Fred was one of those rare individuals. He was at ease with all -- from the youngest fans to royalty.”

Perry’s third -- and Britain’s most recent -- Wimbledon triumph in 1936 was achieved with breathtaking speed, his 6-1, 6-1, 6-0 victory over Germany’s Baron Gottfried von Cramm taking only 40 minutes. Von Cramm’s life, too, had its controversy -- he was imprisoned for homosexuality for six months in 1938 and died in a car crash in Cairo in 1976.

Jean Harlow

Below: Marlene Dietrich. Pics/Getty Images 

The media’s Andy man...
British newspapers hailed Andy Murray’s historic achievement in the US Open final on Monday as he ended a 76-year wait for a British men's Grand Slam champion by beating Novak Djokovic.

The 25-year-old Scot beat 2011 winner Djokovic 7-6 (12/10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 in an epic final at Flushing Meadows to become Britain's first major champion since Fred Perry claimed his third American title in 1936.

“This fairytale of New York written by Andy Murray was more than just an achievement to savour for itself," wrote Kevin Mitchell in the online edition of The Guardian, the result coming in too late for the print editions.

Britain's top-selling tabloid The Sun ran the headline "Yankee Doodle Andy!" on the sports section of its website next to a picture of the British No 1 in trademark mid-roar.

"There could not be a more deserving champion," wrote Paul Newman for the online edition of The Independent.

"Murray has worked tirelessly to reach his goal in an era dominated by two of the greatest players in history in the shape of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and, in more recent times, by a man who may also eventually be regarded as one of the sport's legends.”

Tennis correspondent for The Times newspaper Neil Harman wrote on his Twitter page: "I'm not going to go to bed tonight and do you know what, I really don't care." 

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