The last British French Open winner—Sue Barker under the spotlight
The last time a British player won the popular tennis French Open was 45 years ago. In men’s tennis, Fred Perry, a professional British tennis player, won the French Open Championship back in 1935. For women’s tennis, Ann Haydon-Jones succeeded at the French Championship. This achievement in the 1960s. Haydon-Jones was so popular during this period that she was highly rated, even by those who play sports on gaming platforms.
However, ever since this famous tennis championship was renamed in the Open Era, only one British player, Sue Barker succeeded. The year was 1976.
Barker’s name was inscribed on the championship trophy next to AUST., which was supposed to represent her country. The Devon-born player was identified wrongly as a citizen of Australia.
Despite this great mistake in the trophy inscription, nothing could change the fact that was the last British person to win the French Open championship. It looks as if this record will stand for another year as Heather Watson and Johanna Konta, top British tennis players, were eliminated this week in the first round of the championship at Roland Garros.
As the French Open championship action continues to unfold this year, GiveMeSport decided to look at Barker’s career, reviewing details of her championship run. For younger generations, Sue Barker is seen more as a TV presenter than a professional tennis player. She’s most often seen on TV because she rarely misses major live tennis events, and she hosted a popular quiz show for 23 years.
Sue Barker made her name in tennis before hosting TV shows. Although her name might not be mentioned when top athletes in the sport like Serena Williams and Chris Evert, are talked about, Sue was once ranked amongst the world top three when she won a major title and achieved for Britain.
In 1975, Barker established herself as a top player. Her experience of major tennis events before the famous French Open was limited. She rarely reached the semi-finals during her time, but won a couple of times. In addition to her French Open trophy, Sue also won five Virginia Slims Championships. Aside from the French Open Championship, the Virginia Slims Championships, now known as the WTA tour finals, were also big wins for her, as they spiked her level of popularity.
In 1976, when she set the record in Britain, Barker was on a high ahead of the French Open championship, defeating Renáta Tomanová for the German Open trophy. At this time, Barker was only 20-years-old but efficient at the sport.
At 20, she found it easy to progress from early rounds, winning the first and second sets in a tennis match. In a semi-final against Virginia Ruzici, a Romanian tennis player, Barker won 3-6, 6-1, 2-6. This was a huge win for her during that period.
Beating Virginia Ruzici allowed her to progress to the final, where she faced Renáta Tomanová again. Tomanová had already proven herself worthy in the earlier season by reaching the finals but lost to Evonne Goolagong. She was determined not to let this happen again. Barker, on the other hand, just had her second appearance at Roland Garros. The final was good for her at first because she was at home on the clay, and records had shown that she was best on clay as she had won six of her seven finals on the surface.
The game started, and Barker won the first set 6-2, but Tomanová didn’t relent and beat Barker 6-0 in the second set. Barker changed her momentum and won the last set 6-2.
A couple of years after this win, Barker recalled her victory to BBC sport, saying: “My celebrations weren’t above board. I recall walking off the clay thinking, a good win, one down, more to go. I was already 20 years old and I just felt it was high time I won Grand Slams. The problem was when would that be. So when I secured this win, it was a big relief.”
Little did Sue Barker know that the win was going to be her last. It wasn’t that she lost focus; she had a good year the following year before declining in 1978 due to frequent injuries.
In 1977 when she was still efficient, she reached the semi-finals at the Wimbledon and Australian Open championship. However, she left her fans disappointed when she also lost the Wimbledon championship. Barker was amongst the seeds heading into the famous English Tennis Championship in 1977. She looked prepared to face Wade in the finals, but Stöve, a Dutch player, ruined Barker’s dream by defeating her 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. After Sue Barker’s retirement, she admitted to the press that her loss to the Dutch player was the biggest disappointment of her tennis career.
Although Sue Barker was never ranked number one globally, she did beat Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and other top professionals during her time. Sue Barker was, no doubt, a British great.