Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Crawford, John Herbert (Jack) (1908–1991)

by Kerry Regan

This article was published online in 2014

John Herbert Crawford (1908-1991), tennis player, was born on 21 March 1908 at Albury, New South Wales, fifth child of New South Wales-born parents John McNeill Crawford, farmer, and his wife Charlotte Frances, née Fearne. Jack grew up at Urangeline where all six children played tennis on the family’s homemade court. With natural talent, he outstripped his siblings and as a boy represented Urangeline in local competitions. In 1920 the family moved to Sydney, having been forced by drought to sell the farm, and he attended Manly and Haberfield public schools. A keen watcher of club tennis at Haberfield, he was invited by a local player, Freddie Wallace, to play doubles and mixed doubles. Keen to impress as a junior but selected only as a reserve for the Linton Cup (1925), he proved his point by beating the number one player in the junior championships that followed.

In a long amateur career Crawford won six major international and some seventy-five Australian and state singles, doubles, and mixed doubles championships, beginning with the New South Wales doubles title in 1926 and ending with the New South Wales hardcourt singles title in 1949. In 1933—his golden year—he won the Australian and French mixed doubles championships and the Australian, French, and Wimbledon singles titles, failing to become the first to win the grand slam when beaten in five sets by Fred Perry in the United States final. He represented Australia in Davis Cup ties in 1928, 1930, and from 1932 to 1937, and was a member of the 1939 winning team although he did not play. In a successful doubles career his partners included Daphne Akhurst, Viv McGrath, Harry Hopman, E. F. ‘Gar’ Moon, and Adrian Quist.

Crawford was employed making tennis racquets at Baker’s Tennis Shop, which manufactured the flat top racquet that became his trademark. From 1926 to 1936 he worked for the tennis-ball maker Barnet Glass (later Dunlop Perdriau) Rubber Co. Ltd. In January 1937 he joined his brother Allan and Alan Kippax at the New South Wales Sports Store Ltd, Martin Place. On 28 February 1930 at St Philip’s Church of England, Sydney, Crawford had married Marjorie Cox. From the same Western Suburbs Association tennis club to which he belonged, she was also a champion and together they won many mixed doubles titles, including the Australian championship in 1931, 1932, and 1933. They were defeated in the Queen’s Club tournament final and the Wimbledon quarter-final in 1932. The couple lived in a Kings Cross flat until Marjorie’s death in 1983.

Six feet (183 cm) tall and not an impressive athlete, Crawford credited his success from 1928 to long practice sessions against Percy Jepson’s tennis machine gun. ‘Gentleman Jack’ was a natural stylist and had a competitive streak but was renowned for his sportsmanship and polite demeanour on the court. Identifiable by his long flannel trousers and long-sleeved shirt, buttoned at the wrist, he never felt the need to wear shorts as Quist began to do in the late 1930s, and claimed that long, viyella sleeves absorbed sweat and kept his tennis hand dry. An asthmatic, he found long matches difficult and energy-sapping. At his prime he spearheaded a national interest in tennis, particularly through Davis Cup competition. In 1933 he declined a lucrative professional contract to play in the United States of America. Rejected on medical grounds for service during World War II, he raised money for the Red Cross in exhibition games with Quist, John Bromwich, and a visiting American serviceman, Frank Kovacs. Although his tennis career was waning after the war, he still scored wins over Australia’s best.

In 1946, with his friend George Ryder, he became a partner in Jack Crawford and Ryder Pty Ltd, a wholesale business making and distributing sporting trophies; their association was to last thirty-six years. Through Ryder he became a member of the Sydney Turf and Australian Jockey clubs and attended races regularly with Marjorie. Tennis connections were also instrumental in his membership of a syndicate that owned the racehorse Constant Wonder. After Crawford’s retirement from national competition Ryder organised a testimonial appeal at the behest of the United States professional Jack Kramer. As the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia would not allow professionals to play at White City, it was held at Sydney Athletic Field on 6 January 1959.

In retirement Crawford played at White City courts every Thursday and Sunday, his distinctive long flannels always drawing a crowd of onlookers who marvelled at ‘Craw’s’ effortless technique. His health declining in the 1980s, he moved to the Hunter Valley. He died on 10 September 1991 at Cessnock and was buried in the Anglican cemetery, Denham Court. Appointed OBE for services to sport in 1976 and inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1979, he was posthumously included in the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame in 1997. The Jack Crawford Cup (for men aged over seventy years) has been contested annually since 1983. Crawford brought joy to the growing tennis crowds of the 1930s with a graceful, fluent style, which many aspiring players emulated until the 1970s.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Crawford, Jack. Interview by Neil Bennetts, 1 March 1980. Transcript. National Library of Australia
  • Danzig, Allison and Peter Schwed. The Fireside Book of Tennis. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972
  • Kendall, Allan. Australia’s Wimbledon Champions. Sydney: ABC Books, 1995
  • Kendall, Allan. Personal communication
  • Metzler, Paul. ‘The Great Jack Crawford.’ Tennis Australia. November 1991, 26-28
  • People (Sydney). ‘Jack Crawford—He Loathes Losing but He Kept it Quiet.’ 6 June 1951, 36-38
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Australia’s Gentleman of Tennis.’ 11 September 1991, 10

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Kerry Regan, 'Crawford, John Herbert (Jack) (1908–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/crawford-john-herbert-jack-17495/text29183, published online 2014, accessed online 21 July 2018.

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