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Hoad, Lewis Alan (Lew) (1934–1994)

by Max Solling

This article was published online in 2018

Lew Hoad, by Ern McQuillan, 1955

Lew Hoad, by Ern McQuillan, 1955

National Library of Australia, 42806544

Lewis Alan ‘Lew’ Hoad (1934-1994), tennis player, was born on 23 November 1934 at Waverley, New South Wales, eldest of three sons of New South Wales-born parents Alan Henry ‘Boy’ Hoad, electrical fitter, and his wife Ailsa ‘Bonnie’ Lyle, née Burbury. The family moved from Coogee in 1938 to a rented one-storey terrace at Glebe, where their backyard overlooked the tennis courts of the Hereford Club. Fascinated by the game, the five-year-old Lew began to hit a tennis ball against a garage door in the back lane. Alan, a keen sportsman, instilled into his boys the importance of exercise and keeping fit, and every Sunday in summer the family headed off to Coogee to swim. In 1943 Lew joined Glebe Police Boys Club where he boxed and wrestled; he also played rugby league, cricket, and tennis. He developed into a five-feet-nine-inches (175 cm) tall, twelve-stone (76 kg), blue-eyed blond with broad shoulders and powerful wrists and forearms.

The working-class boy from Glebe first played a game of tennis against Ken Rosewall when both boys were aged twelve; Rosewall’s superior control and court speed dominated their early encounters. Very different in personality and style of play, as Hoad gradually gained control over erratic ground shots he generally defeated Rosewall. At fifteen years of age both were selected in the New South Wales men’s team to play Victoria in Melbourne, beginning a ‘famous rivalry and partnership’—as the tennis ‘twins’—through which their names would become linked ‘almost as though they were halves of one person’ (Jones 1981, 42). Adrian Quist recognised in Hoad a splendid athlete with uncanny instincts, and employed him at Dunlop Sports Co. Pty Ltd after he left Glebe (Technical) Public School. Soon he came under Harry Hopman’s tutelage, and in 1951 he won the Australian junior singles title. That year he met Jennifer Jane Staley, an Australian women’s singles finalist in 1954.

Hoad and Rosewall captured the public imagination in 1953, when they were both aged nineteen. That year they won the Australian, French, and Wimbledon doubles titles, and in the Davis Cup challenge final Hoad’s defeat of the American Tony Trabert was a supreme achievement. Australia was behind by two rubbers to one when they played. Hoad won the first two sets, 13-11, 6-3, and Trabert the next two, 3-6, 2-6, but Hoad triumphed 7-5 in the fifth set, to level the tie. The next day Rosewall defeated Vic Seixas and Australia retained the cup. Hoad also helped Australia win the Davis Cup in 1955 and 1956, with a winning record in nine ties of 10-2 in singles and 7-2 in doubles. He and Jennifer married at the parish church, Wimbledon, on 18 June 1955.

At his peak in 1956, Hoad won the Australian, French, and Wimbledon men’s singles finals, but defeat to Rosewall in the United States final denied him the grand slam. In the 1957 Wimbledon final he produced a remarkable display of power to crush Ashley Cooper. Between 1953 and 1957 he won thirteen grand slam events and was runner-up ten times. With no financial prospects if he remained amateur, and with family responsibilities, he signed a contract for $125,000 to turn professional with Jack Kramer’s tennis troupe in July 1957. In his first year he played a series of matches against Ricardo ‘Pancho’ Gonzales. The results were about even until a damaged disc in Hoad’s spinal column became herniated and Gonzales finally won 51 matches to 36.

A majestic player, with power and flair, and an intimidating court presence, Hoad possessed an explosive service and lightning reflexes. With superb volley, backhand, forehand, and top spin shots, he was a complete player. Restless with rallying and unwilling to temporise, he was formidable once his great power was harnessed with steely concentration. His contemporaries Gonzales, Rosewall, and Rod Laver ranked him, at his best, as the number one all-time player. But career statistics suggest an enigma, whose concentration and control could be wayward, perhaps weighed down by the grind of the professional circuit and compounded by back and muscle injuries that prematurely terminated his playing career. Kramer (1981) wrote that, despite great natural ability, Hoad was inconsistent.

Professional tennis provided enough capital for Lew and Jenny to establish Campo de Tenis in 1967 at Fuengirola, Costa del Sol, Spain, where they coached. A genial host, Hoad ‘smoked and drank and yarned,’ with a broad Aussie accent. He was warm-hearted, easy-going, and well-liked. Survived by his wife, two daughters, and one son, he died at Fuengirola on 3 July 1994 of a heart attack, awaiting a bone marrow donor for leukaemia. The Lewis Hoad Reserve in Minogue Crescent, Forest Lodge, Sydney, and Lew Hoad Avenue in Baton Rouge, Los Angeles County, United States of America, were named after him.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Davidson, Owen, with C. M. Jones. Lawn Tennis: The Great Ones. London: Pelham Books, 1970
  • Hoad, Jenny, and Jack Pollard. My Life with Lew. Sydney: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002
  • Hoad, Lew, with Jack Pollard. My Game. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1958
  • Jones, Margaret. ‘Lew Hoad, Grandfather, Looks Back.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 28 November 1981, 42
  • Kramer, Jack, with Frank Deford. The Game: My 40 Years in Tennis. London: André Deutsch, 1981
  • Metzler, Paul. Great Players of Australian Tennis. Sydney: Harper & Row Publishers, 1979
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Tennis Great Stood Tall among Australian Champions.’ 5 July 1994, 2
  • Trengove, Alan. ‘Obituary: Lew Hoad.’ Independent, 5 July 1994, 14

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Max Solling, 'Hoad, Lewis Alan (Lew) (1934–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hoad-lewis-alan-lew-18994/text30594, published online 2018, accessed online 19 August 2019.

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