Friday, 28 September 2012

Patricia Molly Pretorius

The elation that swept South Africa when that country won the 1972 Federation Cup — the world women's team championship of tennis — was justifiably shared in the then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

Alhough the inscription 'South Africa' went on the handsome trophy, the team was an all-Rhodesian one of Pat Pretorius (nee Walkden) and Brenda Kirk. After beating France in the semifinals at the Ellis Park Stadium at Johannesburg these two overcame the powerful British team 2-1 in the final to record one of the most notable triumphs in the country's tennis history. The two girls — Pat born at
Bulawayo and Brenda born at Fort Victoria — were representing their adopted country in the Federation Cup for the first time and they won it on home soil from a record entry of thirty-one nations. South Africa became the only country apart from America and Australia to win the trophy, first competed for in 1963.

It was the climax of an outstanding tennis career for Pat Pretorius — the supreme women's player produced by Rhodesia, for which country she won distinction on the international scene.

Born Patricia Molly Walkden on 12 February 1946 at Bulawayo, she matriculated at Eveline High School in her home town. Athletically built and sports minded, it seemed inevitable that she would emerge a champion in the family tradition — her father Lee captained Rhodesia at cricket and Pat followed her mother, Isobel, in gaining national hockey colours. While Pat went on to win tennis
colours and world status, her mother also later won double national colours when she became one of the nation's leading bowlers and won the country's singles title in 1979 at Salisbury.

It was clear while she was a junior that Pat possessed the vital ingredients to go far in tennis — fluent ground strokes, a strong backhand and a positive, attacking nature By the age of sixteen, in 1962, she had already risen to be third ranked player in the country behind Susie Smit and Joan Walker and it was little surprise that the next year she topped the list after winning her first Rhodesian closed singles title. As a seventeen-year-old schoolgirl she was the youngest open or closed champion
But in January 1963 she had given warning of her rapid rise when, not yet seventeen, she beat South Africa's world-ranked number one player, Renee Schuurman. 6-4.1 -6. 6-4 in a major second round upset at the Western Province championships at Cape Town. After winning her Rhodesian Open crown (and the doubles with Rita Martin) she again underlined her magnificent potential by winning the South African junior singles title — the first time a Rhodesian had taken this crown. Pat beat top seed Ingrid Frohling of Natal 4-6. 6-3. 6-4 ir the final

The young starlet ventured on the overseas circuit for the first time in 1964. retaining her Rhodesian closed title with an effortless 6-1.6-1 victory over Jill Russell just before flying out. She failed to qualify for the Wimbledon singles when she lost her third round qualifying match 9-7, 6-2 to a British girl. Miss A. Owen, but she was gaining valuable experience and was beginning to catch attention. Her play often provoked high acclaim and many critics predicted that she had the physical and mental ability to take the jolts of big-time tennis and that she would be able to stand the acid test of intense competition and pressure once she matured as a player.

The teenage Pat — always a superb ambassacress with impeccable court manners — and another young Rhodesian, Roger Dowdeswell, qualified for all three events at Wimbledon in 1965. Pat forming a highly effective doubles partnership with South African Glenda Swan to win their early matches. Earlier that year Pat had enhanced her reputation with a 6-2. 8-6 victory over Britain's high-ranking Christine Truman, the reigning South African champion. A report in the Bulawayo Chronicle said: "Miss Walkden's backhand driving and fine serving were too much for Miss Truman."

Rhodesia's first entry into the prestigious Federation Cup came in 1966, Pat Walkden (captain) and Joan Walker making up the team at Turin. They beat Austria 3-0 in a pleasing debut, but went down 3-0 to Italy in the second round.

However, Pat continued to make her mark by ending 1966 with her first South African Sugar Circuit title. In two stunning upsets on her way to becoming Free State champion, she beat Springbok number one, Annette van Zyl and then accounted for Britain's classy Virginia Wade in the final.

Another victory over Miss Wade followed a few weeks later in early 1967, when she won the Natal championship at Durban 6-2,9-7. By the time Pat turned twenty-one on 12 February that year, she had risen from a shy, promising schoolgirl to one of the top fifteen or so players in the world. Apart from her two Sugar titles, whilst on the circuit she also enjoyed the distinction of beating Annette van Zyl (then ranked sixth in the world) on three successive occasions.

She made her third visit to the European circuit in 1967. winning a West German tournament with an impressive victory overHelga Schultze, while in the same year she captained Rhodesia and teamed up with Fiona Morris (later McKenzie) but went down to the top seeded Americans in the first round of the Federation Cup in Berlin.

In December 1967 and January 1968, Pat flashed a warning that she would again be a strong contender en the world circuit when she won two South African Sugar titles. When she beat American Carole Graebner 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 ir the Western Province championships at Cape Town she was appearing in her third successive final of the summer, confirming the promise that had brought her to the fringe of the world's top ten. In Cape Town, Pat also teamed with Annette van Zyl to win the doubles 6-1. 6-3 against the experienced British pair. Nell Truman and Winnie Shaw.

Eut the young Rhodesian was now in a serious dilemma. Most of her competitive tennis was played in South Africa and there was strong pressure :rom that country for her to seek citizenship and wear the Springbok blazer. With Rhodesia a political outcast from most of the world because of the 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) she was encountering problems overseas when travelling on a Rhodesian passport.

And so it was that while playing in the 1968 South African championships at Johannesburg in March, Pat accepted South African naturalisation papers and was lost to Rhodesian sport. She had been forced into sporting exile by political circumstances and also by the limited opportunities in her own country. Pat was immediately awarded her Springbok blazer when she was chosen together with Maryna Godwin (who later married Mike Procter) to play in a Test series against the Australian pair, Margaret Smith (Court) and Karen Krantzke.

By nature a sensitive, unassuming woman, she worried about what her countrymen would think of her and this shone through in a telephone conversation from Johannesburg with a Press reporter in Bulawayo immediately after making her decision to become a South African.

"Do you think people in Rhodesia will understand?" she asked. "If I'd stayed in Rhodesia, my tennis would have been in jeopardy through the travel restrictions of a post-UDI passport. But 1 haven't left Rhodesia, my home is still there and I'll be home as often as I can. Give my love to the people I know in Bulawayo . . . I hope they'll understand why I've made the biggest decision of my life. Although they'll call me a South African from now on my heart will always be in Rhodesia."

Rhodesians still regarded her as one of their own and continued to folbw her career closely, taking great pride in her 1969 Wimbledon feat of shattering British hopes by beating Britain's number one Virginia Wade 7-5,6-1 in a majorshock on the hallowed centre court. She beat the third seed in seventy minutes to reach the last sixteen in front of 15 000 people, including the Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Wilson. It was her most notable moment in tennis and a London report said: "It was a triumph of tenacity. The South African saved three set points in the first set before the match turned in her favour." The Bulawayo girl then bowed out next round 6-3, 1-6, 8-6 after holding match point against experienced Australian Lesley Bowrey.

There was talk of Pat turning professional in America in 1970, but this never materialised, and in 1971 she was married to Free State's Quentin Pretorius in Bulawayo, whom she had met on the tennis circuit in 1963.

Then came the momentous year of 1972 when Pat Pretorius and Brenda Kirk, two young Rhodesians playing for their adopted South Africa, shocked the world by winning the Federation Cup against all odds. For Pat, now twenty-six, it was the climax of a proud tennis career which saw her plunge into world class with memorable victories over players like Wade, Ann Haydon-Jones, Van Zyl, Graebner, Judy Tegart, Fran?oise Durr and Christine Truman. Pat Pretorius was, indeed, one of the great Rhodesian sportswomen.



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At 2 November 2014 at 15:59 , Blogger Travel to Europe: Ask Doc said...

I was there THAT day and will never forget it as long as I live. The late Winnie Shaw told the umpire that the serve (from Brenda Kirk) which was ruled out, was in fact IN. The umpire would not budge, so when Kirk served the second ball, Winne Shaw refused to hit the ball! The crowd went bananas!!! Those were the days of sportmanship.

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