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Ireland’s over-85s tennis world champion on playing at Wimbledon in the 1950s

With Wimbledon starting tomorrow, we looked back at the career of June Ann Byrne, who first graced Wimbledon’s grass courts in 1951. / YouTube

BEFORE SERENA THERE was Steffi. Before Steffi there was Martina. Before Martina, Billie Jean was causing scenes at Wimbledon. 

But before any of them ever stepped onto the grass courts of SW19, a young girl named June Ann Fitzpatrick had been a regular at tennis’ most prestigious tournament. 

Originally from near Cobh in Co. Cork, June Ann Byrne, as she’s now known, made the trip to Wimbledon for the first time just after finishing her leaving cert in 1951. 

“I got up from my paper from the Leaving, to catch the boat over to play in Junior Wimbledon.” 

Then 17, she competed in the girls’ singles competition, losing to the eventual winner Lorna Cornell – who went on to become Lorna Cawthorn and a Wimbledon regular at senior level herself in the following years.

Following her debut, June Ann Byrne would appear at Wimbledon every year from 1954 to 1960, with the exception of 1955, and made it to the last-16 in the ladies and mixed doubles on a couple of occasions. 

Her tennis career also took her to the mixed doubles semi-finals of Roland Garros in 1958, where she played on centre court. Byrne was invited back to the French Open as a guest recently, over 60 years after leaving her mark on the competition. 

After training as an occupational therapist, June Ann was offered work in San Francisco in 1954, and spent three years stateside. There, she mixed with some of the top American tennis players, regularly playing with the likes of  Wimbledon finalist Gussie Moran. 

Tennis - Wimbledon Championships Gertrude 'Gussie' Moran made the finals of the ladies' doubles at Wimbledon in 1949. S&G and Barratts / EMPICS Sport S&G and Barratts / EMPICS Sport / EMPICS Sport

While in America, Byrne won a number of high-profile tennis competitions, including the Championships of North California and British Columbia in 1955.

After meeting a US president and the Queen of England in an impressive tennis career, she made her final Wimbledon appearance in 1960, but that wasn’t the end of her involvement in tennis. 

Along with her doubles partner from Wimbledon, Heather Flinn, she was the first woman to be put in charge of the selection of Ireland’s Davis Cup team in the early 70s. 

She has also coached the world over, and is still playing now, having won the over-85 women’s doubles title at the ITF Super-Seniors World Championships last Autumn. 

“If I wasn’t getting a new hip, I would have played in the Europeans, which I’ve won a few times. ”They’re on at the moment. 

Showing no signs of stopping, June Ann is looking forward to getting back out on the courts of Carrickmines Tennis Club once the new hip is in place. 

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