History Centre Heroes: Angela Mortimer

Did you know that Plymouth is the birthplace of a former Wimbledon champion?

Florence Angela Margaret Mortimer Barrett was born in Plymouth on 21 April 1932 and was raised in Kingkerswell near Newton Abbot, Devon. She didn’t start playing tennis until the age of 15. Despite being a ‘late bloomer’ and partially deaf, her talent was such that she was playing majors just four years later.

Between 1953 and 1962 she was ranked in the world top ten nine times. She reached a career high of World No 1 in 1961. She always played in shorts and refused to wear dresses on court despite many offers from people who were keen to design them for her!

Plymouth-born Angela Mortimer in her infamous shorts!
Plymouth-born Angela Mortimer in her infamous shorts!

Mortimer’s star was already on the rise in the early 1950s when she was a quarter finalist at the US Open (1952) and at Wimbledon (1953 and 1954).

Her first year of major success was 1955 during which she won the women’s singles title at the French Open and the women’s doubles (with Anne Shilcock) at Wimbledon. Her victory in France marked the first time a British woman had won one of the four major titles since 1937. Her victory in London with Shilcock was the first British win in the women’s doubles since 1937.

Mortimer and Shilcock after their 1955 women's doubles victory at Wimbledon
Mortimer and Shilcock after their 1955 women’s doubles victory at Wimbledon

The following year, in 1956, she was the runner up in the women’s singles in France and a quarter finalist again at Wimbledon.

For a couple of years after this Mortimer was sidelined with a virus that she caught in Egypt. She returned to full form in 1958 with major success at the Australian Open as runner up in the women’s and mixed doubles and winner of the women’s singles title. In that same year, as an un-seeded player, she was also the runner up at Wimbledon. She beat the former Champion Margaret DuPont in the quarter final and the French Champion Zsuzsa Kormoczy in the Semi Final, before surrendering to inspirational American, Althea Gibson in the final.

In both 1959 and 1960 she made it to the Wimbledon quarter finals again.

1961 would prove to be the pinnacle of her tennis playing career. She had been a prominent player in covered court tournaments across Europe for many years. This peaked in 1961 when she won French, German, Scandinavian and British titles. She also made it to the semi final of the US Open.

Wimbledon then beckoned and she worked her way through the rounds, even beating top seed Sandra Reynolds in the semi final.

Her opponent in the women’s singles final was fellow Brit Christine Truman Janes. It was the 75th anniversary of the Wimbledon championships and the first all British women’s final since 1914. There hasn’t been another one since.

Mortimer, who was seeded 7th, went on to beat 6th seeded Janes in three sets – winning 4-6, 6-4, 7-5. Her winning prize was apparently a £20 voucher to spend on tennis-related items – a far cry from what today’s champions receive!

Mortimer (right) and Janes (left) after the 1961 Wimbledon final
Mortimer (right) and Janes (left) after the 1961 women’s singles final at Wimbledon

She retired from single’s tennis in 1962. That same year she published an autobiography called ‘My Waiting Game’ in which she discussed her style of play which was mainly from the baseline.

In the years that followed she worked for a flamboyant fashion designer called Teddy Tinling. In April 1967 she married BBC commentator, author and former Davis Cup player, John Barrett with whom she has a son and a daughter.

Janes and Mortimer in 2011
Janes and Mortimer in 2011

She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1993. Her husband was also inducted in 2014 thus making them one of only two married couples in the Hall of Fame, the other of which is Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf.

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