Just why is the Australian Open women’s trophy called the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup? As with most tennis trophies there is a wonderful story behind what is now typically called the “Daphne”.
Daphne Akhurst was Australia’s leading woman tennis player of the 1920s. She won the Australian Championship 5 times and died tragically at the age of 29.
As a grand slam trophy, the “Daphne” is equal in status to the Venus Rosewater Dish presented to female champions of Wimbledon each year. A rosewater dish, rather oddly, was originally a ceremonial platter used to collect rosewater (or flavoured water) in a traditional ceremony. Just where Venus, the Roman goddess comes into this, is difficult to know, because the central character on the Wimbledon trophy is Sophrosyne – a Greek goddess of excellent character and sound mind!
It seems as if Venus Williams should have gripped firmly on to that Wimbledon trophy and taken it home. Her name was on it after all. There’s no such confusion with the “Daphne”.
Richard Naughton’s book about Daphne Akhurst titled “The Woman Behind the Trophy” explains the fascinating story of Daphne Akhurst, and her background. However, the story also tells about the development of tennis and women’s sport during the era when she played. Tennis and swimming were the first sports that Australian women competed in during the early 20th century, and Akhurst along with the swimmer Fanny Durack, and Olympic gold medallist in 1912, were legitimate international stars.
The book covers the story of the two Australian women’s international tennis teams that travelled abroad in 1925 and 1928 – for some reason this is an important part of sport history has never been told before. As well as Akhurst, there were five or six other Australian women tennis players capable of competing at an international level in the 1920s.
The 1920s were a remarkable era of change – it was a brief decade between the war and the depression – it was also an extraordinary decade in the world of tennis with stars like Suzanne Lenglen, Bill Tilden, Jean Borotra, and Helen Wills.
Daphne, from Ashfield in Sydney was part of the mix, and in 1928 she was world-ranked number 3 and earned the nickname,“The Shy Lady of Wimbledon.”
Akhurst was a highly talented individual: a gifted pianist who gave public concerts as a child, trained at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, a schoolteacher, a newspaper columnist, and an accomplished athlete. Daphne was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2013.
Since the creation of the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, Margaret Court is an 11-time winner of the Australian championship, and Serena Williams who is chasing the Court record of 24 grand slam title victories has 7 Australian Open wins. Nancye Bolton, another of Australia’s early great stars, won the championship 6 times.
Certainly, all the tennis greats of the modern era have strived to hold high the trophy named in honour of our own “Shy Lady of Wimbledon”. The current world rankings suggest that Australia’s Ashleigh Barty will be a strong contender to hold “Daphne” aloft in 2021.
Until this book little detail has been known about Daphne Akhurst, but she was clearly a fine athlete, and a remarkable Australian. The book is now available in Australian bookstores. It will shortly be available on amazon.com.au