Ruia Mor­ri­son, ten­nis player, 1936

The New Zealand Herald - - News - — Joanna Hunkin

Ruia Mor­ri­son laughs with de­light when she re­mem­bers Wim­ble­don. “I loved the grass,” she says. “I was very, very com­fort­able on grass.”

Now aged 82, Mor­ri­son was a teenager when she started mak­ing waves on the New Zealand ten­nis cir­cuit.

Mor­ri­son, born and raised in Ro­torua, be­gan play­ing ten­nis as a child, af­ter her fa­ther Hin­gawaka, a keen player, built two ten­nis courts for the com­mu­nity to share. Soon she was hooked. “All I wanted to do was be on a ten­nis court and hit the ball,” she says.

In 1953, she moved to Auck­land and won her first na­tional sin­gles ti­tle in 1956. She won the ti­tle six times — along with seven na­tional dou­bles ti­tles — be­fore re­tir­ing in 1962.

John Waititi, a ten­nis um­pire and re­spected Ma¯ ori leader, saw Mor­ri­son play and recog­nised her po­ten­tial.

“He said: ‘She’s got to go to Wim­ble­don.’ Be­cause Wim­ble­don was the mecca of ten­nis,” ex­plains Mor­ri­son’s bi­og­ra­pher Dick Gar­ratt.

To­gether with her fa­ther, Waititi called on the Ma¯ ori com­mu­nity to fundraise for Mor­ri­son’s Wim­ble­don cam­paign. The team raised enough funds to cover the next four years of tour­na­ments for Mor­ri­son.

In 1957 Mor­ri­son be­came the first Ma¯ ori to com­pete at Wim­ble­don. She ac­quit­ted her­self ad­mirably, reach­ing the fourth round be­fore los­ing to the fourth seed, Amer­ica’s Betty Pratt.

Mor­ri­son’s easy charm and warm per­son­al­ity made her a pop­u­lar ad­di­tion to the cir­cuit and she was known for her killer fore­hand and stop vol­ley.

Mor­ri­son played Wim­ble­don four times, reach­ing the fourth round again in 1960. But her great­est mo­ment, ac­cord­ing to the sprightly kuia, was beat­ing Mar­garet Court — who had just won the Aus­tralian Open — to win the New Zealand cham­pi­onship in 1960.

Court, the most suc­cess­ful fe­male ten­nis cham­pion of all time, re­mem­bers Mor­ri­son fondly. “I al­ways got on very well with Ruia,” she said in 2015. “I was only very young, and she was well into her ten­nis ca­reer.

“I re­mem­ber that she loved ten­nis and was a won­der­ful am­bas­sador for her coun­try.”

Fel­low Kiwi ten­nis champ and for­mer dou­bles part­ner Lew Ger­rard re­mem­bers Mor­ri­son’s de­ter­mi­na­tion. “Ruia was a fighter from the very first point to the last, she never gave up,” he said in 2015.

Ruia Mor­ri­son in ac­tion at Stan­ley St in Jan­uary 1963.

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