Ruia Morrison, tennis player, 1936
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.