Whilst casually browsing through the Daily Mail at my favourite Costa this week (Thu 6th Feb 2014) my attention was drawn to a regular news feature Answers to Correspondents. A reader had posed the question “have a husband and wife ever played mixed doubles tennis professionally and, if so, did they ever win a major tournament?”
Reading on, the word Godfree sprang from the page, which is a name held with great esteem within the Seniors’ Lawn Tennis Club of Great Britain (est. 1959).
Leslie Allison Godfree (1885-1971) became our first President in 1959.
Primarily known for his doubles expertise, he played at the Wimbledon Championships from 1920 to 1930, winning the doubles title partnering Randolph Lycett in 1923, winning the mixed doubles title in 1926 and losing two other mixed finals in 1924 and 1927.
He was also member of the British Davis Cup team from 1923 to 1927 and competed at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris.
In 1930, Leslie took part at the US Championships where he reached the quarterfinals in mixed doubles, this time partnering Mercedes Malowe.
Kathleen "Kitty" McKane Godfree (1896-1992) became our first Patron in 1986.
Largely self-taught, Kitty Godfree introduced a no-nonsense serve and volley style to the women’s game that earned a popular following and was a gifted all-round sportswoman. She reached a career high of World No. 2 in the world rankings in 1923, 1924, and 1926 and won 5 Olympic medals during her career.
In 1922, Kitty and her sister Margaret McKane Stocks were the only sisters to contest a Wimbledon doubles final, until the era of Serena and Venus Williams.
Kitty won the Wimbledon singles title twice. In a classic 1924 Wimbledon final, she lost the first set and trailed 1-4 in the second but came back to take the match and hand the great Helen Wills Moody her only defeat in a singles match in nine appearances at the All England Club.
Her second Wimbledon single victory came in 1926 when she beat Lili de Alvarez becoming the only other British player alongside Dorothy Round to boast two wins since WW1.
She also won 5 Grand Slam doubles titles all with different partners. She won the 1924 Wimbledon Mixed Doubles titles with J. Brian Golbert defeating her future husband and Dorothy Shepherd Barron in the final.
In 1925, Kitty became the first person to have reached the singles finals of the French Championships, Wimbledon, and U.S. Championships during her career.
Kitty Godfree was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1978.
Her record as a tennis player was matched by her success at badminton. She won eight All-England titles (four singles, two doubles and two mixed), her doubles victories when partnered with her sister Margaret.
Her sporting talents were not restricted to racket games, in 1906 she was awarded the bronze medal of the National Skating Association. In 1914 she was selected to play for England against Scotland in the lacrosse international but the game was called off due to the outbreak of war.
Leslie & Kitty
In January 1926, Leslie Godfree married Kitty McKane while they were on a tennis tour of South Africa.
Later that year they achieved the ultimate in familial success by becoming the only husband and wife pairing ever to win the mixed doubles at Wimbledon, almost matching their success the following year by narrowly losing in the final to an American pair.
Apart from Wimbledon, the Godfrees played mixed doubles together at the French Championships in 1926 where they made the semi-final stage.
Leslie died in 1971 and Kitty in 1992, her passing being announced at that year’s Wimbledon Championships
The couple will always be fondly remembered by our Club both for their contributions and outstanding sporting achievements and not least for creating a bit of tennis history.