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The Last Champion: The Life of Fred Perry by Jon Henderson

Release date: 20th May, 2009
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press

List Price: £17.99
Our Price: £13.29
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The Last Champion: the Life of Fred Perry
By Jon Henderson
Yellow Jersey Press price: £ 13.29, saving 30% on rrp

Log onto an internet shopping site, type in the words 'Fred Perry' and you will immediately be swamped with details of everything from sports bags and shoes, to sweaters and the eponymous t-shirts bearing the famous laurel logo. The internet's rapid response to your online enquiry might be a remarkable tribute to the enduring value of product branding, but it tells little of the man behind the name.

It is astonishing that while several Perry biographies of the 'cut-and-paste' variety have appeared over the years, until now, nothing on the scale of Jon Henderson's comprehensive work, published to coincide with the centenary of the tennis legend's birth (18th May 1909), has been produced. Considering that Perry's name is a rare constant in the sporting world, either by virtue of the leisurewear that bears his name, or more particularly when it is resurrected each Wimbledon fortnight as the forlorn search for his home-grown successor continues, British sports literature has been missing one important biography. Until now.

Having covered every Wimbledon for the past 40 years, Henderson knows his stuff and the two years he spend researching this work has paid off with handsome dividends.

The son of a Labour MP, Perry's sporting prowess was not immediately evident on the football or cricket pitch, although once he realised he had a talent for imposing himself on others in one-on-one contests that involved a ball and hand-eye co-ordination, he blossomed. "Here," says Henderson, "lay the source of the extraordinary self confidence that enables Perry toÖshatter the class barriers that made tennis so elitist."

Yet it was not at tennis, but table tennis where Perry first proved himself, becoming the world champion aged just 19. Six months later, having negotiated three qualifying rounds without losing a set, he qualified for Wimbledon. It was an extraordinary achievement, yet it barely registered with the press, who took little notice even when he won his first two matches to make the final 32. Amongst many tennis reporters, his eventual defeat to John Olliff was seen as the end of a lucky qualifierÖ

Naturally, Perry didn't agree and returned the following year to make the last 16, a feat which led some observers to conclude that this young man infused with self-belief was an arrogant upstart. However, as Henderson points out, by 1931, Perry's discovery in the US that "the game could exist without social class being of the slightest concernÖinvigorated him and underpinned his self belief with a real sense of purpose."

After losing a series of important matches in the US Open, Wimbledon and at the French Open, Perry realised where his problem lay - fitness. His decision to ask Arsenal whether he could train with them was inspired, for it made him tougher and more competitive.

Armed with natural ability, self belief and previously unheard-of levels of fitness on a tennis court, Perry proceeded to sweep opponents aside, winning the US Open three times, the Australian Open once, the French Open once and, most importantly, Wimbledon on three occasions, remaining unbeaten in 27 consecutive singles matches.

Britain's hunt for his successor continues, but even when he does emerge, one fancies he will not be quite so flamboyant as the four-times married Perry. His life embraced much more than tennis which makes Jon Henderson's definitive biography such a compelling read.

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