Mary Walkerdine: British tennis player, “I won Wimbledon at 85!”

Three-quarters of a century after picking up a tennis racket for the first time, 85-year-old Mary Walkerdine became double seniors champion at Wimbledon last year. And she can’t wait to defend her crowns.

Mary Walkerdene Tennis

Born in 1939, Westbury-on-Trym-based Mary Walkerdine was obsessed with sport as a schoolgirl and joined her local club, Knowle Tennis Club, in 1956 and has played competitively ever since. She began representing the Great Britain Seniors Team in her 80s and last year won the singles and double British Masters Grass Court Championships at the All-England Club in Wimbledon.

“Right from being a child, I’ve always been keen on sport, but always competitive sport, and I still play three or four times a week.

I joined Knowle Tennis Club in 1956, and I was lucky enough to be able to play competitively straight away; apart from the periods when I had two children, I’ve played competitively ever since.

I’m as keen today as I ever was. Sport has been my life, and it continues to be.

When I was a teenager, I played badminton for Somerset, and a few years ago, I went on a Warner holiday and entered a table tennis tournament and ended up winning that, too.

I think if you’re good at one racquet sport, you’ll probably be good at all of them, but tennis is my first love.

I just love competition, and I genuinely believe it helps keep me young.

Mary Walkerdine Wimbeldon

Mary Walkerdine on court

I’ll be 86 on my next birthday, but I feel about 40, and I’ve never been one of those people who can have a jolly knock-up.

I like to play in matches as there’s something at the end of it, and for the last five or six years, I’ve been playing for the Great Britain Seniors, and it’s been a fabulous experience.

We play in different age groups. It starts at 65, then there are groups for 70-year-olds, 75-year-olds, 80-year-olds and 85 and over, which is my age group, and you’d be amazed how many people of all ages play. I know one lady who is still playing, and she’s 90 years old.

Mary at Wimbledon

Mary at Wimbledon

I entered the seniors’ tournament at Wimbledon last year, which was played on the outside courts, not Centre Court, sadly, and ended up winning the singles and doubles. I can’t wait to get back there this summer to defend those crowns.

I’ve also travelled the world since getting involved. I’ve played tournaments in Florida and Croatia, and later this year, we’ll be competing in Turkey.

Next year, I’ll be travelling all the way to Australia to compete, and I’ve met some tennis professionals along the way, too. Not Andy Murray or Roger Federer yet but I have seen Roger Taylor and Mark Cox at some tournaments.

Friends of mine who are the same age as me but not as competitive don’t know how I do it, but I just love it, and I honestly don’t really feel any physical effects after playing. I did the Bath half marathon a few years ago, and playing just keeps me fit. If you asked me to run around the block I could do it easily, whereas some of the others have probably never done that in their lives, but I think staying active is the key.

Playing tennis keeps me physically fit, but it’s also been wonderful socially as you get to meet so many different sorts of people. One lady in my club was married to the former Liverpool and England footballer Alan A’Court, so without tennis, I’d never have met someone like that.

But not everyone has to be as competitive as me. Most clubs have loads of different levels of ability, so there’s something for everyone, even if you just want to play for fun.

Personally, that’s not for me, though, and if I turned up and wasn’t picked to play competitively, I’d have to find another sport, but I have no plans to give up just yet.

As long as I can still perform at a decent level, I’ll carry on, and my big goal for the year is to retain those two crowns at Wimbledon.

And will I have a celebratory glass of Pimm’s if I win again? Pimm’s is not really my drink, but if I do win, I’ll definitely have a glass of white wine.”

For more information about seniors’ tennis visit Senior Tennis Tournaments, Competitions & News | LTA