WIMBLEDON SINGLES CHAMPION 1902
Situated in the Consecrated/West Section of Jesmond Old Cemetery.
Muriel Evelyn Robb was born on 13 May 1878 in Jesmond, Newcastle. Her parents were William David Robb, a provision agent and Ellen Robb, nee Ritson. At the time of Muriel’s birth, the family were living at 1, Victoria Villas.
Muriel learned the rudiments of tennis playing whilst attending Cheltenham Ladies College in Gloucestershire. At some point, Muriel became a member of the local tennis club, the Jesmond Lawn Tennis Club, originally founded in 1883 by members of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. It was originally situated on Fern Avenue but moved to its present home on Osborne Road in 1890.
Muriel began entering tournaments in 1896 and in a relatively short period of time, won all of the main national singles titles of the British Isles, winning the Welsh Championship in 1899 and both the Irish and Scottish Championships in 1901 with her best known triumph, winning the English Womens Singles at Wimbledon, occuring in 1902 – no other player has ever achieved such a feat. Muriel played in the Wimbledon singles event four times and was never less than a quarter finalist. In her first match on the road to her greatest achievement, Muriel beat Edith Bromfield 6 – 3, 4 – 6, 6 – 4, then in the quarter final, she beat Elsie Lane 6 – 1, 7 – 5 before going on to beat Dorothea Douglass, the then current champion, in the semi final 6 – 4, 2 – 6, 9 – 7. In the final, Muriel played Charlotte Sterry, a previous four times winner, which proved to be, arguably, the strangest women’s singles final ever played at Wimbledon. Ms. Sterry won the first set 6 – 4, but Muriel hit back to take the second 13 – 11; still the second longest set ever played in a women’s singles final at Wimbledon, two games shorter than the 14 – 12 first set played by Margaret Court and Billie Jean King in the 1970 final. In that second set, Muriel saved one match point when Ms. Sterry was leading 5 – 4, 40 – 30. At this point, the match was halted due to the increasing rainfall. The following day, the match was not so much resumed as replayed, with Muriel winning two more sets, 7 – 5 and 6 – 1. Nowadays, the match, final or not, would certainly be resumed with the score at one set all. Matches were almost always resumed, not restarted, even in those far away days. Why it was decreed that the match should begin anew the following day has never been explained but the 53 games played are a record for a women’s singles final at Wimbledon.
Muriel is also credited with popularising the overhead serve in women’s tennis, with most women at that time tending to favour the underhead serve. Indeed, one of her opponents, Blanche Hillyard described her serve thus, “the power she got on the ball was astonishing. Indeed, few men have ever had a harder drive”.
Muriel died on 12 February 1907, aged 28, less than five years after her greatest triumph. No other winner of a singles title at Wimbledon has died at a younger age.