Two Tennis Pregnancies: Daphne Akhurst, Serena Williams

Note: The writing below was inspired by Richard Naughton’s book: Daphne Akhurst: The Woman Behind the Trophy. All the information below on Daphne Akhurst is taken from this book, which I highly recommend for a more thorough account of her fascinating life.

Two Tennis Pregnancies

Serena takes pictures with the Daphne Akhurst trophy after winning the Australian Open, her 23rd major championship, on January 28, 2017. Only Serena (maybe a few others) knows she’s pregnant.

Daphne Akhurst won the Australian Open for a fifth time in 1930, then retired from singles. Tragically, she died of complications ensuing from an ectopic pregnancy at 29 years old a week after she had played doubles in a tournament. Her death was followed by questions about whether playing tennis around the time of her pregnancy might have caused her death.

Serena announces she is pregnant on April 19, 2017. Imagine some reporter tweeting out anything close to the words that followed in the wake of Daphne’s death: “Indulgence in strenuous sport by women is not conducive to big families.” Or: “A women is mentally and physically constructed for a more placid existence than is offered by sport. Mild exercise must always be beneficial but prolonged physical strain, sudden joltings and the development contrary to the schemes of things of certain muscles and parts of the female body . . . “

Largely forgotten today, Daphne Akhurst was the first Australian female player to travel internationally. In addition to her racquet wielding skills, as a child Akhurst was a musical prodigy, who later developed these skills as a pianist at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. At 19 she played Beethoven’s C Minor Piano Concerto together with the New South Wales State Orchestra.

To mourn her loss, I close my eyes and I imagine her playing the opening of the slow movement: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #3, Second Movement, Largo.

To celebrate her life, I close my eyes and listen to the finale: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #3, Third Movement, Rondo, Allegro

About Richard Naughton (Taken from Slattery Media Website)

Richard Naughton is a sports historian and a senior Fellow in the Law Faculty at Monash University. His most recent academic title, The Shaping of Labour Law Legislation—Underlying Elements of Australia’s Workplace Relations System (Lexis Nexis Butterworths, 2017) was a comprehensive study of Australia’s labour law system. Writing Daphne Akhurst—The Woman Behind the Trophy is part of an ongoing project to present detailed accounts of aspects of Australian tennis history. Richard is the author of The Wizard—The Story of Norman Brookes, Australia’s First Wimbledon Champion, (2011) and Muscles—The Story of Ken Rosewall, Australia’s Little Master of the Courts, (2012) each published by the Slattery Media Group, and The Outcasts—The story of Art ‘Tappy’ Larsen and Dick Savitt (Self-published, 2016). This book can be purchased directly from Slattery Media or on from Amazon on Kindle.

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