Anthony "Tony" Frederick Wilding (31 October 1883 – 9 May 1915) was a former world No. 1 tennis player from Christchurch, New Zealand, and a soldier killed in action during World War I. Wilding was the son of wealthy English immigrants to New Zealand and enjoyed the use of private tennis courts at their home. He obtained a legal education at Trinity College, Cambridge and briefly joined his father's law firm. Wilding was a first-class cricketer and a keen motorcycle enthusiast. His tennis career started with him winning the Canterbury Championships aged 17. He developed into a leading tennis player in the world during 1909–1914 and is considered to be a former world No. 1. He won 11 Grand Slam tournament titles, six in singles and five in doubles, and is the first and to date only player from New Zealand to have won a Grand Slam singles title. He also won three ILTF World Championships; the World Hard Court Championships twice and the World Covered Court Championships once.
Wilding won the Davis Cup four times playing for Australasia, and won a bronze medal at the indoor singles tennis event of the 1912 Olympics which made him the first and to date only player from New Zealand to win an Olympic medal in tennis in the Summer Olympics. He still holds a number of all time singles tennis records, namely 75 career clay court titles (1900–15), 23 titles won in a single season (1906) and 114 career outdoor titles (shared with Rod Laver). In his ranking list of greatest tennis players compiled in 1950, Norman Brookes, winner of three Majors and president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia, put Wilding in fourth place. Shortly after the outbreak of World War I he enlisted and was killed on 9 May 1915 during the Battle of Aubers Ridge at Neuve-Chapelle, France. In 1978 Wilding was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Wilding was the second of five children of Frederick Wilding and Julia Anthony and was named after both parents. Cora Wilding was a younger sister. Wilding's parents emigrated from Herefordshire, England to Christchurch after their marriage in 1879. His father was a well-to-do lawyer in Christchurch, New Zealand who also played tennis and won several doubles championships of New Zealand. His mother was the daughter of Alderman Charles Anthony, mayor of Hereford.
At their farmlet, situated on the banks of the Heathcote River to the south of the town, they had two tennis courts; one asphalt court for use in the winter and one grass court for summer play. Wilding started playing tennis in 1889, at age six, after receiving a racquet from manufacturer Ralph Slazenger. He was first educated at William Wilson's private school for boys in Cranmer Square, where he was captain of the school football team at age 12. Wilding passed his matriculation in 1901 after failing at his first attempt in 1900. He attended a term at the Canterbury University College for six months prior to departing on his seven-week sea voyage to England in July 1902 where he first stayed at a cramming school at Hunstanton before passing his entrance examination for Trinity College, Cambridge University to study law. There he developed his tennis game as a member of the Cambridge University Lawn Tennis Club. In March 1904, during his second year, he became honorary secretary of the club and managed to popularize the game. He visited the 1903 Wimbledon Championships to see former champion Harold Mahony play. Although Wilding did not excel academically he passed the law examination and graduated B.A. in June 1905 after which he returned to New Zealand to join his father's law practice. Finishing his education, he was called to the English Bar at the Inner Temple in June 1906.
In October 1901 at the age of 17 Wilding won his first singles title at the Canterbury Championships. In July 1903, during his first summer vacation at Trinity College, Wilding entered his first English public tournament at Sheffield and Hallamshire. He reached the semifinal of the singles event, defeating English top-10 player F.W. Payn in the second round, before losing to G.C. Allen. At the 1903 Brighton tournament he won the mixed doubles partnering Dorothea Douglass, the reigning Wimbledon ladies champion. Wilding worked diligently on improving his backhand during the winter of 1903–04.
He made his first appearance at the Wimbledon Championships in June 1904, defeating Albert Prebble in the first round of the singles event before losing to Harold Mahony in four sets. Shortly afterwards, at the Welsh Championships, he reached his first singles final which he lost in straight sets to S.H. Smith. He won his first title in England at the Championships of Shropshire followed by a win at the Thompson Challenge Cup in Redhill; both relatively new and minor events on the tennis circuit. In August 1904 Wilding won the Scottish national championships in Moffat, defeating C.J. Glenny in the final. At his second Wimbledon appearance he came back from two-sets down to defeat William Clothier in the fourth round but lost in the quarterfinal against the experienced Arthur Gore.
In July 1905 he made his first Davis Cup appearance as part of the Australasia team in the semifinal against Austria, played at the Queen's Club, London. Australasia won 5–0 and Wilding won both his singles matches but in the final they were defeated 5–0 by the United States and Wilding admitted to have been outclassed in his straight-sets defeats by William Larned and Beals Wright. After two tournament victories at minor events in New Barnet and Redhill Wilding went on his first tour of the European circuit which brought him into contact with the European upper class and aristocracy who frequented these tournaments. In August he won the Pöseldorf Cup in Hamburg followed by a title win at the Championship of Europe in Homburg which were both, as almost all tournaments on the European mainland, played on clay.
Starting in February 1906 Wilding toured during almost the entire year across continental Europe and England, sometimes travelling by train but most often on his beloved motorcycle. For the first time he played the Riviera circuit and won tournaments in cities throughout Europe including Cannes, Paris, Lyon, Barcelona, Wiesbaden, Reading, Prague, Bad Homburg and Vienna. At some of the tournaments in England and Europe he was accompanied by his father with whom he played in various doubles competitions. Together they won the doubles title at the Sheffield and Hallamshire tournament in June 1906. Wilding's run at the 1906 Wimbledon Championships ended, as it had done the previous year, with a straight-sets defeat against the veteran Arthur Gore, this time in the semifinal. After winning the singles title at the London Covered Courts Championships in October, beating George Caridia in the final, he travelled by boat to New Zealand and in late December in his native Christchurch won the singles title at the Australasian Championships, defeating Francis Fisher in the final, and doubles title, partnering compatriot Rodney Heath. A week later he also won the New Zealand Championship against Harry Parker in the final. At the 1907 Wimbledon Championships Wilding had the misfortune to be drawn in the same section as tournament favorite and eventual champion Norman Brookes who defeated him in their second-round match in five sets. Reluctant to return to New Zealand to practise law, as he originally intended, Wilding instead decided to play a circuit of European tournaments. During the 1907–08 winter, when tennis activity was at a low, he generated income as an English teacher and tennis trainer for aristocratic families in Bohemia and Hungary. In March 1908 he partnered Major Ritchie to win the doubles title at the South of France tournament against multiple Wimbledon champions Lawrence and Reginald Doherty. Wilding won the 1908 Victorian Championships singles title after defeating Fred Alexander.
Between 1907 and 1909 he helped the Australasian team win three consecutive Davis Cups, the first against the British Isles at Wimbledon and the last two against the United States. He won his second Australasian Championships in 1909, defeating Ernie Parker in the final in straight sets. The same year he qualified as a Barrister and Solicitor at the Supreme Court of New Zealand. Focusing on his tennis game, he won the Wimbledon singles title for four straight years between 1910 and 1913. In 1910 and 1912 he defeated Arthur Gore in the final, both times in four sets. In 1911 his opponent Herbert Roper Barrett retired in the final at two sets all. In 1913 at Wimbledon tennis player and author A. Wallis Myers says that he played "the best game of his life", beating American Maurice McLoughlin, the 1912 U.S. National Championships winner, in three straight sets. In 1914 he narrowly missed winning his fifth title in a row, losing in the final to Norman Brookes. In addition, he won four men's doubles titles at Wimbledon, in 1907 and 1914 with Norman Brookes and in 1908 and 1910 partnering with Major Ritchie.
He missed the 1908 Olympics in London because of an administrative error in which the Australasia Olympic committee forgot to officially nominate any tennis players, but at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm won a bronze medal in the men's indoor singles for Australasia.
During the 1911 Riviera season Wilding defeated Max Decugis in the final of three tournaments in Monte Carlo, Menton and Nice.
Wilding won a unique World Championships triple in 1913:The World Hard Court Championship (Paris, clay)
The World Lawn Tennis Championship (Wimbledon, London, grass)
The World Covered Court Championship (Stockholm, indoor wood)
At the time these were all three of the official World Championships events (Major tennis titles) as designated by the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF). In 1914 Wilding retained his World Hard Court Championship title in Paris without losing a single set, defeating Ludwig von Salm-Hoogstraeten in the final.
In 1914, after a five-year absence, he returned to Davis Cup play, and together with Norman Brookes lead the Australasian team to another championship, defeating the United States team in the Challenge round before their home crowd at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, New York. This turned out to be his final tournament. Wilding had entered the 1914 U.S. Championships which followed later in August but withdrew due to the outbreak of World War I and returned to England.
Wilding was a leading tennis player in the world during 1909–1914 and is considered a former world No. 1. Norman Brookes in 1950 compiled a ranking list of greatest tennis players and put Wilding fourth behind Bill Tilden and the Dohertys, and ahead of Budge, Kramer, Lacoste and Perry.
He also played for the Canterbury cricket team in the early 1900s where he participated in two first-class matches as a lower middle-order medium-pace batsman and change bowler. During his first summer at Cambridge in 1903 he focused almost exclusively on cricket before switching to tennis. Wilding also played rugby at Trinity College, mainly to keep fit during the winter months, and was part of the Trinity team that competed against Racing Club de France. He was a keen motorcycle (with sidecar) rider with many long trips in Europe, New Zealand and America. In July 1908 he won a gold medal in a 1,437 kilometres (893 mi) reliability trial from Land's End to John o' Groats on his BAT-JAP motorcycle. Several "mighty rides" (Myers) in Europe in 1910 included London to Lake Geneva and back, some 4,800 kilometres (3,000 mi), including 560 kilometres (350 mi) from Évian-les-Bains to Paris in one day. He ventured into places with poor roads like Hungary and Serbia. Wilding frequently used a motorcycle to travel between tennis tournaments on the European continent.
Shortly after the outbreak of World War I, Wilding joined the Royal Marines on advice of Winston Churchill who was then First Lord of the Admiralty. He was gazetted a second lieutenant in early October 1914. Wilding remained in the Marines for just a few days and was then attached to the Intelligence Corps due to his intimate knowledge of the continent and his skills as a motorist. At the end of October he joined the Royal Naval Armoured Car Division in the battlefields of northern France where he had thirty men, three guns and armoured cars under his command. After a week's leave in London in February 1915 he returned to France on 16 March 1915 and was posted to a new squadron made up of armoured Rolls Royce cars under the command of the Duke of Westminster. He was ranked a lieutenant. Before long the squadron was moved near the front and on 2 May Wilding received notice of his promotion to captain. In his last letter dated 8 May he wrote "For really the first time in seven and a half months I have a job on hand which is likely to end in gun, I, and the whole outfit being blown to hell. However if we succeed we will help our infantery no end.". The next day, 9 May, he was killed in action at 4:45 in the afternoon during the Battle of Aubers Ridge at Neuve-Chapelle, France when a shell exploded on the roof of the dug-out he was sheltering in.
Captain Tony Wilding was buried the next day at the front but was later re-interred at the Rue-des-Berceaux Military Cemetery in Richebourg-l'Avoué, Pas-de-Calais, France. He had been dating and was about to marry Broadway star Maxine Elliott, 15 years his senior.
In 1978, he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Wilding Park, the principal venue for tennis in Christchurch, New Zealand, was named after his father, Frederick, but in the public perception became associated with him. He was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990. The New Zealand Post issued a stamp of Anthony Wilding in 1992 as part of the Health Stamps series to support children with emotional and behavioural problems. Wilding Foundation, that grants scholarships was set up in 2009 in part to honour Anthony Wilding. The Wilding Foundation was active in the Christchurch quakes that destroyed the city, raising and donating money to local causes. In mid 2013 Anna Wilding discovered that Wilson Tennis Rackets, sold and made, without permission, a line of "Wilding" tennis rackets for a period spanning 20 years after Wilding's death. This led to an article in New York Times in 2012 by sports journalist Harvey Araton. Shortly after Wilding's death the sculptor Paolo Troubetzkoy made a bronze statuette based on him called Physical Energy.