It's time to remember Tony Wilding, the first tennis superstar

Of the great sportsmen who lost their lives in the Great War, Wilding was quite probably the greatest of them all.

He is almost certainly the greatest Wimbledon champion that you've never heard of: the only man, until Bjorn Borg, to win four straight men's single titles in a row. Tony Wilding, the first great tennis superstar, was unbeatable at Wimbledon from 1909-13, and won four men's doubles titles there too. His 1913 World Championships triple at Wimbledon, Paris and Stockholm was the closest thing to the modern Grand Slam then possible. After narrowly losing the 1914 singles final, he signed up for the Great War, being killed at Neuvelle Chapelle in 1915.

Many of the great sportsmen of their era lost their lives in the Great War. Wilding was quite probably the greatest of them all. Wilding was a New Zealander, one of 18,000 to die in the first world war, though he had long before been adopted by the London press as an honorary Brit, even though he won the Davis Cup several times for Australasia. It helped that he was often too busy socialising with the Cliveden set and driving fast cars, Mr Toad-style and motorcycling to tournaments around Europe to have much interested in returning home. He transformed his sport, though his Antipodean commitment to physical training, which made him much fitter than his rivals when a Wimbledon tie went to five sets, with no tie-breaks, was considered a little unsporting in this amateur era.

His greatest ever triumph came a century ago at Wimbledon in 1913. The brilliant young American Maurice McLoughlin, nicknamed the Californian Comet for his smashing service game, was a clear favourite to depose the champion, yet Wilding played his greatest ever game to win 8-6, 6-3, 10-8. Wilding mania at the All England Club had its dangerous side. One contemporary newspaper account reported that many women in the 7,000 crowd fainted and “had to be laid out on the court beside the roller until they could be removed”.

Wilding was the first genuine sporting superstar. His On the Court and Off, combining tennis tips for the wooden era with tennis memoir, can still be read online. His engagement to American silent screen star Maxine Elliott made them the Posh and Becks of their age. After the trauma of his death, she sank her time and much of her fortune into Belgian war relief, aiding families displaced by the war.

The sports stars lost in the Great War are mostly forgotten. Nobody who saw them play is still alive. Little film footage remains, though the photos of Wilding capture his matinee idol looks. But the centenary of the Great War is a moment when they should be remembered. It is becoming clear that the British commemoration of the first world war will be a distinctly civic affair, in contrast to the more state-led commemorations of other European countries. The Imperial War Museum's centenary partnership has well over one thousand members. Yet our great sporting institutions are mostly missing in action; having shown little interest to date, and announced few if any commemorative plans.

This is despite sport having played the central role in the recruitment drive which persuaded men to fight, given that the much slimmer 1914 state had many fewer points of connection to the general population. Eleven of the thirty players who began the last England versus Scotland Calcutta Cup rugby union game were to die in the war, alongside scores of footballers, cricketers and other sportsmen, as British Future's guide to sport and the first world war sets out. 

As Wimbledon 2013 begins next week, it will be exactly a century since Wilding last lifted the title. The All England Club gives the impression of having forgotten him entirely: even the official website’s history timeline, dating back to 1877, is entirely blank between the 1908 Olympics and the 1920s, dropping Wilding down the memory hole.

This is the right moment to ask the All England Club to ensure that they will use next year's tournament to bring Wilding’s name back to public prominence and to set out how they will use the 2014 tournament to commemorate all of their members and players who fought, served and died in the Great War.

Tony Wilding during the men's singles tennis championships at Wimbledon. Photograph: Getty Images.

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.

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Forget the progressive alliance - it was the voters wot won it in Richmond

The Labour candidate on how voters have acted tactically for decades.

The Richmond Park by-election is both a triumph and a setback for the concept of an anti-Tory progressive alliance. As the Labour candidate, I was bombarded with emails and tweets saying I ought to stand down to prevent Zac Goldsmith being re-elected long after it was technically impossible for me to do so even if I had wanted to. I was harangued at a meeting organised by Compass, at which I found myself the lonely voice defending Labour's decision to put up a candidate.

I was slightly taken aback by the anger of some of those proposing the idea, but I did not stand for office expecting an easy ride. I told the meeting that while I liked the concept of a progressive alliance, I did not think that should mean standing down in favour of a completely unknown and inexperienced Lib Dem candidate, who had been selected without any reference to other parties. 

The Greens, relative newbies to the political scene, had less to lose than Labour, which still wants to be a national political party. Consequently, they told people to support the Lib Dems. This all passed off smoothly for a while, but when Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens came to Richmond to actively support the Lib Dems, it was more than some of her local party members could stomach. 

They wrote to the Guardian expressing support for my campaign, pointing out that I had a far better, long-established reputation as an environmentalist than the Lib Dem candidate. While clearly that ultimately did little to boost my vote, this episode highlighted one of the key problems about creating a progressive alliance. Keeping the various wings of the Labour party together, especially given the undisciplined approach of the leader who, as a backbencher, voted 428 times during the 13 years of Labour government in the 1990s and 2000s, is hard enough. Then consider trying to unite the left of the Greens with the right of the Lib Dems. That is not to include various others in this rainbow coalition such as nationalists and ultra-left groups. Herding cats seems easy by contrast.

In the end, however, the irony was that the people decided all by themselves. They left Labour in droves to vote out Goldsmith and express their opposition to Brexit. It was very noticeable in the last few days on the doorstep that the Lib Dems' relentless campaign was paying dividends. All credit to them for playing a good hand well. But it will not be easy for them to repeat this trick in other constituencies. 

The Lib Dems, therefore, did not need the progressive alliance. Labour supporters in Richmond have been voting tactically for decades. I lost count of the number of people who said to me that their instincts and values were to support Labour, but "around here it is a wasted vote". The most revealing statistic is that in the mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan received 24 per cent of first preferences while Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate got just 7 per cent. If one discounts the fact that Khan was higher profile and had some personal support, this does still suggest that Labour’s real support in the area is around 20 per cent, enough to give the party second place in a good year and certainly to get some councillors elected.

There is also a complicating factor in the election process. I campaigned strongly on opposing Brexit and attacked Goldsmith over his support for welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and his outrageous mayoral campaign. By raising those issues, I helped undermine his support. If I had not stood for election, then perhaps a few voters may have kept on supporting him. One of my concerns about the idea of a progressive alliance is that it involves treating voters with disdain. The implication is that they are not clever enough to make up their mind or to understand the restrictions of the first past the post system. They are given less choice and less information, in a way that seems patronising, and smacks of the worst aspects of old-fashioned Fabianism.

Supporters of the progressive alliance will, therefore, have to overcome all these objections - in addition to practical ones such as negotiating the agreement of all the parties - before being able to implement the concept. 

Christian Wolmar is an award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He was shortlisted as a Labour mayoral candidate in the 2016 London election, and stood as Labour's candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December 2016.