Devastating backhand nets glory for Mahony

The second Irishman to win an Olympic medal was Harold Segerson Mahony (1867-1905).

He also won it in lawn tennis, but — unlike John Pius Boland — Mahony was recognised as an accomplished tennis player.

The Olympics in Paris in 1900 were little more than a sideshow of the World’s Fair. The tennis schedule was only confirmed the week before the competition began.

Only 13 players turned out for the men’s singles, but those who did played a much higher standard of tennis than those at Athens. The entry in 1900 included accomplished British, French, and American tennis players.

Harold Segerson Mahony was born in 1867 in Edinburgh, Scotland, where his father was working as a barrister, but Harold grew up in Ireland, living at Dromore Castle near Templenoe, Co Kerry. The castle, which had its own tennis court, was immortalised in the famous lullaby.

In 1896, just weeks after Boland won the Olympic tennis tournament, Mahony won the men’s singles title at Wimbledon in a five set final. He was recognised as the third and last Irishman to win the Wimbledon singles.

Standing at 6ft 3ins, he was famous for his devastating backhand. Contemporaries referred to his “casual and irresponsible attitude” on court. He seemed in constant good humour and engaged in persistent banter with spectators. In addition to his backhand prowess, he was renowned for his eye for “the ladies”. He was in great demand for coaching sessions, and was an accomplished musician who was known for entertaining at a pad that he maintained at Earls Court, London.

Reading between the lines of the Victorian prose, it would seem that Harold was a bit of a lad.

He was beaten by Reggie Doherty in the final of the men’s singles in his bid to retain his Wimbledon title in 1897. Doherty went on to take the title in 1898, 1899, and 1900, when he also won the men’s doubles playing with his younger brother Laurie.

The Doherty brothers competed at the Paris Olympics. At 33, Mahony was the oldest competitor in the tennis singles. He qualified for the final without losing a set — beating Arthur Norris of Britain and the American Charles Sands, who later won the first Olympic golf title, but Sands actually preferred tennis.

Laurie Doherty, who later went on to win the Wimbledon singles five times in a row, defeated Mahony in straight sets by 6-2, 6-4, 6-3.

Mahony also reached the final of the mixed doubles, playing with Helene Prevost of France, but they lost to the British pairing of reigning Wimbledon champion Reggie Doherty and Charlotte Cooper, who was already a three-times winner of the women’s singles at Wimbledon three times. Mahony was killed in a cycling accident in 1905.


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