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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 11 (January 1, 1939)

Neil Edwards - Railwayman — New Zealand's 1939 Tennis Champion

page 49

Neil Edwards - Railwayman
New Zealand's 1939 Tennis Champion

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” — so wrote the Immortal Bard. How true that expression has proven, time after time in the field of sport! No sooner has a competitor attained his ambition, and won a championship title, than the attendant worries of a Monarch begin to make their presence felt. A champion must never have a “day off”; he must always be at the top of his form, otherwise he will provide headlines in the Sporting Press.

But, occasionally, one meets a champion who gets more fun than laurels from the game. Such a champion is Neil Edwards, New Zealand Lawn Tennis Singles Champion. Success rests lightly on his head. I interviewed Neil the other day—talked with him in the busy room of the Locomotive Drawing-office, of the Railways Head Office in Wellington. Yes, Neil Edwards is another of the fine band of athletes who are employed by the New Zealand Railways.

Here was an athlete, not considered good enough to be “seeded” in the national tennis championships, back at work after winning the highest award tennis offers in New Zealand; but he was the same Neil Edwards who had joined the Service a few short years earlier. Success has not, and, I am sure, will not, spoil this level-headed athlete.

In these days of “Give Youth Its Chance,” one is apt to forget when Youth ceases and Age commences. Because Australian tennis stars develop at an early age, many New Zealanders are inclined to think that the best years in sport are over after reaching the quarter-century mark. They overlook the all-important fact that New Zealand's temperate climate develops the athletes much slower than the forcing climate of Australia, and that our athletes last longer than those from the Commonwealth.

All this is important, because Edwards may be termed, by misguided and ill-informed enthusiasts, as a “veteran”—although he has many birthdays to celebrate before reaching his thirtieth. Edwards may be one of the oldest of top-line tennis players in New Zealand, but I consider this to be an advantage. He did not take up the sport of tennis in a serious manner until three years ago—he had more defeats than victories when he started, because he was playing against more experienced men. His was not the easy path trod by many “infant prodigy” tennis players. To succeed he had to develop his technique while playing against men better than himself, and in learning how to play he also learned how to take defeat with a smile, and victory with becoming modesty.

So it is that I predict a successful reign for Neil Edwards. He will try to win all his matches, but should he suffer defeat—and all champions have their losses—he will not adopt the attitude that the end of the world has arrived. “Tennis is only a game and I am only a player”—that is Edwards's attitude toward the game that is yearly attracting more adherents.

A few brief particulars about Edwards should be of interest to readers. He stands 5 ft. 8 1/2 in. in height and weighs 10 st. 4 lbs. Not a big man, but “nicely put together,” to use the sporting vernacular.

Educated at the Upper Hutt (Wellington) School, Neil Edwards did not handle a tennis racquet until he entered the sixth standard. Even then he only indulged in spasmodic games; he wasn't particularly interested in the game.

Neil Edwards, New Zealand and Wellington Lawn Tennis Champion, with some of his trophies.

Neil Edwards, New Zealand and Wellington Lawn Tennis Champion, with some of his trophies.

Leaving school, he entered the Wellington Technical College, but, during the three years he studied there had few games. His principal interest was Rugby football and swimming. After his three years at Technical College, young Edwards found rifle-shooting of greater interest than tennis, and for a year he went to the butts and tried to score bullseyes, instead of serving “aces.” But a year later he became a member of the Upper Hutt Tennis Club and dropped his shooting to persevere with tennis. So it was that New Zealand's 1939 tennis champion did not take an interest in tennis until after he had left school. Most of the present-day stars were outstanding at school, but not so Edwards.

In his first year in the Upper Hutt Club, Neil played in club and local tournaments, and represented his club in the Hutt Valley championships, winning the singles and playing in the successful doubles combination.

But his first really important season was in 1935–36, when he joined the Newtown Tennis Club. He entered in the Wellington ranking competition and commenced at twenty-second place, finishing the season in thirteenth place. The future champion had already started to make his mark in bigger tennis.

The following season saw Edwards improve his ranking to ninth place, some of the men ahead of him including Coombe, Charteris, Roussell (son of a former General Manager of the New Zealand Railways), Ferkins and France. His best performance that season was to finish as runner-up to Eric Roussell in the Wellington Champion of Champions tournament. His outstanding win was against Don France. Edwards had continued to improve!

In the 1937–38 season, Edwards started off with sixth ranking, depart-

(Continued on page 56 )