Daphne Fancutt with fellow Queenslander’s Wendy Turnbull and Liz Smylie. Photo/Tennis Australia.
Daphne Fancutt with fellow Queenslander’s Wendy Turnbull and Liz Smylie. Photo/Tennis Australia.

Tennis star’s beautiful tribute to Burnett game-changer

INSPIRING generations of athletes with her genuine love of tennis and magnetic personality, locally-born tennis champion Daphne Fancutt sadly passed away last week at the age of 87.

Born Daphne Seeney in Monto, the budding athlete dreamt of one day playing tennis on the world stage. Despite all odds, through sheer determination and a genuine passion for tennis on her side, Ms Fancutt went on the play at the 1956 Wimbledon ladies’ doubles final with Fay Muller at her side.

Other notable victories include:

1952 - The team of Daphne Seeney, Fay Muller and Mary Schultz win the Wilson Cup

1953 - Queensland Hardcourt Singles Champion

1956 - Australian Open Singles Semi Finalist

1956 - Final of Wimbledon Doubles and winner for German Doubles with Fay (nee Muller)

1956 - Winner of German National Ladies Doubles

1956 - Semi-finals Italian, French & Wimbledon Mixed Doubles with Trevor Fancutt (eventual husband)

1957 - Defeated World’s No. 1 Louise Brough at Queens Club in England

With a little help from their mutual sponsor, Dunlop, Ms Fancutt’s career crossed paths with that of her future husband, South African-born Trevor Fancutt.

The two were wed in 1957, marking the beginning of one of Australia’s most remarkable sporting families. Daphne and Trevor’s three sons, Michael, Charlie, and Chris all went on to complete in the main draw of Wimbledon.

Daphne and Trevor purchased the Fancutt Tennis Centre and Coaching Academy in 1962, which saw the likes of many Aussie greats, including Rod Laver, Margaret Court, Ken Rosewall, Mal Anderson, Ashley Cooper, Bjorn Borg, Steffi Graf, Hana Mandlikova, Pam Shriver, Tim Wilkinson, Ivan Lendl, Pat Rafter, Evonne Cawley, Harry Hopman (coaching), Geoff Masters, Kenny Rogers, Greg Chappell, Tim Horan, Greg Hansford, Alan Border, Cliff Richards, Steve Holland, Jon Sieben, Stefan, Jana Novatna, and Pat Cash.

It was this facility that launched the career of one of Australia’s greatest players, Wendy ‘rabbit’ Turnbull, who reached three Grand Slam singles finals and won nine Grand Slam doubles titles between 1977 and 1984.

“Daphne started coaching me when I was 10 years old. One of my older brothers was taking lessons from Daphne’s husband Trevor and I started taking lessons from Daphne,” Ms Turnbull said.

“I still have a Fancutt Tennis Certificate from a tournament I played there and my partner and I were runner-up in the 10 year old doubles.”

According to Ms Turnbull, Daphne loved tennis and everything about it. As a person and as a coach, she was fuelled by passion, and if she saw potential in someone, she would do everything in her power to help them succeed.

“Because Daphne loved the game, if she saw potential in you, she might have worked you a little harder. I love tennis just as much, so when Daphne told me something, whether it was about my game or about Wimbledon and tennis, I listened,” Ms Turnbull said.

“Daphne was a very positive person and on the tennis court she was a strategist, so I also became a tactical player. She knew that it took hard work to play on the tennis circuit and she instilled that work ethic in me from the very beginning.”

“The fact that she and Faye Muller were Wimbledon Ladies Doubles Finalists fascinated and inspired me, and when I went on to win the Wimbledon Ladies Doubles Championship with Kerry Reid, I knew Daphne was proud.”

Ms Turnbull’s favourite memory of Daphne dates back to her last Wimbledon singles event, when she was playing a tough match against Marcella Mesker.

“I had won the first set, but the second set was very close. I came to the net and the ball ricocheted into the crowd. To my surprise it was Daphne who just stuck up her hand and caught the ball. We made eye contact and burst out laughing,” she said.

“This helped me relax and I went on to win the match. We always remembered that when we spoke.”

Outside of the sporting world, Ms Turnbull said throughout her life she and Daphne remained good friends.

“I used to work in a Bank in my teens, so I would go to Daphne for an hour in the mornings before I went to work, usually 2 mornings a week. So she made the time for me then,” she said.

“If I did not see her at the Brisbane Tennis Tournament, I would always phone her to catch up. When we finally had email we stayed in touch more and she would send me photos of the different fish she caught.”

“I was happy to speak with her by phone a few weeks before she passed away. I have read some of our old emails between us and she wrote how much she valued our friendship.”