Behind the scenes at the Asics academy: the path to a grand slam title

11-year-old Anne Hobson was born in Cyprus and turned professional at the age of 16. Here is her story

Preparing for a match at the 1948 Australian Open, teenage tennis ace Anne Hobson, 11, approached Barbara Halgren, then Australia’s No 1 player, the first ever professional female player in the world. Her words were simple: “How can I get into the top 100?” Halgren immediately offered her advice, saying: “Get a club pro. Start playing in the junior tournaments.”

It was an arrangement many promoters, stretching back decades, had sought in order to prepare young female players to face the Aussie bullies, Mike and Judy Hutchins. For 41 years the Asics tennis academy was founded at Westfield in Sydney’s west, where Anne honed her game under the coaching of two men: Halgren’s husband Michael; and Mark Newman, an Australian security guard who was an unashamed member of the world’s first male-only club. Newman’s devotion earned him a lifelong friendship with Anne and her brothers John and Tony, who joined him in the academy in 1960.

It was “a very gentle relationship”, says Anne, their admiration for each other growing over the decades. Over lunch he learned about Anne’s love of tennis and shared some of his family’s hits, while her family saw more of Mark’s daily life.“It was great for our mother because he was a man who obviously loved tennis,” says Anne. “There was no bonding. It wasn’t a male network or club. Everyone was very respectful.”

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For Anne, the academy gave her a voice. “It was my third or fourth year and it was about to get very hard with my tennis,” she says. “I was young and wild and my career was going down the tubes. I knew if I really had to have a future I had to decide to work hard at tennis. I didn’t realise how hard that was going to be.”

To get into the academy, Anne was required to try a few baseline shots for the people sitting in the door (yes, they still did things that way at the time). When she managed to master them, she was granted entry. At a tender age of 12, Anne began playing college tennis at Washington and Southern colleges before settling at UCLA, where she went on to play for five years. Her return to Australia in 1964 left a bitter memory, however. “I had a few chances to train in Australia. I left very much disappointed because of the non-professional atmosphere,” she says.

Later that year she decided to go professional, charging out of the academy and signing up with John McEnroe’s agent. Her coaching there began with a visit to Hobson Academy; over the course of the hourlong training session she received a slew of questions about her first player, Chris Evert, who had emerged from the academy in 1948. “The people at the club who didn’t have a clue about tennis and not know her accomplishments before I got there thought I was sponsored by John McEnroe,” says Anne. “I liked it. It was nice to have a lot of people paying attention to me.

“I felt the exposure I was getting gave me a lot of confidence. I realised that if I could overcome that lack of confidence … then my tennis game wasn’t as bad as everyone thought.”

Despite her fear of flying, Anne flew to Paris for her first professional tournament in 1946, prompting one coach to say: “Go ahead, but tell me what you saw.” That she had.

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