Although born in Australia, Wilberforce Eaves spent most of his life in England and was regarded as being English. He learned to play tennis on family holidays to Eastbourne and went on to play for England against Ireland in 1895 and 1896, and against the United States in 1897. He also represented the British Isles in the 1907 Davis Cup and then toured South Africa with the All-England team in 1908-09. He won more than 50 leading singles titles, including the national titles of Wales (1895), Ireland (1897) and Scotland (1901) and was the Queen’s Club covered court singles champion three times 1897-99. He was widely regarded at the time as the finest player never to win Wimbledon but he came within a whisker of beating Wilfred Baddeley in the 1895 all-comers final. He led by two sets to nil and had a match point in the third set before losing three sets to two. Baddeley went on to win the title when defending champion Joshua Pim withdrew from the Challenge round. Eaves reached the All-comers final again in 1896 and 1897 losing on each occasion to the man who would go on and win the title. With Ernest Lewis, Eaves won the all-comers doubles final at Wimbledon in 1895 but lost the Challenge match to the Baddeley twins, Wilfred and Herbert.
Wilberforce Eaves also won many titles outside the British Isles. He was the French covered court champion 1892-94, and in 1897 was the all-comers singles champion at the United States Championships, but lost in five sets to Robert Wrenn in the Challenge Round. Eaves was also champion of New South Wales and Victoria in his native country. When he won the New South Wales title in 1902, now the– Sydney International, he was the last British winner of the title before Tim Henman in 1997.
At the 1908 Olympics Eaves reached the men’s singles semi-final without dropping a set and in the semi he won the opening set against fellow Briton Josiah Ritchie who then proved too good for Wilberforce and won in four sets before going on to win the title. Wilberforce won the bronze medal match by beating South Africa’s John Richardson. Eaves also reached the semi-final of the covered court singles but was forced to retire against another Briton, George Caridia. In the covered court doubles he partnered George Hillyard and they lost an epic opening match against Caridia and George Simond in five sets after leading two sets to nil.
A doctor and member of the Royal College of Physicians, Eaves worked at University College and also served as a doctor in the South African war. In 1914 he took a commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was promoted to Captain after just one year. Most of his service throughout the War was seen at the Woolwich Arsenal. He was awarded the MBE in 1919.
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