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On the first page of Shirley Fry's scrap-book, started by her father when she was 9, there is a picture of the center court at Wimbledon under which is written "Objective—Wimbledon by 1945." The surprising thing is not that she won the title 11 years late, but that she won it at all. She is a girl who triumphed over encouragement.
Her father, Lester Fry, was the driving force behind her and a strong believer that sports were the answer to a happy, useful life. Fry imposed a sporting regimen on the whole family, Mother Fry included.
As soon as the children were old enough to walk, Fry started them hiking and swinging tennis rackets. To this day Mrs. Fry, now 66, plays every day when she can get a game. She boasts, "I played over 200 sets last year. And I have won five, or is it six, city doubles titles." The four Fry kids became known in time as the hiking Frys, the tennis Frys and the swimming Frys, each child winning medals in the various events in and around Akron.
Of the quartet Shirley emerged the most talented and the most reluctant. She did tennis best and liked it least. Her father spotted the tennis talent early and dismissed Shirley's prejudice as a childish whim. He kept a racket in her hand.
Her career actually began at 8 when she started hitting the ball against the wall "in back of Father Dowd's church." After two months she moved to a real tennis court with a miniature racket but a man-size wallop. The following year she graduated to a full-size racket and played in her first tournament, the Mill Creek Park tourney, winning the doubles with her sister Evelyn.
During the following summers she won practically every junior title there was to win and some senior ones as well. She then played in the National Women's Singles at Forest Hills for the first time when she was 14, the youngest ever. The following year, when she was 15, Shirley reached the quarter-finals. All of these titles pleased Father Fry, but none of them satisfied him. The most important was that of National Junior tennis champion, and it was also the last major title she was to hold for some time. Although she was ranked in the first 10 from 1944 through 1955, the great victories eluded her.
After a while even her staunchest supporters began to give up hope and say maybe she just didn't have it. Perhaps her father had pushed her too hard. Perhaps, because of this, she really didn't care. Perhaps it was just bad timing and bad luck, coming along as she had at the same time as Doris Hart and Maureen Connolly.
By 1953 Shirley began to believe the doubts. In 1954 she announced that she was through. Shirley says, "I had a sore elbow and felt I had had enough tennis. It seemed time for me to settle down in one place for a change. So I got a job as a copy girl for the St. Petersburg Times in Florida and set up housekeeping in a small apartment. I had a fine time."
Fine time or not, during her brief journalistic career Shirley made an interesting discovery—she loved and missed tennis even without her father's urging. The desire to play again was strong, and for the first time she began to want to win on her own, not just because her father wanted it for her. She heard rumors that people were saying that the only reason she was the No. 1 ranking amateur was that Doris Hart had turned professional and Maureen Connolly had injured her leg. She heard people say that Shirley would never win one of the two big championships. Her attitude now became, "I'll go out and show them!"
Show them she did. During the winter of 1955-56 she won nine out of the 10 tournaments she entered in the Caribbean and in Florida. The night before she sailed for Wimbledon in June she saw My Fair Lady, and the song that stuck in her mind was With a Little Bit of Luck.