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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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McGrath, Vivian Erzerum Bede (1916–1978)

by Kerry Regan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Vivian Erzerum Bede McGrath (1916-1978), tennis player, was born on 17 February 1916 at Merrendee, near Mudgee, New South Wales, fourth child of native-born parents Herbert Francis McGrath, hotelkeeper, and his wife Florence Sophia, née Smith. Vivian was recognized as a tennis prodigy while at Sydney Boys' High School, where he also excelled at cricket. He won the special singles event at the State championships in 1931, the Australian junior singles in 1932 and the French junior singles in 1933. A member of the Davis Cup squad from 1933 until 1937, he made several overseas tours, but never played in a Challenge-round final.

Good looking, with a dark complexion and hazel-coloured eyes, McGrath was 5 ft 10 ins (178 cm) tall, slightly built and a 'terrier' on the court. He worked his double-handed backhand, which opponents regarded as a weakness, into his trademark. Seemingly indifferent to training, he was criticized for modelling himself on his great friend Jack Crawford. A habit McGrath developed early was to drop one ball if his first serve went in; since no one protested, it was ignored by the umpires. Although he had beaten many leading players overseas, including Fred Perry, Christian Boussus and Ellsworth Vines, he had more success at home: with Crawford, he won five consecutive New South Wales doubles titles (1933-37) and the Australian doubles in 1935. His greatest victory came in the Australian singles in 1937 when he defeated John Bromwich in five sets.

McGrath was generous in his commitment to the sport, playing many exhibition games for his employers—A. G. Spalding & Bros (N.S.W.) Pty Ltd—and at weekends in local Badge matches in Sydney. World War II interrupted his career. He silenced his critics by enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 19 November 1941 and serving in transport units in Australia, mainly in the Northern Territory; he was allowed leave to play exhibition matches with visiting American servicemen. After Sergeant McGrath was discharged on 14 May 1946, he never recaptured his previous form. Constant tennis-playing in his youth had caused a run of injuries; he was plagued by arthritis in his wrist and feet, and by bouts of asthma. He continued to work for Spalding Bros until the late 1950s when he started tennis-coaching. Based in the Southern Highlands, he taught in private schools at Bowral and Moss Vale. For many years he travelled to Canberra once a week to coach at the Japanese Embassy. He also had more time to pursue his interest in horse-racing and follow the Dragons (St George Rugby League team).

Promising at an early age, McGrath was called the 'Wonder Boy', but failed to fulfil expectations. He died of a coronary occlusion on 9 April 1978 at Chevalier College, Burradoo, and was buried with Catholic rites in Botany cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Metzler, Great Players of Australian Tennis (Syd, 1979)
  • J. Shepherd, Encyclopaedia of Australian Sport (Adel, 1980)
  • Australian Society for Sports History, Bulletin, Dec 1995
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Oct 1931, 8, 18 Feb 1932, 17 Oct, 23 Dec 1933, 2 Oct, 28 Nov 1934, 1 Feb 1937, 3 Aug 1939, 28 Aug 1940, 21 Nov 1941, 11 July 1944, 13 Apr 1978
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Kerry Regan, 'McGrath, Vivian Erzerum Bede (1916–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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