Tennis mourns death of popular coach

THE town's tennis community is mourning the death of former Wimbledon semi-finalist Molly Blair.

Thursday, 5th February 2004, 1:12 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 7:48 pm

A founder member of the Cooden Beach Sports and Social Club, Molly will also be fondly remembered for her coaching. Such was her standing within this field that world famous commentator Dan Maskell once remarked: "Molly Blair has done more for junior tennis in this country than anyone will ever know."

Cooden Beach member Marion Longhurst echoed the sentiment. "She did a tremendous amount of work with children, that was her thing," she said. "She coached children with great enthusiasm. She would drive them all over the county taking them to tournaments for them to improve and get on. There will be so many people in Sussex who would remember her with great affection because they have passed through her hands."

Born in Romford, Molly started playing tennis as an 11-year-old in a public park and it wasn't long before she made her mark locally. Two years later she began to receive coaching and was selected to play for her county.

She made her Junior Wimbledon debut at 17 and was runner-up on her first appearance in her maiden name of Molly Lincoln. In 1948 she reached the ladies' doubles semi-final and became a life member of the prestigious "Last Eight Club". In mixed doubles, she teamed up with husband Norman to win a number of tournaments throughout the country.

Molly also played in all three of the post-war Wightman Cup matches against the USA and her displays meant she was widely regarded as one of the outstanding ladies' doubles players this country has produced.

Moving to Sussex with her family, Molly helped to set up the Cooden Beach Sports and Social Club and began coaching members' children in 1972. Her efforts helped the club receive the Lawn Tennis Association's "Club of the Year" award for outstanding achievement.

The following decade Molly started short tennis as an after-school activity in two primary schools and one of her devotees won the county championship while another two were chosen to play exhibitions at Wimbledon. She also coached juniors at Egerton Park Tennis Club and several went on to county and regional training squads and to represent the county.

Longhurst added: "Once seen, never forgotten. She was one of those people you will remember always - she was such a character. When she was coaching her voice could be heard down on the beach from the club."

Molly also helped to raise thousands of pounds for charity through Cooden Beach's Ladies' Friday Group.

Long-term friend and fellow coach Liz Patrick said: "She really was an inspirational woman. It's an end of an era. She was someone very special.

"She's been a flagship for the game. I don't think she ever charged more than a pound for the kids, she wanted everyone to have the chance to play."

Molly, who moved away from the area several years ago to live with one of her three children, died on Monday. She was 85.