Harry Hopman, the architect of Australia’s post World War II tennis supremacy, was born Henrick Christian Hopman on 12 August 1906 to John Henry Hopman (1871-1945), then teaching at Burwood Public School, and Jennie Siberteen, née Glad (1875-1962). After their marriage in St James Catholic Church Glebe in 1903 the Hopmans lived at Hampstead, 12 Oxley Street, before sharing space at 174 Bridge Road with the bride’s widowed mother and her teenage daughter Muriel. By 1908 the Hopmans were at 15 Wigram Road in Minerva Terrace.
Born in Glebe in the years 1904-9 were: John Henry Glad, known as ‘Jack’, Julia Hester, Henrick called ‘Hal’ as a child, Muriel Elizabeth and Marjorie. In 1911 the Education Department moved John senior to Yass where Marie Cecilia and Frances Betty were born. Richard, ‘Dick’, the youngest, was born in 1915 at Glen Innes following a move from Bega. The parents’ last house was in Meredith Street Homebush, where John Henry senior died on 14 June 1945 and his widow on 8 June 1962. Five of their eight children took up teaching as a profession.
Harry’s given names were those of an uncle, reflecting Scandinavian ancestry on his mother’s side. Grandfather Gabriel Glad, who married Julia Hester Ryan of Wollongong in 1875 and died in 1891 at 3 Magnolia Terrace (now Magnolia Flats, 270-82 Bridge Road Forest Lodge), was the eldest son of Carl Danielson Glad of Norway.
Harry’s father was born at Braidwood. He became a probation pupil-teacher at Nyngan at age 13, and then taught at Tambaroora, Hill End, Bowral, South Newcastle and Newcastle before being transferred to Burwood in 1901. He gained a scholarship to Fort Street Training School and in 1894 graduated BA from the University of Sydney. At Plattsburg Public where, sporting a heavy moustache, he taught for a time during World War I pupils chanted ‘Hoffmann the German!’ and Harry became involved in regular playground fistfights.
At Rosehill Public, where his father was headmaster and disciplinarian soccer coach, Harry switched allegiance from soccer to tennis, a game then gaining in popularity. On an earthen court levelled in the school grounds, the barefoot and shirtless 13-year-old won his first open tournament. He joined a neighbourhood tennis club and at Parramatta High and Fort Street Boys’ High captained the tennis teams. In 1923 he won the NSW High Schools’ singles championship. He credited his success to the fact that his father was not a very knowledgeable tennis player and let his son pursue his passion without interference.
After leaving school Hopman ran a sports goods store with another player, Jim Willard, but took time off to develop his on-court skills, often playing against older men who dwarfed him physically. In 1925 Hopman, a nimble volleyer, teamed up with Jack Crawford, a tall baseline stylist. The pair won the NSW junior doubles title three times and senior doubles twice. Hopman went on to play Davis Cup tennis for Australia in 1928, 1930 and 1932, was playing captain in 1938-9 and non-playing captain coach 1950-69. From 1927 to 1946 he was ranked in Australia’s top 10 players. A fitness fanatic weighing 63.5 kg for most of his life, he was a keen runner and golfer and Australian amateur squash champion 1933-5.
‘Hopman’s chickens’ during the ‘Hopman era’ included Frank Sedgman, Ken McGregor, Mervyn Rose, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad (who grew up at 43 Wigram Road, just down the hill from Hopman’s early childhood home), Ashley Cooper, Neale Fraser, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, John Newcombe, Fred Stolle and Tony Roche. After Hopman moved to the USA to set up a tennis academy he encouraged international protégés such as John McEnroe. Childless, he was often criticised for treating his young players as wayward offspring. Nicknamed ‘the little general’ and ‘the old fox’, he was never particularly popular with other players or with spectators. For much of his life he was profoundly deaf.
Hopman married twice. In 1934 he wed tennis champion and talented pianist Eleanor ‘Nell’ Mary Hall (1909-68).
The following year they reached the Wimbledon mixed doubles finals. In 1971 he married American divorcée Lucy Pope Fox, a niece of the Wightman Cup donor. Hopman died in Florida on 28 December 1985. The Hopman Cup has been contested annually in Perth since 1989.
At Rosehill Public, Harry’s older brother was often his opponent on the tennis court but as a schoolboy John preferred football. At Fort Street, where he gained Leaving Certificate Honours in English and French, John was a member of the 1921 Rugby Union team which won the McManamey Shield*. In 1958, as a member of the NSW Lawn Tennis Professionals’ Association, he published Tennis know-how, a handbook covering the basics of forehand, backhand and service.
Harry Hopman’s ancestors on his father’s side were gold prospectors of German descent. Grandfather Henry David Hoffmann, known as Hopman, died on 29 July 1890 at Hill End where he had been prospecting since at least 1874, following a move from the goldmining town of Braidwood. In 1875 he lost a case against a fellow miner accused of diverting water from his race at Golden Gully preventing Hopman from sluicing 30 loads of wash dirt.
At Forbes in 1863 Henry married Elizabeth Amiot née Dsmidh (1839-1907), a widow with two sons. Elizabeth then bore Mary E (born and died 1864), Margaret Elizabeth (1867-1962), John Henry, Henry David ‘Dick’ (1874-1948) who prospected at Hill End, and Annie Kate (born 1879). Elizabeth Hopman died at Hill End on 11 June 1907 and was buried with her oldest child William Amiot, accidentally killed.
* Named in honour of James Whiteside Fraser McManamey who was killed at Gallipoli. Born and married in Glebe, Major McManamey is the subject of a future article in this series.
The Australian Dictionary of Biography
The Australian Encyclopaedia
Fort Street Boys’ High The Fortian various issues 1921-3 Harry Hopman Aces and Places 1957
John Henry Hopman Tennis know-how 1958
John Hetherington Australians: Nine Profiles 1960
Hill End and Tambaroora Times and Miner’s Advocate 30 October 1875
Hill End petition 22 January 1877 (Mitchell Library: Australian papers A666)
Lithgow & District Historical Society Hill
End General & Catholic Cemeteries ca 1992
Nation 18 November 1961
NSW births, deaths and marriages registry
NSW cemetery records
NSW State Records: Education Dept teachers’ rolls People 12 April 1950
Sydney Morning Herald 2.2.1875; 23.3.1891; 15.2.1935
Who’s Who in Australia 1944, 1955, 1965