Jaroslav Drobný

Jaroslav Drobný (Czech pronunciation: [ˈjaroslav ˈdrobniː];[3] 12 October 1921 - 13 September 2001) was a World No. 1 amateur tennis and ice hockey champion. He left Czechoslovakia in 1949 and travelled as an Egyptian citizen before becoming a citizen of the United Kingdom in 1959, where he died in 2001. In 1954, he became the first and, to date, only player with African citizenship to win the Wimbledon Championships (aside from dual citizen Roger Federer, who holds South African citizenship but officially represents only Switzerland in sports).

Jaroslav Drobný
Jaroslav Drobný and Bob Mark 1958.jpg
Jaroslav Drobný (left) and Bob Mark in 1958
Country (sports) Czechoslovakia
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia Bohemia and Moravia
Egypt Egypt
 United Kingdom
Born(1921-10-12)12 October 1921
Prague, Czechoslovakia
Died13 September 2001(2001-09-13) (aged 79)
Tooting, London, England
Turned pro1938 (amateur tour)
PlaysLeft-handed (one-handed backhand)
Int. Tennis HoF1983 (member page)
Career record998–238 (80.7%)[1]
Career titles147
Highest rankingNo. 1 (1954, Lance Tingay)[2]
Grand Slam Singles results
Australian Open2R (1950)
French OpenW (1951, 1952)
WimbledonW (1954)
US OpenSF (1947, 1948)
Career record0–1
Grand Slam Doubles results
Australian OpenF (1950)
French OpenW (1948)
WimbledonF (1951)
Grand Slam Mixed Doubles results
French OpenW (1948)
WimbledonSF (1948)
Jaroslav Drobný
Medal record
Ice hockey
Olympic Games
Silver medal – second place 1948 Team Competition
World Championships
Gold medal – first place 1947 Team Competition

Tennis careerEdit

Drobný began playing tennis at age five and, as a ball-boy, watched world-class players including compatriot Karel Koželuh.[4] He had an excellent swinging left-handed serve and a good forehand.[5] Drobny played in his first Wimbledon Championship in 1938, losing in the first round to Alejandro Russell. After World War II Drobný was good enough to be able to beat Jack Kramer in the fourth round of the 1946 Wimbledon Championship before losing in the semifinals.[6] In 1951 and 1952 he won the French Open, defeating in the final Eric Sturgess and then retaining the title the following year against Frank Sedgman.[7] Drobný was the losing finalist at Wimbledon in both 1949 and 1952 before finally winning it in 1954 by beating Ken Rosewall for the title, the first left-hander to capture Wimbledon since Norman Brookes.[8]

He won three singles titles at the Italian Championships (1950, 1951 and 1953).[9][10][11]

Drobný was ranked World No. 1 in 1954 by Lance Tingay of The Daily Telegraph.[2] He has also won the French Open doubles title in 1948, playing with Lennart Bergelin, and he won the mixed doubles title paired with Patricia Canning Todd at 1948 French Open.

Drobný held the distinction of having competed at Wimbledon under four different national identities. In 1938, at the age of 16, he started for his native Czechoslovakia. A year later, following the German invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia, he was officially representing the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. After World War II, he started at Wimbledon yet again as Czechoslovak but chose to defect from the communist regime in 1949 – he left Czechoslovakia for good on 11 July 1949.[12]


After the Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948, Drobný became increasingly dissatisfied with the way the communist propaganda used him for its purposes. At the time, he was Czechoslovakia's most renowned athlete together with the phenomenal long-distance runner Emil Zátopek. Increasingly, it was becoming apparent to Drobný that he was no longer able to travel freely to tournaments and he grew dissatisfied with the new regime. This ultimately resulted in his defection from his native land.

Drobný defected from Czechoslovakia together with a fellow Czech Davis Cup player Vladimír Černík while playing at a tennis tournament in Gstaad, Switzerland on July 27th 1949, after disobeying instructions from the USSR government to not play.[13] "All I had", he wrote later, "was a couple of shirts, the proverbial toothbrush and $50."[4] Drobný and Černík were the core of the Czechoslovak Davis Cup team. Twice, the two of them had carried their country to the Davis Cup semifinals, losing to Australia in 1947 and in 1948. Drobný won 37 of his 43 Davis Cup matches.[7]

Becoming stateless, Drobný attempted to gain Swiss, US and Australian papers until finally Egypt offered him citizenship. He represented Egypt at Wimbledon from 1950 through 1959, including his title winning run in 1954. He is the only Egyptian citizen ever to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament. At the time of his Wimbledon win in 1954 Drobný was already living in the United Kingdom but only in his final appearance at Wimbledon in 1960, at the age of 38, did he represent his new homeland Great Britain.[14]


During his amateur career, Drobný won over 130 singles titles, and was world ranked in the top 10 from 1946–55. Drobný was inducted in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island in 1983. He is the only person to win the rare combination of Wimbledon in tennis and a world championship title in ice hockey.

In total, Drobný started in Wimbledon 17 times, always sporting his trademark tinted prescription glasses as an old ice hockey injury affected his eyesight.[14] Drobný is the only male tennis player who ever won a Wimbledon singles title while wearing glasses. Billie-Jean King and Martina Navratilova are the only female Wimbledon champions wearing glasses. Arthur Ashe, who was known for playing with spectacles, had switched to contact lenses by the time he won Wimbledon in 1975.

Drobný has won the most clay court titles of any one player (over 90). [15][16]

Ice hockey careerEdit

From 1938 to 1949 Drobný played center in the Czechoslovak ice hockey league.[4] He was a Silver medalist with the Czechoslovak ice hockey team in the 1948 Olympics. In the final match, Czechoslovakia and Canada tied goalless but Canada won the gold medal due to a better overall goal average. Drobný scored 9 goals in 8 games at the Olympics. Jaroslav Drobný was also a member of the Czechoslovak national ice hockey team which won the gold medals at the 1947 World Ice Hockey Championships in Prague.[14] He scored 15 goals in 7 games in the tournament including a hat-trick in the decisive victory over USA which gave his country its first ever World Championships title. In 1997, Drobný was inducted in the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Hall of Fame.[17] Drobný could have become the first ever European player to start in the National Hockey League when the Boston Bruins put him on their reserve in 1949. Apparently, he was offered $20,000 to come over to play for Boston but he refused, preferring to remain playing amateur ice hockey and retain the flexibility to play tennis during the summers.[18] The first European to play in the NHL eventually became Ulf Sterner from Sweden when he started for the New York Rangers for the first time on 27 January 1965.

Jaroslav Drobný's plaque at the 1st Czech Lawn Tennis Club in Prague
Jaroslav Drobný (r), playing for Egypt, being congratulated by 18-year-old Lew Hoad (l) after Drobný's victory in the final of the 1953 Italian Championships in Rome.


In 1955, Jaroslav Drobný published his autobiography titled Champion in Exile. He was married to Rita Anderson Jarvis, onetime English tournament player. He died 13 September 2001 in Tooting, London aged 79.[14][19]

Grand Slam finalsEdit

Singles: 8 (3 titles, 5 runners-up)Edit

Result Year Championship Surface Opponent Score
Loss 1946 French Championships Clay   Marcel Bernard 3–6, 2–6, 6–1, 6–4, 6–3
Loss 1948 French Championships Clay   Frank Parker 6–4, 7–5, 5–7, 8–6
Loss 1949 Wimbledon Grass   Ted Schroeder 3–6, 6–0, 6–3, 4–6, 6–4
Loss 1950 French Championships Clay   Budge Patty 6–1, 6–2, 3–6, 5–7, 7–5
Win 1951 French Championships Clay   Eric Sturgess 6–3, 6–3, 6–3
Win 1952 French Championships (2) Clay   Frank Sedgman 6–2, 6–0, 3–6, 6–4
Loss 1952 Wimbledon Grass   Frank Sedgman 4–6, 6–2, 6–3, 6–2
Win 1954 Wimbledon Grass   Ken Rosewall 13–11, 4–6, 6–2, 9–7

Doubles: 4 (1 title, 3 runner-up)Edit

Result Year Championship Surface Partner Opponents Score
Win 1948 French Championships Clay   Lennart Bergelin   Harry Hopman
  Frank Sedgman
8–6, 6–1, 12–10
Loss 1950 French Championships Clay   Bill Talbert   Tony Trabert
  Eric Sturgess
6–2, 1–6, 10–8, 6–2
Loss 1950 Australian Championships Grass   Eric Sturgess   John Bromwich
  Adrian Quist
6–3, 5–7, 4–6, 6–3, 8–6
Loss 1951 Wimbledon Grass   Eric Sturgess   Ken McGregor
  Frank Sedgman
3–6, 6–2, 6–3, 3–6, 6–3

Mixed Doubles: 1 (1 title)Edit

Result Year Championship Surface Partner Opponents Score
Win 1948 French Championships Clay   Patricia Canning Todd   Doris Hart
  Frank Sedgman
6–3, 3–6, 6–3

Performance timelineEdit

(W) Won; (F) finalist; (SF) semifinalist; (QF) quarterfinalist; (#R) rounds 4, 3, 2, 1; (RR) round-robin stage; (Q#) qualification round; (A) absent; (NH) not held. SR=strike rate (events won/competed)
1938 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 SR W–L Win %
Grand Slam tournaments
Australian Open A A A Not held A A A A 3R A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A 0 / 1 1–1 50%
French Open A A Not held F A F A F W W SF 4R A 4R 2R 4R 4R 2R A 1R1 3R 1R 1R 2 / 16 46–13 78%
Wimbledon 1R 3R Not held SF QF 2R F SF 3R F SF W QF 1R 2R 4R 1R 1R A A A A A 1 / 17 50–16 76%
US Open A A A A A A A A A SF SF QF 3R A A A A A A A A A A A A A 1R A 0 / 5 15–5 75%
Win–Loss 0–1 2–1 10–2 8–2 12–3 9–2 13–4 8–1 11–1 9–2 10–1 4–1 3–2 2–2 6–2 2–2 1–2 0–0 1–1 1–2 0–1 3 / 39 112–35 76%

1 Drobný did not play. His opponent got a walkover.

In popular cultureEdit

Ivan Blatný wrote a poem called Wimbledon which addresses Drobný.[9][20][21]


  1. ^ Garcia, Gabriel. "Jaroslav Drobny: Career match record". thetennisbase.com. Madrid, Spain: Tennismem SL. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  2. ^ a b United States Lawn Tennis Association (1972). Official Encyclopedia of Tennis (First Edition), p. 426.
  3. ^ "Jaroslav" in isolation: [ˈjaroslaf].
  4. ^ a b c "Jaroslav Drobny". The Guardian. 5 September 2001. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  5. ^ "Jaroslav Drobny". www.tennis.co.nf. Archived from the original on 4 October 2017. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  6. ^ "Wimbledon – The Championships 1946 – Gentlemen's Singles" (PDF). AELTC.
  7. ^ a b "Jaroslav Drobný, 79, a Star In Tennis and Olympic Hockey". The New York Times. 16 September 2001.
  8. ^ "Wimbledon draws archive – 1954 Gentlemen's Singles". AELTC.
  9. ^ a b "Hall of Famers – Jaroslav Drobny". International Tennis Hall of Fame.
  10. ^ "Hoad Beaten By Drobny". The Newcastle Sun. NSW. 12 May 1953. p. 12 – via National Library of Australia.
  11. ^ "Muster wins another clay court title". Star-News. AP. 20 May 1996.
  12. ^ Sarah Kirkham (7 August 2014). "Throwback Thursday: The many faces of Jaroslav Drobný". www.wimbledon.com. AELTC. Archived from the original on 18 May 2015.
  13. ^ "CZECH TENNIS STARS DEFY GOVERNMENT". AP Archive. 25 July 1949. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
  14. ^ a b c d Jaroslav Drobný Archived 8 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine. sports-reference.com
  15. ^ Garcia, Gabriel. "Jaroslav Drobny: Career tournament results - Clay". thetennisbase.com. Madrid, Spain: Tennismem SL. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  16. ^ Velickkovic, Nikola (29 June 2017). "Jaroslav Drobny Wimbledon Champion from Africa". Intelligencer Post. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  17. ^ "IIHF Hall of Fame". International Ice Hockey Federation.
  18. ^ Grasso, John (2011). Historical Dictionary of Tennis. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. pp. 88, 89. ISBN 978-0810872370.
  19. ^ "Jaroslav Drobny". Telegraph Newspaper. 15 September 2001. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
  20. ^ Martin Tharp, Rachel Mikos, David Vaughan (22 February 2004) Ivan Blatny: the strange story of a Czech poet in English exile. radio.cz
  21. ^ Jaroslav Drobný. International Ice Hockey Federation

External linksEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Wallechinsky, David and Jaime Loucky (2009). "Ice Hockey: Men". In The Complete Book of the Winter Olympics: 2010 Edition. London: Aurum Press Limited. p. 23.
  • Drobný, Jaroslav (1955). Champion in Exile: The Autobiography of Jaroslav Drobny. London: Hodder and Stoughton. OCLC 1115128.