As we continue our celebration of the rise of India’s women, we highlight an Indian woman who created waves in Wimbledon nearly a century ago. The BBC says, “A writer, dancer, playwright, mountaineer and a national tennis champion, Leela Row – the first Indian woman to win a tennis match at the Wimbledon – was as prolific as they come.”
So who was Leela Row? “Born in December 1911, Leela Row was the daughter of Raghavendra Row, a renowned physician, and Pandita Kshama Row, one of the foremost Sanskrit scholars of her time…
Row was raised in India and educated at home by her mother. The family would go on to travel in England and France, where Row also studied the arts.
She began learning classical Indian dance at the age of three to improve her physical strength after a bout of malaria….It was from her mother that Row inherited her love for tennis.”
Row’s tennis career took off through the 1920s and she became India’s first tennis star: “In the 1920s, Kshama Row was among the first few women tennis players in the country – she won the singles title at the Bombay Presidency Hard Court Championships in 1927.
Row soon followed in her mother’s footsteps, dominating the tennis circuit in the country as a singles player while also playing doubles matches with her mother.”
In 1931, she won her first title at the All India Championship. She went on to win six more in the following years.
Through the 1920s and 1930s, Row frequently made news for winning matches at championships across the country.
In 1934, she became the first Indian woman to win a match at the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon with a 4-6, 10-8, 6-2 victory over Gladys Southwell of Britain. She lost to France’s Ida Adamoff in the next round.
Row was back at the tournament the next year but lost in straight sets to Britain’s Evelyn Dearman in the first round.
It would be 71 years before another Indian woman – Sania Mirza – would compete in the senior ladies’ draw at the Wimbledon.”
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