rackets

Farewell to Geoffrey Atkins, Rackets World Champion 1954-1971

Nov 08, 2021

The T&RA were greatly saddened to hear the news that one of its greats, former Rackets World Champion Geoffrey Atkins, passed away on Saturday 6th November.

A Great World Champion

Geoffrey Atkins learnt to play his Rackets at Rugby. He had won the British Amateur singles in 1952 and 1953 and also held the American and Canadian Amateur singles titles when he challenged Jim Dear for the World and British Open championships.

Geoffrey won an epic battle six games to five at the Queen's Club in April 1954. He went on to hold off four challenges, two from James Leonard and two from Charles Swallow.

In 1971, aged forty-four, he finally resigned the world championship after a record reign of seventeen years, a tremendous achievement amid fierce competition from many younger players.

Geoffrey is generally credited as being one of the three greatest Champions of post-war Rackets, along with James Male and James Stout. 50 to 60 years ago, when Geoffrey was World Champion for a record 17 years, the game of Rackets was very different from 21st Century Rackets. The style of play of Geoffrey, Charles Swallow and James Leonard was as contrasted to that of James Male, Harry Foster, James Stout and Tom Billings as the play of Rod Laver was to that of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray. The Rackets ball was appreciably slower in Geoffrey's day, nylon was only replacing natural gut towards the latter part of Geoffrey's career, and the Grays racquets did not have the in-built reinforcement that nowadays allow the frames to be strung to hugely higher tensions. So the emphasis was much more on how consistently and accurately the ball was hit, rather than how hard it could be hit. Geoffrey's court coverage was seemingly effortless, his footwork absolutely impeccable and his ability to get the ball back to a length was magical. Given just half a chance he would put the ball away with consummate efficiency, not with crushing speed, but guided elegantly to where his opponent was unable to reach it, or, if he managed to get there, was forced into errors. Although an amateur, his commitment to practice and fitness was as 'professional' as any modern player, and it was legendary that at the end of even the most demanding matches, Geoffrey was so fit, and moved so smoothly, that he appeared as though he had only been out for a gentle jog, without a hair out of place and hardly a bead of sweat to be seen! He was probably not as effective a server as James Leonard, nor did he have the power on his kills of Charles Swallow, but these two great Open Champions were not able to wrest the World Title from Geoffrey in either of the Challenges they each made.

As well as being a true legend of Rackets, it should be remembered that in the year before he moved on business to Chicago, he beat every leading British Amateur at squash at some stage in that season. And he was no slouch at Real Tennis either, three times winning the Amateur Championship, and that tally would have been very much higher if he had been based in the UK, rather than in USA.

Five years ago, Seacourt gave a special Dinner at the Club to celebrate Geoffrey's 90th birthday and to mark him being elected an Honorary Life Member of Seacourt. Though he was beginning to fail physically, and was no longer able to play golf or be on his feet for too long, he was still as sharp as a pin mentally, and many reported that it was a privilege to listen to his recollections of his illustrious career as one of Britain's greatest ever racquet sport players.

The T&RA sends its condolences to his son, Nick, and his daughter, Lucinda, and their respective families, including Geoffrey’s seven grandchildren.

There is a memorial service for Geoffrey at 12 pm on Friday 10 December at St Mary’s Church Hayling Island (24 Church Road, Hayling Island, PO11 0NT) followed by a reception at Seacourt Tennis Club (20 Victoria Avenue, Hayling Island, PO11 9AJ). Any charitable donations are requested to be sent to the Seacourt Silver Racquet Fund.