Meet Scotland's oldest tennis champ… George is a smash hit at the age of 87

ONLY days after Scotland's tennis hopes were dashed with Andy Murray's early exit from the Australian Open, devotees of the game have finally found something to cheer about.

The new hero may be more than four times Murray's age, but he has achieved something that has eluded the British number one – victory in the world men's tennis doubles, the age-equivalent of grand slam events.

If Murray is disheartened at failing to win at the very highest level, he might take a few tips from Scotland's latest champion, 87-year-old George Stewart.

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The sprightly El-Alamein veteran has just returned home after triumphing in New Zealand with his doubles partner Gerry Ells. The pair, who have a combined age of 174, beat the favourites in the doubles final for the over-85s at the Super-Seniors World Championships, organised by the International Tennis Federation.

A grandfather and former lieutenant-colonel, Mr Stewart is what you might describe as a "late developer". He only started playing competitive tennis when he was 75.

Speaking at his home in Scone, Perthshire, the widower said he was delighted with the victory, despite crashing out in the first round of the singles competition where he was ranked fifth in the world.

"After taking up tennis in my late 50s for health and fitness after a lifetime involved in skiing, it is amazing to think that I am a world champion.

"I thought I would give it a go and was very unsuccessful when I started. But I stuck at it and got better and better.

"There are veterans' tournaments all over the world, almost every week of the year, and I play a lot, really using the tournaments as an opportunity for travel and a holiday as well."

The Super-Seniors World Championships, which were held in Christchurch, New Zealand, in December attracted 345 competitors from 24 nations. Last year, he won the doubles title in Turkey with Gerry, but also made the singles final.

The retired forester, who served with the Royal Artillery during the Second World War, said: "I went to the world championships last year and finished runner-up in the singles, which was sheer luck.

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"I still play reasonably well but it's a high standard. This year I went into the singles with no expectations and promptly got knocked out in the first round.

"But in the doubles, Gerry and I made the final and we played the number one pair and beat them 6-4, 6-4, which was a great win. I was so pleased to defend our title, especially because we beat such worthwhile opponents."

A regular at Perth's Kinnoull Tennis Club as well as Perth Tennis Club, he continues to hone his racquet skills. Brought up in Glasgow, he said he was proud to still be competing at a high level despite his advancing years.

"The very fact that the championships are run by the International Tennis Federation, whose other responsibility is the Davis Cup, shows they are a big thing.

"'Veterans' tennis is a very big sport on a world basis, even if it is still to really take off in Britain."

While most octogenarians look to crosswords and bowls to fill their time, Mr Stewart is already planning the defence of his title.

Andrew Pennycook, a friend and secretary of Perth Tennis Club, described him as an "absolute gent" with a steely determination. "He was a very good skier and … as you can imagine … he's extremely fit.

"This is like winning a grand slam for the older generation. George is a member of two tennis clubs in Perth and plays a couple of times a week in the summer months. Perth is the oldest club in Scotland, so it's nice to have one of the oldest guys playing with us."

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The World Number 10 in the over 85s also follows the progress of the World Number 9, Andy Murray, and his brother.

"I met Andy by chance when he was much younger and I met Jamie last year after he had won Wimbledon. They are very nice kids, very relaxed and I wish them both well this year."

Dave Macdermid, from Tennis Scotland, said: "Tennis really is a game for life and you can never be too old to take it up."


GEORGE Stewart is not the only veteran athlete to reach the pinnacle of his sport. Jenny Wood Allen was a 92-year-old great-grandmother who was awarded an MBE after taking up marathon running in her seventies.

She raised thousands of pounds for charity from her home in Dundee and completed more than 30 races to support good causes such as Save the Children and cystic fibrosis charities. She was recognised for her achievements in the 2003 New Year Honours List.

For 20 years, the former councillor was a regular sight on the roads and parks of Dundee, training six days a week. In 2002, she announced she had completed her last marathon, finally admitting her body was unable to endure the distance. Although she gave up running, the nonagenarian continued her hectic schedule of charity work, with sponsored walks in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

More recently, June Marr is another competitor who defied the ageing process to secure her first tennis victory at the age of 79, 15 years after taking up the sport. She was competing in a Westburn Tennis Centre social event in Aberdeen just 11 days before her 80th birthday. She fought off stiff competition from six other couples with her doubles partner, local coach Chris Hodsden, to win the competition last November.

June and Chris battled hard against competition from the likes of Claire Birnie, the Scottish indoor champion, and Cults first-team player Adam Telatovich before being crowned champions.