Linky back at Wimbledon

Former teen tennis star from Uitenhage returns to scene of glory after more than four decades

Former doubles partners Ilana Kloss, left, and Linky Mortlock (formerly Boshoff) met up again at Wimbledon in July. Kloss is one of the few players Mortlock has kept in touch with since her days on the international tennis tour
Former doubles partners Ilana Kloss, left, and Linky Mortlock (formerly Boshoff) met up again at Wimbledon in July. Kloss is one of the few players Mortlock has kept in touch with since her days on the international tennis tour
Image: Supplied

During her matric year, a teen tennis sensation from Uitenhage caused a stir at Wimbledon when she reached the women’s singles quarterfinals.

The year was 1974 and the teen was Linky Boshoff.

Although she succumbed to fifth-seed Virginia Wade, qualifying for the quarterfinals gained her a number-eight world ranking.

Back at Wimbledon the following year, Boshoff and doubles partner Ilana Kloss got as far as the semifinals.

Across the net were Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.

In July, for the first time in 42 years, Boshoff (now Linky Mortlock) returned to Wimbledon – only now it was to watch from the stands with her husband, Peter Mortlock, and to reconnect with some of her contemporaries.

Through her membership of the Wimbledon Last 8 Club, the couple was entitled to free admission and reserved seating.

The Last 8 Club is exclusive to players who have reached a singles quarterfinal or doubles semifinal.

When Boshoff achieved both of these, newspapers hailed her as “the darling of Wimbledon”.

Even Snoopy fell in love with her – in one cartoon, he declared “I’ve had a good day

. . . I ate 12 bowls of strawberries and cream, and I fell in love with Linky Boshoff!”

Judging by the warm welcome from Last 8 players, among them Kloss and tennis legend Billie-Jean King, not much has changed.

Back home on their farm, Willow Park, in the Dordrecht district, Boshoff enthused about watching today’s bigname players, including Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Serena Williams and Simona Halep.

“I was amazed by the power of the game and the physical strength of the players. It’s very different from my day.”

She started playing at the age of seven and, guided by her mother Delene Boshoff – an EP tennis player and coach, as well as a Springbok hockey player – she was ready to enter her first tournament six months later.

The young Boshoff was known for her tenacity and always giving her best.

The first EP Herald article about her, with the headline “Dinky little ‘Linky’ ”, said the seven-year-old “scampered all over the court with uncanny anticipation, refused steadfastly to run around a single backhand and then stood on tip-toe at the net to shake hands with her opponents”.

Her natural ability was nurtured and honed by her coach Louis Nel and, on the international tennis tour, she gained a reputation for her tactical game and big-match temperament.

“I love competing,” she said, “but I don’t think it’s about winning and losing.

“It’s about facing the challenge as best you can and having a sense of achievement, no matter the outcome.”

And that’s why she bounced back after every match – win or lose, it was the game that counted, be it a Grand Slam final such as the 1976 US Open, in which she and Kloss beat King and Bettie Stove, or the 1976 French Open mixed doubles, which she and Colin Dowdeswell narrowly lost.

The next year, after five years on the international tour, the constant travel stopped being fun and she took the difficult decision, aged 21, to “retire” and pursue a degree.

Before leaving, she won a hat-trick at the SA Open – the women’s singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles.

“For me, that was my best tennis achievement,” she said.

After graduating from then UPE with a BComm marketing, Boshoff worked as a broker consultant.

In 1982, she married Mortlock, a Dordrecht farmer, whom she had met on the tennis courts at UPE when he was studying architecture.

“We have three children and five grandchildren,” she said.

“I’m grateful for the decision I took at 21. I’ve had the best of both worlds.”

A peek into her scrapbooks provides a picture of a truly talented sportswoman – something her home province recognised by naming her EP Sportsman of the Year in 1973, 1974 and 1977.

Now, still passionate about sport, she enjoys playing bowls and was part of the Border women’s team in 2018.

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