Brothers in arms, for better or Wurtz

By Leanne Ortiz
Published in The Border Mail newspaper Thursday December 23, 2004.

Although they dabbled in other sports at school, the Wurtz brothers always knew where their true potential lay.

“We were too good at tennis to play anything else,” youngest brother Rodney Wurtz, 49, said.

It is hard to argue when the honours board for the Annual Albury Grass Court Championships lists the name Wurtz as the winner 19 times since the inaugural year of 1977.

“That doesn’t include the runners-up name, which was often also Wurtz,” middle brother Ken, 51, who has won the championship on 12 occasions said.

The trio of Graham, Ken and Rodney Wurtz are now reunited on the Border with Graham’s return to Albury after 25 years in Canberra.

Although they play it down with an admirable brotherly unity, it is not hard to envisage an evening in the Wurtz household in the early days of their sibling rivalry.

Between them, the Wurtz trio have dominated the district tennis scene from the 1970s through to the present day.

Each have won multiple NSW and Victorian Open titles, facing off against each other on numerous occasions.

Harold Wurtz provided the formative years of tennis training for his sons, though they needed little encouragement with their athletic ability and their enthusiasm for the game.

“You have to find your own dedication, and have a natural ability and commitment,” Ken said.

He believes that tennis ability requires both athleticism and the need to be a quick and crafty thinker.

“You can have the best coach in the world but they can only teach you so much, the rest is up to you, you have to be self motivated and have a natural ability,” Graham said.

Their statements echo those of their mother Mavis from an interview in 1988: “You have to be addicted to the game to succeed,” she said.

Harold Wurtz decided his sons would benefit from learning the art of squash to make them quicker around the court.

All three accepted the challenge and became accomplished squash players in a bid to help their tennis.

As teenagers, their commitment to tennis was such that they would catch a train to Melbourne on Friday night, play in the stronger Saturday Melbourne pennant competition and return home on the train on Saturday evening.

Although 40 years have passed since Graham Wurtz defeated Phil Dent in the quarter-final of the Australian under-17 nationals at White City, the disappointment is still evident in his voice as he recalls not having the opportunity to play the semi-final against Ray Ruffels, due to a mix-up in the newspaper draw that led him to be late to the match and disqualified from the tournament.

“I played John Alexander that same year and won,” he said.

Graham’s proudest tennis memory – “apart from beating me,” swipes Ken – is a win at 18 against the Japanese Davis Cup player Watanabe, at a tournament in Wangaratta.

“I beat him in straight sets, 6-5, 6-3,” Graham said.

“My legs were like jelly on match point.”

At the same Wangaratta tournament Graham was awarded an Australia Day medallion for outstanding prowess in the field of sport.

Ken Wurtz spent five months competing in Europe in 1975, winning a doubles title in Denmark and reaching a singles final there, including defeating the No. 2 Romanian player.

While he didn’t achieve his dreams of qualifying for Wimbledon, he returned home proud of his achievements.

“It was an eye-opener,” he said of life on the European tennis circuit.

He still has the one pound note that, much to his dismay, was the prize money he received for winning a doubles tournament at Halifax.

Ken also completed a tour of New Zealand with fellow Albury tennis stalwart Ivan Stoll in1978 where they won the Canterbury Open Doubles title.

It is the “double” of the NSW Hardcourt Championships in 1978 with Ivan Stoll that Ken lists among his best achievements.

With youth on his side, it is now Rodney who is enjoying the last laugh in the battle of the Wurtz brothers for tennis supremacy.

His 1970 style floppy white terry-towelling hat, which according to his brothers “is glued to his head,” is a legendary fixture around the courts.

It is said to have fallen from Rodney’s head just the once in his career.

For the past 40 years Rodney’s stiffest competition has undoubtedly been his brother Ken. It is impossible to keep track of the number of times they have met in a final.

It is no surprise then that his most treasured tennis memory is “defeating Ken.”

Rodney lists winning the NSW and Victorian State Schoolboys singles titles in 1973 as among his best; and he is pretty chuffed about being the first of his brothers to win the annual Albury Open Easter Tournament in 1974.

His opponent?

Ken Wurtz, naturally.

Ken returned the “favour” though the following year, defeating Rodney in the final in three tough sets.

They understand the importance of giving back to the sport which has provided them all with so much.

Each coaches local players and between them they maintain the Forrest Hill and Thurgoona tennis courts.

Ken is also President of the Albury Tennis Association.

Their advice to juniors with the natural ability and desire to do well in tennis is pretty simple.

“You’ve just got to hit, hit, hit,” said Ken.

“It’s no good coming down for lessons once a week, you’ve got to hit at least five times a week, play against better players, work out how to beat them and move on to the next one.”

The brothers also take part in the veterans tennis scene, competing in the annual Australian Veterans Tournament.

Ken and Rodney (and the terry-towelling hat) travelled to Germany in 2003 representing Australia in the World Veterans Championships where they made the semi-finals of the 45 year doubles.

Arrivig at the ultimate question of who is the better player, the entertaining banter suggests the question will remain forever unanswered.

“Graham, he was the best,” quips Rodney.

“What about you?” Graham fires back.

“You had all the talent, if you had of gone one with it,” Graham said.

“Ken did the most out of all of us,” says Graham, but Ken interjects: “If you had of kept going Rod, we could have won a big doubles title together; it’s all your fault.”

Perhaps Dad Harold, with many years experience as their mentor and mediator, summed it up best in 1988: “It’s a toss up,” he said.

Ortiz, L. (2004, December 23). Brothers in arms, for better or Wurtz. The Border Mail . [print]

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