Tennis & Australian Identity

Reflecting Australia’s obsession with sport, the National Portrait Gallery has many diverse portraits of Australian sportspeople. Let’s take a closer look at some of the great tennis aces from our collection and their stories that have shaped our national identity.

John Newcombe: outside his offices in Sydney (2006) by Robin SellickNational Portrait Gallery


Australian’s love tennis. Our open spaces to accommodate tennis courts and excellent climate to play all year around have contributed to the high participation and spectator numbers. Five percent of Australians over the age of fifteen participate in tennis, either as an organised sport or recreational activity. Australia hosts the first of the four Grand Slam events of the International tennis calendar year, the Australian Open. The Australian Open was first held in Melbourne in 1905 and is now attended by over 700,000 fans each year. Here are a two of Australia’s tennis greats – the first known for his powerful serve and volley and the second as a base liner with one of the best overhead smashes in the game.

Lleyton Hewitt (1998) by Robin SellickNational Portrait Gallery

Lleyton Hewitt was ranked world number one in 2001 and 2002.

At the age of twenty, he became the youngest male ever to be ranked world number one.

What a competitor Lleyton was, and so committed to what he did on the court. On and off the court I feel like so many people around the world appreciated his efforts, appreciated his commitment and the daily grind; so focused and enthusiastic about this one passion that he had is really inspirational.

Maria Sharapova

Hewitt is well known for his speed, determination, fighting spirit and yelling C'mon! on court.

'I am two different people. What you see on the court is just natural for me. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I have always said C'mon purely to fire myself up. Off the court, I am a lot shyer. I stick to my team and my family and people I trust.'

Robin Sellick captures the intense focus and determination Hewitt is known for on court.

This photograph resulted when Sellick asked Hewitt to imagine winning a game.

John Newcombe: outside his offices in Sydney (2006) by Robin SellickNational Portrait Gallery

Tennis champion, John Newcombe won seven Grand Slam singles titles and together with Tony Roche won twelve Grand Slam doubles titles.

Newcombe was Australia's junior tennis champion (1961–1963) and at the age of nineteen became one of the youngest players ever to represent Australia in the Davis Cup.

As captain of the Australian the Davis Cup team (1995–2000), he mentored a new generation of Australian tennis players, including Pat Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt.

This photo was taken by Robin Sellick outside Newcombe's offices in Sydney.

Credits: Story

This exhibit was written by:
- Annette Twyman, Learning Facilitator, National Portrait Gallery
- Sally Adair, Learning Facilitator, National Portrait Gallery
- Sally Dawson, Learning Facilitator, National Portrait Gallery
- Kirstin Gunether, Learning Facilitator, National Portrait Gallery
- Emily Casey, Program Coordinator, National Portrait Gallery
- Alana Sivell, Digital Learning Coordinator, National Portrait Gallery
- Johanna McMahon, Art History intern, Australian National University.

This exhibit was edited and produced by Alana Sivell, Digital Learning Coordinator, National Portrait Gallery.

We would like to acknowledge the generous support from all artists and organisations for letting us include these works.

Thank you to Robin Sellick for enabling us to investigate Australia's sporting culture through the inclusion of his photographic portraits.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Australia: Great Sporting Land
Explore the unifying spirit of Australian sport - from tales to traditions, larrikins to legends
View theme
Google apps