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The Girl with the Golden Racquet

by Hugh Lunn

My Wimbledon-winning best mate Kenny Fletcher from Brisbane knew all the nicknames for every race on the planet. The French were Frogs, the Germans were Huns and the English were whinging Poms.

Despite this, as he toured the world every year from the age of 18 in Davis Cup teams and as a racquet-for-hire, Fletch made “dear friends” with Frogs and Huns and Poms.

In fact, he made life-long friends around the globe.

His grave in Brisbane’s Mt Gravatt cemetery has been visited by many of them – mourners from Pakistan, China, Vietnam, Norway, and Britain.

Tennis is played in almost every country … so to win a title you need to defeat the world. Fletch won the British Hardcourt title, the German Hardcourt title. He won singles titles from Estonia to Prague, from Switzerland to Hong Kong, from Manila to Auckland… and, wherever he went, Kenny, handsome and athletic, made friends and charmed their sisters.

Among his admirers was one particular “good sort” Kenny fell head-over-heels in love with when he was 26 and never, ever forgot … even though Ken was warned off and, like Romeo and Juliet, their future made impossible.

He had to accept a diminished destiny, as I guess we all have to do at some stage in our lives.

At the French Open in 1961, Ken, aged 20, defeated France’s heroic champion Jean-Noel Grinda on slow clay on Grinda’s home centre court at Stade Roland Garros in straight sets.

After the match, Kenny revealed to Grinda that he was the little ball boy the French star had given his racquet to at Milton in Brisbane ten years earlier.

“Instead of being upset, Grinda was excited,” Fletch wrote home to me from Paris. Grinda invited Ken to his family’s Westminster Hotel on the Côte d’Azur in Nice and they also became “dear friends”.

That was when Ken began to fall in love with France.

Ken’s schoolboy French – learned at St Laurence’s College, Brisbane enabled him to get around. Each year he made a pilgrimage to Lourdes where he would kneel in the street before the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes to pray.

Ken especially admired the French because of their brilliant invention which changed the world – the roulette wheel. He played roulette not only in Paris, in Nice, and in Monte Carlo, but also in Macau, the Caribbean and Chelsea.

As a former Altar Boy, Ken loved the rituals of roulette, the jumble of colours like stained glass, the language faites vos jeux madame et monsieur, the endless complexity, the way the chief croupier would warn rien ne va plusevery time he spun the wheel so that no more bets could be placed… and your fate, as in life, was now left purely to chance.

It was Grinda who one day recommended Ken travel up into the mountains of Switzerland to play the Montana-Vermala tournament because, Grinda observed, Ken’s heavy top-spin forehand would not float out in the 1500-metre-high air like all the flat forehands.

Grinda was right.

Ken easily won that title in July 1964 when he was travelling with Billy Lee Long, his mystic boyhood friend who Ken, an only child, called his brother.

Billy – who had been in the Hopman Tennis Squad with Ken and was North Queensland squash champion – was always urging Fletch to go for a three-mile training run. But training wasn’t Ken’s style. So Billy set off by himself, as he did every afternoon of his life, thinking the Swiss mountains might test his fitness.

The mountains did just that, but not in the way Billy expected.

At a brisk pace Billy Lee Long came around a corner, only to be confronted by a large black bear which reared up on its hind legs. Fortunately, Billy was a beach-sprint champion and he escaped.

The next year, 1965, Ken won Montana-Vermala again, but all his joy disappeared when the following year his Burmese fiancée, Pammie d’Castro, broke off their engagement. Ken, now living in Hong Kong, wrote to me saying, “It’s hard, but I pray I meet someone to try and make me forget her, as I can’t at the moment.”

Pammie told me many years later: “Ken had a heart of gold. I loved him very much but I needed a stable, secure life.”

During the Montana-Vermala tournament in 1966, all the competitors were invited to watch the World Cup soccer on TV at the Grand-Hôtel du Parc on the pristine Grenon Lake.

Unbeknownst to Ken he was being admired from afar by one of the guests, a fragile girl, Jeannine, who was visiting from Paris. Jeannine was best friends with the daughter of the family who owned the Hôtel.

Jeannine wrote in her delicate, halting, hesitant English: “I knew nothing of him but I was literally subjugated by his beauty, its look, its nature, its charm, by its contagious good mood”.

The following year, May 1967, Jeannine went to the French Open in Paris “quite intimidated but solved I went to meet Ken to Roland Garros”.

“We walked Ken and I in the paths while the others players were training there,” Jeannine wrote. “I was a little surprised but ‘C’est Chouette’. We were both so well and so happy that my feet didn’t touch the ground anymore and I was on a little cloud.”

Ken introduced Jeannine to his good friends Roy and Joy Emerson.

A few days later Jeannine took Ken to the Enghien Casino where he soon lost his money and had to borrow from her. Next day he signed some traveller’s cheques to pay her back.

One evening Jeannine took him to her home 20km from Paris and introduced him to her sister and her boxer dog. “There were days of pure big happiness, days which stood out to me for ever. Then sadly at the end of his stay in Paris, I drove him to the Orly Airport in the early hours.”

Two months later Fletch was back in Montana-Vermala near the French-Swiss border and did the impossible by winning the title for the fourth year in succession – meaning there would be a ceremony to present him with a Golden Racquet for achieving something never seen before.

Perhaps Jeannine was the prettiest guest at the Grand-Hôtel; perhaps her girlfriend played Cupid; perhaps it was fate. In any event, Jeannine was invited to present the prize.

“Again, we are seen again to us,” Jeannine wrote. “2 magnificent weeks, among the most beautiful days of my life were but which ended in a big crying fit when that he left. We had maybe a little too much drunk the day before for our last evening or it was the prescience to never see him again.”

Fletch wrote home to me: “I’ve fallen for this French girl whose dad owns an atomic generator.” But later Fletch told me (and decades later told my wife Helen) that he was contacted and warned to have no further contact with her.

Ken and Jeannine wrote letters to each other but the letters never arrived.

Jeannine recorded: “I wrote to Ken in Hong Kong for six months but I never had return … “

She later learned what had happened: “Everything was blocked … I kept carefully my souvenirs with Ken, even those traveller’s cheques he signed, photos we were together in Montana, newspaper articles. Everything vanished. Now I understand why my father was always very sad. Sure, he knew what was happened and as he said, his little ‘ray of sunshine’ was no so bright as before. My naivety did bad.”

One afternoon the following year a suitor came to call. “Every year he did retreats at the Kergonan Monastery with the Benedictine monks whose prayers and Gregorian songs go to Heaven and get us to other places.”

He asked to marry Jeannine and she accepted.

That very evening, February 24 1968, the phone in her mother’s “desk room” rang, and, for the first time, Jeannine was able to answer. It was Ken Fletcher. Jeannine’s mother came in and stood there while she talked.

“Ken was in Paris and wished to see me … a terrible wrench to tell him that I couldn’t and that I was so sorry.”

Jeannine married her fiancé and they had beautiful children. “My husband was exceptional and wonderful. He was like God on earth to me.”

The Great Fletch

In 2008 I published The Great Fletch, a biography of Ken Fletcher’s whole life which included two lines in a book of 360 pages: “One year he even fell in love with the girl who presented the prize of a golden racquet. ‘Her dad owns an atomic generator,’ he wrote.”

Five years after the book was published, in 2013, I received a letter post-marked Paris. I didn’t know anyone in Paris. I didn’t even know anyone in France. The letter began:

“I was the girl who gave to Ken the prize of the Golden Racquet.”

The letter was signed “Jeannine”.

“Last June I learned, my God with so much delay the sad news [that Ken had died aged 65 on the Feast Day of our Lady of Lourdes in 2006]. I ordered your book and read it and still read it… It reminds me the moments when I made repeat three times the same sentence to Ken so that I manage finally to understand what he wished to say to me!

“By reading it I have mouse [smile] sometimes. I was often moved, I shivered, the sadness invaded me … I was crazy about him, about his charisma, about his courage, about its humour, about its kindness, about his strength and his sweetness, all that I had felt inside him and I love him profoundly… I love too his few weaknesses. He just deserves unconditional love.”

Jeannine said she ran to her piano.

“Much better than tears I played for Ken some pieces of my very dear Chopin. My piano, this so faithful confidant of all my emotions.”

Jeannine wrote again:

“When I read what you wrote in the book, I had an electric shock and for me who promised a long time ago not to be in love again, I received a return of boomerang right in the heart. To say the truth, learning the difficulties of Ken and all his suffering, gave me a tremendous sorrow, but,to stay positive, in spite of all, I felt something wonderful and sublime.

“Ken passed as a flash of lightning in my life and like a precious treasure I have kept him carefully in my very heart where nobody can take away from me. When the sadness assails us and that we think not to be able to recover from this, I know it, and I am sure of it, the invisible is really here.”


***** Ken Fletcher was a great friend of Club and Racquet.

A very successful professional tennis player, he was loved by everyone he met.

We were lucky to know him!

I hope you enjoyed the short story extract above.

If you would like to know more about Fletch, you should read his book called ‘Fletch’ by his close friend, Hugh Lunn.

You won’t be disappointed.



WINNERS: Cameron Early & Oliver Early

Day One: Tuesday 7th November was a slow start with Nine Holes at the North West Bay Golf Course, just south of Hobart in the morning. A cracker golf course with some beautiful holes. Back to the hotel afterwards to get ready for the Melbourne Cup Lunch at Franklin Wharf.

Day Two: Wednesday 8th November was a complete “cluster fuck” in the morning with the Optus Network Outage causing poor communications and troubles with hotel check outs and suchlike. A decision was taken to abandon golf for the day and tennis was played at the Domain Tennis Centre in the afternoon. This was followed by a fantastic boozy dinner at the Japanese Restaurant Bar Wa Izakaya. Way too much Sapporo Beer & Hibiki Whisky!!!

Day Three: Thursday 9th November was another slow start with waiting on some more arrivals collected from the airport then a small drive north to Ratho Farm Highlands Resort in Bothwell. Nine Holes played before checking into the quaint and quirky accommodation…..a big night on the turps in the old homestead was assured! Greg Ramsay was in his element as he recounted the stories of the oldest golf course in Australia!

Day Four: Friday 10th November was another slow start followed by a quick drive north to Launceston for Lunch at Tucker’s Tennis Museum. We were treated to a private viewing of Denis’s life work in collecting tennis memorabilia……bloody fantastic and worth coming to Tassie just to see his museum! A bit of a rushed afternoon to get to  Barnbougle for nine holes at the Lost Farm, but then stayed on course for the night at The Dunes Cottages…..fantastic! In the evening, the presentation dinner was held at the famous Lost Farm Restaurant which was unforgettable.  


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