Dame Ruia Morrison was the first New Zealand woman and the first Māori person to play at Wimbledon in 1957. Morrison is still regarded as one of New Zealand’s best players of all time.
Morrison was born in 1936 in a small farming community in New Zealand’s North Island. She is Māori from the Te Arawa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa iwi (tribes) and grew up in Rotorua. In 1944, Morrison’s father, former rugby and tennis player, Hingawaka Morrison helped to build two tennis courts in the community, introducing her to the game for the first time at age eight.
At the time, few Māori players played outside of local community tournaments. However, when Mrs. Mowbray, a well-connected woman from Auckland on vacation in the area, took interest in the young tennis player, Morrison took the chance to elevate her game to a larger stage. At age 14, Morrison moved to Auckland to receive formal coaching for the first time at Eden-Epsom Tennis Club, where she quickly advanced through the junior ranks. She became the top junior player in the country by 17. Despite having won three juniors titles in doubles, mixed doubles, and singles, Morrison was left off the list of the New Zealand juniors’ team. It was only after protest from a few of the country’s top coaches that Morrison was added to the team.
It did not take long before Morrison had advanced to dominating New Zealand’s premier competition. At age 20, she became New Zealand’s open singles champion, resulting in an automatic bid to Wimbledon. However, how she would get there became an unexpected struggle. Without receiving any significant backing from New Zealand Tennis, Morrison was responsible for raising the funds. Morrison’s former teacher, Hoani Waititi, lead a campaign to raise funds for Morrison to compete.
In 1957, Morrison made her historic first appearance at Wimbledon. She reached the fourth round before losing to American, Betty Pratt. This was also the year of Althea Gibson’s historic victory. In 1958, Morrison returned, this time advancing to the third round. Finally in 1959, Morrison again made it to the fourth round before losing to eventual champion Maria Bueno.
In 1965, Morrison was selected alongside teammate Elizabeth Terry to compete in the Federation Cup. They traveled to Melbourne to compete; they beat Argentina but lost to Australia.
Morrison would go on to win the New Zealand national singles titles an additional five times before retiring. Following her retirement, Morrison donated the remainder of her winnings to the educational trust established by Waititi for promising young Māori athletes.
In the 1960 New Year Honours, Morrison was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services in the field of sport, especially tennis. Morrison was awarded life membership of the Aotearoa Māori Tennis Association in 2001, and in 2003, she was inducted into the Māori Sports Hall of Fame. In 2014, she was made a Tennis New Zealand life member.
In the 2021 Queen's Birthday Honors, Morrison was appointed a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to tennis.
The initial launch of Breaking Boundaries includes 95 individuals representing 25 nations. The exhibit will continue to expand with many more inspiring stories to be added on an ongoing basis. Fans are encouraged to submit their own suggestions of athletes and contributors for inclusion through the form below.