Last year one of our local Belmont tennis players was inducted into the Seniors Tennis Hall of Fame, so we dropped in to talk to him about his life, tennis, and the journey that led him here.
Henry Michael (Michalczyk) was born in Germany, 1944, towards the end of the Second world war. His mother was a young Polish woman, who was taken to Germany to work in that time of great upheaval in Europe.
All of the displaced people left in Germany at the end of the war returned home, or were sent to new countries. In 1950, his family were put onto a boat to Fremantle. “We were lucky”, Henry said, “It was the last ship to leave Germany”.
Arriving in Freo with his parents and a younger brother, Henry and his family quickly moved into a “Nissen hut” in Wexcombe (now Stratton), where all of the displaced people were sent from Fremantle. From there they moved to Pindar and then to Narembeen, where Henry’s love of sports began.
Born with a hearing deficit, he found school very difficult, but one of his teachers taught him to play sport. All sports: football, basketball, tennis, badminton, hockey, cricket. And he was naturally good at all of them. “I’m a mollydooker, left-handed though”, he laughed.
Henry left home at 16, and since then he has had much success in sport, especially tennis. Some special moments stand out in his memory: in 1980, Henry didn’t lose a match all year. He was awarded the WA Tennis Player of the Year. It is a feat yet to be matched.
Henry still competes around the world in his age group, but these days he says he’s only going to go and play when the International Tennis Federation holds the competition in a country he hasn’t been before. “Tennis has taken me all over the world”, he told me, "But there's a few more places yet."
His best moment in tennis was winning the World Title in Perth in 2009, in the 65+ age group. He has represented Australia 13 times around the world, including Singapore, Geneva, Thailand, England and South Africa. He holds more Western Australia Senior Titles than any other player – 55 since 1985.
He was named Player of the Year by Tennis West in 2017 and Veteran of the Year in 1990. His tennis career has spanned over 60 years, and in 2021 he won 3 gold, a silver and bronze medals at the Australian Masters Games in Perth.
In remarkable health for his age, he still plays tennis 3 times every week, at least.
Asked how he feels about the game today, he says his favourite player right now is Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who is currently ranked No 2 in the world at only 19 years of age. “He’s tall, he’s strong, he’s agile. He can slide and turn. I don’t know anyone that can do that like he does.”
Henry has an enormous collection of tennis memorabilia including hat pins, racquets, balls, ties and much more. He would like to donate it to the City of Belmont to display, but that is still a work in progress.