Lawford is an odd one. On one hand, he must have elicited some sympathy as the Ur-Goran (having been a loser in the Wimbledon challenge round in 1880, 1884,1885 and 1886 before he finally won in in 1887 - he threw in a loss in the challenge round as the holder in 1888 for good measure). On the other, he seems to have been the epitome of what Aussie cricketers would call a flat track bully.
A. Wallis Myers describes him as a “grim, determined player, with a sardonic smile, who neither asked for nor gave quarter, whose arm never seemed to tire and whose attack was crushing to a degree.” (The Complete Lawn Tennis Player (1908)).
Herbert Chipp, an 1884 semi-finalist whose house I go past most days, gave an insight into his baseline-centric game (and, just as revealingly, his character) from an early “friendly” encounter:
“I raced from side to side of the court; every stroke from Lawford’s racket seemed to alight on one line or the other of my court, generally on that farthest from poor breathless me, and at the end of the match I hardly knew whether my head or heels were uppermost. I remember that I presently found myself imbibing a very necessary drink , and that Lubbock, who had joined us , said in his kindly way something complimentary to me , that with more experience I ought to play a good game , or words to that effect, appealing to Lawford whether he also did not think so . I remember, too, that apparently in the latter’s opinion (Lawford was always very candid), Lubbock took a much too sanguine view of my capabilities , and that I possessed ‘ only one stroke ’ At that moment I was quite unconscious of possessing any at all , but I mentally resolved that I would endeavour to add a second, if possible , by the time we met again.” (“Lawn Tennis”, Paret, 1904)
He was described as “simply a terror to second-class players; much more so, indeed, than the champion [W. Renshaw] himself”. However, again to borrow a cricket term, he was the elder Renshaw’s bunny, losing to him on most occasions including 3 consecutive challenge rounds at Wimbledon. The nadir certainly being the challenge round of 1885, where Renshaw somehow took the first set in 9 ½ minutes.
He was both a throwback and a pioneer in terms of kit. Wallis Myers in “The Complete Lawn Tennis Player” (1908) notes that: “In his early matches Lawford wore a striped football jersey, a porkpie cap to match, and knickerbockers. Subsequently he changed the first two for less conspicuous articles, but nothing would ever make him substitute trousers for knickers.”. No idea if he wore the striped jersey to Wimbledon but from what I can gather the all white dress code did not exist back then. Conversely, he championed the symmetrical-headed racket, in contrast to the slight lop preferred by many top players of the day, including the Renshaws. This was apparently as it assisted the eponymous Lawford Stroke.
It’s difficult to reconcile the picture above with contemporary descriptions of the stroke. As @retrowagen
says, the photo suggests a proto-buggy whip. The consensus from contemporary reports was that Lawford’s racket would finish above the head and right shoulder. But there seemed to be more drive through the ball than is suggested from the picture - this is the description from James Dwight (aka the Father of American Tennis - quite the title):
“Now let us take Mr. Lawford , who has been in the foremost rank of players for many years. His style is in direct contrast to that of the Renshaws , for it is labored , and purely the result of study . He may be said to play but four strokes, but he plays them curiously well . He puts both feet firmly on the ground and fixes himself completely. He takes the ball at the top of its bound, striking it with all his force . His racket is vertical, and is lifted as he strikes, giving a strong over-twist to the ball . The back foot, too, is lifted as the stroke is made , and the whole weight of the body is thrown on to the ball . The elbow and wrist are held perfectly stiff, and the stroke seems to be made almost as much by the forward motion of the body as by the arm. The backhand stroke is made on the same principle , but not quite so well . The style is awkward and uncouth almost beyond conception , but no one who has not played against him can appreciate the suddenness, the accuracy , and the terrible speed of his strokes .”
“He took the ball off the ground at about the height of his hip , and in doing so imparted an over-cut to the stroke , which made it a very puzzling one to deal with . His service was not particularly severe, but the length was excellent, and he had a knack of dropping the service very near the half-court line . He could not volley at all below the level of the net, but anything above his shoulder he ‘killed’ absolutely and entirely. His backhand stroke was peculiar and decidedly ungainly. The ball was hit with the same face of the racket as for the forehand stroke . His luck was proverbial, but his plucky iron nerve and good condition (he was the only player who may be said to have gone through any systematic training) were the main secrets of his success , backed up, of course, by his powerful physique and accurate and severe returns.”
(both from “Lawn Tennis” Paret as above)
From the above, I think the Lawford Stroke most closely resembled this curious shot as demonstrated by Vaile in his informative and entertainingly bitchy “Great Lawn Tennis Players” (1905):