Join Date: Jan 2006
Queen Helen of Wimbledon saw defeat before the center court gallery today, looked it squarely and calmly in the eye and then came back to her throne in the finest and most courageous victory she has ever achieved since that faraway day when she first came swinging out of the West, pigtails flying, to herald the approach of the greatest woman tennis player of her time.
Mrs. Moody defeated Miss Helen Jacobs, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, and became the Wimbledon champion for the seventh time, surpassing the record of Mlle. Suzanne Lenglen and equaling that of Mrs. Dorothea Lambert Chambers, but before she had done it the other Helen had been within one point of writing a new name on the championship roll. And when at last Mrs. Moody herself came to match point, thirty games had been played, and the two girls had been on the court nearly two hours.
No women's match in the longest memory at Wimbledon ever has been fought with such grimness or presented so many tense situations. It is not likely that Miss Jacobs ever played so well before or that she will ever come so close again and fail. She staked all on her unyielding defense against Mrs. Moody's unremitting attack and, although she defended wonderfully well for an hour and a half - so well, in fact, that she saw her greatest ambition about to be realized - her defenses finally crumbled under pressure of an attack that never let up from the first game to last.
From the point of view of excitement and tenseness that held 16,000 onlookers gripped in its spell, it was Wimbledon's greatest contest, and it definitely answered the question as to whether or not Mrs. Moody is as good as ever, the question Wimbledon wanted to answer in the affirmative but was afraid to before the abdicated queen had been crowned again.
Now it may be said without hesitation that Mrs. Moody is not the player she was, but it must be added that Mrs. Moody may look Miss Wills in the eye and smile unashamed. For if Mrs. Moody is not the player the tennis world knew as Miss Wills she still is the best woman player in the game, and with Wimbledon behind her, it is not likely that she will be defeated again this year.
The two Helens walked into the arena, where the atmosphere already was beginning to get tense, exactly at 2 o'clock. Mrs. Moody, taller than her opponent and heavier, wore the familiar eyeshade, a dress that came to her knees, and a red coatee. Miss Jacobs, bare of head, wore a dark blue sweater to match the stripe in her shorts.
One thought of the long rivalry between these two leading women tennis players of the world and of their last dramatic meeting at Forest Hills, when Mrs. Moody retired at 0-3 in the third set. It was their first meeting since then. Only Miss Jacobs stood between Mrs. Moody and her ambition to stage a comeback and resume her position as the queen of the courts. Only Mrs. Moody stood between Miss Jacobs and the realization of the greatest ambition of her life - to be crowned champion at Wimbledon, an honor for which she had already fought three times in finals, only to fail.
So grim and determined did these two American girls from the same town 6,000 miles away (Berkeley, California) seem to be during the limbering up on an alien court before an alien crowd, that one felt that other things than tennis skill might decide the issue so impolrtant to both of them. It didn't seem that they were loosening up for a mere tennis match, for no game could be as grim as this one promised to be.
Imponderable and portentous factors had entered what should have been just a game of tennis between two pleasant and attractive girls. But Mrs. Moody has invested all matches in which she has participated this year with an electric thrill and this was picked up and communicated throughout the vast stands. Mrs. Moody toed the service line and every person in the stands sat forward. For the next hour and fifty minutes they were to get no relaxation from the tenseness that had gripped both players and spectators.
Receiving the first service, Miss Jacobs brought into play the chop stroke she has made her own and Mrs. Moody swung into the ball and hit for the corner. There was the story of the match given in the very first exchange. For thirty games to follow Mrs. Moody attacked and Miss Jacobs defended and each played her part superlatively well. Miss Jacobs defended as she has never done before and Mrs. Moody attacked and attacked, not as well as she has in the other years but well enough so that the finest defense she has ever met wasn't good enough to hold her. After nine games had been played she had the first set in hand and seemed beyond menace.
But Miss Jacobs, although her role was to defend, had an attacking service and she could come forward to stow the ball away when opportunity beckoned. And so Mrs. Moody, ever attacking, began to lose ground. The ball kept coming back to her with monotonous regularity, she was tempted into overhitting and Miss Jacobs had the second set by the same score. The match was squared once more. Through the second set Mrs. Moody stood in the middle of the baseline and hit, Miss Jacobs ran from corner to corner, covering miles of territory, but always throwing the ball back over the net and occasionally inserting a flat backhand drive that scored for her outright.
Toward the end of the set she began to show signs of fatigue. Crossing over, she sat for a moment on a rung of the umpire's chair and one wondered if she could last.
But Mrs. Moody didn't improve in the third set and Miss Jacobs, although tiring rapidly, was as steady as ever. Miss Jacobs, returning the ball softly to midcourt, prepared for a long rally each time the ball was put in play, ready to retrieve anything and wait for an error. Slowly, she forged ahead and suddenly one realized that Mrs. Moody was in grave danger. She was playing as well as at any time during the match, but Miss Jacobs, with insidious chops, a fine service and a defense that refused to crack, was slowly drawing away from her.
Soon Mrs. Moody faced a deficit of 5-2 and Miss Jacobs needed only one more game for the match. She was never to get it, but during the tense few minutes in which the next few games were played none in the crowd believed that Mrs. Moody had a chance any longer. But she crept up to 3-5 by careful rather than forceful play, and now Miss Jacobs came as close as she could possibly come and lose.
Mrs. Moody faced match point against Miss Jacobs, an experience she had never known in any of their previous meetings. She faced it calmly, like a champion, far more calmly than the thousands who were looking on, and when she got safely past the crisis she took command of the match and went straight out, having won five games in a row. Miss Jacobs never came to match point again, and finally Mrs. Moody needed only one point to go out.
And when Miss Jacobs had hit out for the last point Mrs. Moody permitted herself the very un-Moodylike gesture of throwing her racket into the air and dashing to put an arm around Mrs. Jacobs' shoulder. She too was tired and could not have gone on much longer.
And Wimbledon welcomed back its queen with a burst of cheering not often equaled on this court. They had been generous to Miss Jacobs, too, and felt sorry for her now, but they were glad that Queen Helen was queen again.
Wimbledon is over and its last day will live in lawn tennis history - a day when three of its finalists in successive matches were divided from a championship by only one stroke.
By winning the women's singles championship for the seventh time, Mrs. F. S. Moody has equaled the record of Mrs. Lambert Chambers. But the ex-champion, who has now removed the "ex," reigning again after a year's retirement, has, in reality, a record more glittering than that of Mrs. Chambers.
Since she first became champion in 1927, Mrs. Moody has never tasted defeat at Wimbledon. Mrs. Chambers, as champion, was beaten three times - twice by another Californian, Miss Sutton, and once in the historic challenge round of 1919 by Mlle. Lenglen. Mrs. Chambers, great player though she was, only "played through" the championship four times and won. Mrs. Moody, coming to Wimbledon after the challenge round had been abolished, "played through" and triumphed on every occasion except the first - seven times out of eight.
How she saved herself from defeat on the eighth occasion, after her match against Miss Helen Jacobs seemed to be irretrievably lost, was witnessed by 16,000 spectators, almost as worn out mentally by excitement as the players themselves. The Chambers-Lenglen match of 1919, when the King and Queen were present at the old Wimbledon, was like the Moody-Jacobs duel only in that the loser, as on Saturday, was within a stroke of victory.
Then there was the international flavor, contrasting personalities, maturing against ripening talent. Then France through its girl champion was laying siege to a British stronghold; on Saturday the competitors, leaving the same base, had traveled 12,000 miles to play on a neutral court. Then the percentage of stroke error by both players was almost negligible; the net was rarely shaken by a mistimed drive. Then, although the day was hot and the tempo always tense, both champion and challenger used the standard strokes; they were driving in rhythm one against the other.
In Saturday's match Mrs. Moody was the copybook player, Miss Jacobs the one who defied convention. It was the plain drive against the chop - almost, one might say, style against stab. In the end, despite a challenge so well sustained and so enduringly pursued as to bring Miss Jacobs within sight and hearing of the victor's haven, the orthodox game and the purer strokes were vindicated.
Courage, as Stevenson has said, respects courage, and both these girls, inspired by the intensity of the other's, revealed more of it on Saturday than I have ever seen on a lawn tennis court. Yet valor, like the other virtues, has its limitations; it was the technique of Mrs. Moody which finally triumphed.
In fluent footwork Miss Jacobs was the superior of Mrs. Moody; without this supreme asset she never could have made those wonderful redemptions in the corner that startled both the crowd and her opponent. But Miss Jacobs, with all her great agility and her unbreakable heart, had not the "happiness of style" that belonged to her adversary.
Mrs. Moody's racket was "swung through" the ball rather than "swung" at it. There was always the smooth, even movement of her shoulders, initiated by a turn of the hips; the forcing forward of the forearm and the racket to meet the ball. In the smash she had not the decision of her opponent; she did not run as fast; but in the standard strokes of the game she was the mistress.
Because of its neatness and fluency, its anatomical security, Mrs. Moody's game was less exhausting and its value vindicated in the supreme crisis. When Miss Jacobs, throwing into the battle her last reserves of stamina, came to 5-2 and then to match ball in the final set - seeming almost certain to collect the prize which her crusade deserved - it was the easier and sounder rythm of Mrs. Moody's strokes that, with less reaction in their train, saved the situation and turned defeat into victory.
To appreciate the "needle" character of Saturday's match it is necessary to grasp the close rivalry that has attended the careers of the two finalists. Before their struggle Mrs. Moody and Miss Jacobs had met eight times in two hemispheres. Always - and this fact tended to stiffen competition - they had played on courts away from their mutual home at San Francisco. Seven times, twice at Wimbledon, Miss Helen Wills or Mrs. Moody (the same person with the same calm insistence) had defeated Miss Jacobs without forfeiting a set; her superiority was acknowledged. Then, when Mrs. Moody did not defend her title of American champion at Forest Hills in 1932, Miss Jacobs assumed her mantle. It was a vicarious triumph, but the following year Mrs. Moody, wearing the Wimbledon crown, re-entered the lists. Here, Miss Jacobs thought, was her chance at last.
But the New York match of 1933 was not rounded off as both would have desired. When 3-love down in the final set, Mrs. Moody retired through physical incapacity. Miss Jacobs remained champion of America; not until two years later, until Saturday, was the test of their relative merits and their mutual quest for titles resumed.
[Helen Wills Moody] appeared next in major championship tennis in 1935 at Wimbledon. Beaten by Kay Stammers at the Beckenham tournament while she was again getting her "tournament legs," Helen had, with one exception (a three-set match against Fraulein Cepkova in the fourth round), a fairly easy time to the final of the Wimbledon meeting.
We met again, this time on an intensely hot afternoon with a slight breeze blowing. Both of us were playing well, but Helen went to a 3-0 lead in the first set before I could make much of an impression on the match. I believe she has always liked the fast Center Court turf, and she was hitting with wonderful length and great speed. The next three games to me evened the score, then Helen took the set, 6-3. The second set began with a determined net attack by Helen, surprising to anyone who had played her so often. It was only the functioning of my passing shots that enabled me to win this set, 6-3.
Up to this stage the match had not been as scintillating as our Forest Hills final of 1933. To defeat Helen once was to draw forth from her a more wary game; and having defeated her was to emphasize to the opponent the importance of taking chances at every opportunity, of playing boldly from backcourt and net, and yet of maintaining a sound defense and steadiness to match hers - a considerable challenge.
I think there was, in the beginning of the third set (which started without the ten-minute intermission that is customary in this country), some restraint in our hitting. But with the advantage of service, I was able to go to 4-2 and then, as Helen missed an easy smash, to 5-2. Helen won my service for 5-3. It was in that game that I held match point. At 30-15 in my favor, on Helen's service, a questionable sideline decision caused some delay before we could resume play. I hit a drive along Helen's forehand sideline that appeared to be in. Evidently the umpire thought it was in, but the linesman called it out. The umpire questioned the linesman, who repeated his call, and the game went on. With the score at 30-30, I won the next point to move within one point of the match. After one of the longest rallies I can remember ever having survived, Helen, out of the court on her backhand side, put up a shallow lob. The lob appeared to be headed for mid-court. I moved in to hit it, but a gust of wind caught it, pulling it in toward the net. By the time I was able to judge where it could best be hit, it was a short lob, very close to the net. I was almost on my knees for the smash, the ball hit the edge of my racket frame and rolled along the net cord before it fell onto my court.
That was really the end of the match. Though we were at 30-30 and deuce in the eleventh and twelfth games, Helen won the set at 7-5. She had made a magnificent comeback to win her seventh Wimbledon championship.
Unfortunately, some widely read members of the press reported what had been an exciting sporting test in such a manner that the so-called feud between us was the highlight of the reports. I, the loser, was represented as accepting defeat with tears in my eyes; Helen was represented as far more jubilant victor than good taste was have dictated. These reports were so contrary to the facts as to make one wonder if it is not better not to report at all than to report inaccurately. Far from having tears in my eyes after this match with Helen Moody, I had enjoyed the match, for it had been a real test of skill and staying power, of tactics and strategy and nerve. Naturally, one regrets losing any big championship final, but it seems to me an unfair commentary on the behavior of women in competitive sport that it should be necessary, in order to create reader interest, to report the loser in tears and the winner gloating.
It has been my experience during eighteen years of tournament tennis that women are no more given to tears in defeat than men, nor is their enthusiasm in victory more excessive. To claim, even facetiously, that it is, is to lessen public regard for the important place that women have achieved, against immeasurable disadvantages, in all the games that Americans, Europeans and Asiatics love to play.