Re: Little Mo if she were around today......
GRAF'S VERVE AND PLAY SUMMON UP MEMORIES OF CONNOLLY
Sunday, September 11, 1988
At 14, she was an unknown Californian who impressed tennis great Jack Kramer at the La Jolla Beach Club when she whizzed a ball past him for an early point.
''I was with a prince from India, and she was with a local pro," recalled Kramer. "It was supposed to be a friendly doubles match. I knew then she was something special."
Maureen "Mo" Connolly left an early impression with Kramer, and in a career that sounds like something out of a movie, she sizzled across the sports horizon like one of her smashing serves.
At 16, she helped the U.S. to a victory in the Wightman Cup competition, and then boldly told Ted Tinling, famed clothing designer for women's tennis stars, that he should begin making outfits for her for the tour.
"She just marched up to me and said: 'I like your clothes. I'm going to wear them,' " said Tinling.
At 17, she called a news conference while in England, announced she was firing her longtime coach, "Teach" Tennant, and then went out to become the youngest Wimbledon champion in more than 60 years.
At 18, she became the youngest as well as the first female Grand Slam winner.
At 19, after she successfully defended her French and Wimbledon crowns amid rumors of a romance with a dashing Navy officer, her playing days abruptly ended in a horseback riding accident.
She even joined Kramer as a paid spokesperson for the Wilson Sporting Goods Co. soon after her playing days came to a halt, something that was almost unheard of for a female athlete in the 1950s.
"She was way ahead of her time, all right," said Kramer at this year's U.S. Open. "Just imagine what it would've been like if there hadn't been the accident. She had a cockiness, or overbearing, that always gave you the feeling that she was in charge and you were just an onlooker.
"The minute she got off the court, she lit up. But on the court, I'm not kidding, she was a damned killer.
"It's just too bad the world really never got to know what she was like. We even saw her fight the battle of cancer."
Connolly died at 34, leaving behind two daughters and her husband, Norman Brinker, the former Navy man and U.S. Olympic equestrian competitor.
If Connolly were still with us, she'd be the toast of this year's U.S. Open in which Steffi Graf is trying to become only the third woman to win the Grand Slam in a calendar year.
Connolly's death came in June, 1969 - within a week of the birth of Graf.
Her struggle with cancer showed the same determination she displayed on the tennis court. There were three major stomach operations over a three-year period before she succumbed.
"My sister and I never knew she was dying," said Cindy Brinker, Connolly's oldest daughter. "Being the champion she was, she thought she could beat it."
Brinker said that the day before Connolly died she remembers her mother practicing an acceptance speech for an award she was to receive later in the summer.
"I'm just sick she's not here," said Cindy Brinker, who administers the Connolly-Brinker Foundation and is active in other tennis endeavors in the Dallas area. "I miss her so much. I've stayed active in the sport because it makes me feel closer to her.
"I'm following the Open breathlessly because Steffi reminds me so much of Mom."
Connolly's first Wimbledon title in 1952 may have best characterized her style both on and off the court.
The 17-year-old Connolly, fresh from winning the U.S. championships, had the British press eating from her hand as soon as she stepped off the airplane, posing for all the picture requests.
Mo went straight from the airport to an arena in London to see a boxing match. "I don't believe in strict training," she said. "Bed by 11 o'clock is early enough, and an occasional night out until 1 a.m. is all right, too."
It was at this Wimbledon that she had a much-publicized falling out with Tennant, a famed San Diego-area coach who had tutored Bobby Riggs and Alice Marble. The dispute centered on how Connolly should treat a nagging shoulder injury, and Mo horrified the English by calling a news conference to announce a split with her mentor.
In the third round, Connolly was on the brink of elimination, down 4-5 in the deciding set, with British favorite Susan Partridge one point away from match point. Mo scrambled to make it 30-all when something that sounded like a scene from "The Natural" occurred.
"At 30-all, suddenly piercing the tense silence, a young voice rang out clear and bold: 'Give 'em hell, Mo!' " she wrote in her book, "Forehand Drive."
"I stood stunned, paused, looked and saw a U.S. Air Force boy," she continued. "His face was a flash of youth, shining and glowing with friendliness. I did not know him. I had never met him. But truly, in that second, I was lifted to the heights by a stranger. I smiled and said, 'Thank you,' in a whisper."
Connolly went from that point to win the match, eventually advancing to the finals to beat Louise Brough after downing Shirley Fry in the semifinals.
When she returned to San Diego, Connolly was presented with a horse - Colonel Merryboy - in civic ceremonies arranged by the San Diego Jaycees.
Two years later, Colonel Merryboy was spooked by a truck and threw Connolly. She suffered severe leg injuries and, after several comeback tries, ended her career in 1955 at age 20.
"In a way," said Tinling, "it almost seems natural that she didn't play very long. I just wonder how anyone could've maintained her intensity for a long period of time.
"There was only one like her."