Questions! Questions! Questions!
Yes, "Forehand Drive" is a great book, written by Mo herself, who reported on tennis for the print media after her on-court career ended. She writes very honestly about herself: her unhappy childhood, her personal insecurity and how, before the Hopmans took her under their wing, she was driven to succeed in tennis thinking that was the only way others would approve of her and she of herself.
"Strangely enough...I had no feeling of supreme confidence, not even when I was at the pinnacle of my game. I thought at times I was good; I had the knowledge my strokes were as perfect as I could make them, that I was in such superb physical condition I could run to the moon. Still, with all this, I could endow an opponent, even a first-round foe, with superhuman ability, building her game sky-high in my mind. This, I would tell myself, would be the moment when her game would blaze and I would be beaten. Undoubtedly, I attacked my weaker opponents on the court more ferociously than any other girl in the history of tennis. I 'carried' no one and this lack of confidence was the reason."
Laura Lou Jahn was mentioned in an earlier post. Mo lost to her in a junior tournament when she was 13 and was crushed by the experience and couldn't wait for their next match, which took place in the final of the US Junior Championship the next year...
"Across the court stood Laura Lou Jahn...picked by many as the most dazzling young star in tennis. A beautiful 16 year old...Laura Lou closely remembled Lana Turner. I hated her. She had beaten me at Coronado and I could still taste the bitterness of that defeat.
Laura Lou served. I broke her service and beat her in straight sets, taking exactly 42 minutes...She never had a chance. I had played this match a hundred times in my mind, and, although Teach Tennant had planned no special strategy, I took the court with total concentration...I defended my title against Laura Lou the next year and again I beat her. In all modesty, I do not believe Laura Lou could ever have beaten me, no after her Coronado triumph. That rankled for years."
Of course, all this negative energy in Mo was used to great effect by the Machiavellian Teach Tennant, who understood the impact of reserve psychology better than most, especially during the lead-up to the 51 US semi with Doris Hart....
"Here I was to meet the real champion, Doris Hart, the Wimbledon winner, the one girl in tennis whom I worshipped, who could do no wrong, and whom I wanted to emulate as person and player more than anyone else in the world. And it was here that Eleanor Tennant, certain I would be beaten, gambled boldly on devious strategy. Eleanor told Sophie Fisher [a mutual friend] that Doris, under the surface of her charm, disliked me intensely and had said: 'Maureen is a spoiled brat....I'm gunning for her...and I'm going to give her a tennis lesson'. This, of course, was a complete fabrication, and Sophie, who knew Doris, did not believe it. But she understood the motivation and knew Eleanor counted on her to tell me. For Sophie it was an extremely difficult position and hers was a hard decision to make. But she felt as Teach did that I could not beat Doris unless my hero-worship was broken. So, she told me.
No idol fell faster or with a more shattering crash than Doris Hart. I was shocked, stunned, then saw a blinding red. I phoned Teach immediately, but one galvanizing gambit wa not enough for Miss Tennant. She jolted me further by saying she was too busy to see me that evening, she couldn't car less about my prospects. She topped that off by telling me she was trying to get a reservation for a plane to Boston in the morning. I spent a storm-tossed night, but I phoned Eleanor the next morning and she agreed to see me. (The Boston trip, of course, had been as fictional as Doris's remarks.)
I hurried to see Teach, asked her if she would go with me to see Doris Hart and straighten things out. She flatly refused.
'Do you want Doris as a friend?' she asked
'Yes, I do'
'Do you want her respect?'
'There is only one way to get it. Go out and beat her this afternoon. If you do that...I will stay here and you can win the title'"
The rest, as they say, is history....
And Rollo, your reasoning behind the Wills-Mo bond was correct...
"When I met her again, I was 18 years old and had twice won the world's championship. We were in Perry Jones's office at the Los Angeles Tennis Club. Helen looked at me, smiled (!) and asked: 'Do you remember?' (How could I possibly forget!)
'But,' I lamented, 'I still have no net game'
'You don't need one', she countered. 'You can beat any net-rusher. You are the first girl, I think, since my day who has decent ground strokes.' (Believe me, I was overawed. My titles meant nothing. For me, THE CHAMPION was speaking).
'I believe,' Helen continued, 'I proved ground strokes could beat the best of the net-rushers, and you have proved it too'.
So Helen Wills probably did see a lot of herself in the young Mo: teen "killers"; doomsday groundstrokers; total competitors
And speaking of that rarest of rare things (Wills smiling), in Bud Collins' Encyclopedia of Tennis, there is a wonderful photo of Mo holding the silverware following the final of the 51 Southwest champs, flanked by May Sutton Bundy (who must have been 70'ish at the time and who still looked like she could have done 15 rounds with Jack Dempsey followed by a few sets as a cool down) and Wills, who is looking at Mo and with a lovely smile on her dial. A very cool photo.
Finally, I think Mo had more problems with slow, high balls (a la Shirley Fry) and only for a little while because from the end of 1952 she just had it all over everyone. Most "power" players prefer pace, so slow, high balls down the middle of the court can disrupt their rythym and maintaining one's patience/focus and footwork is paramount whilst working towards/waiting for a chance to open up the court. One of the best examples of this strategy in recent times was Davenport vs. Serena Williams in the 2000 US QF. Davenport "hit back" continually down the middle, with excellent depth and pace and Williams just imploded with errors trying to open up the court, especially on her backhand. I think the key is maintaining a good length to one's shots: if, during a rally down the centre, you drop your shot even an inch too short, you're finished...