"Miss Bjurstedt's Game Based on Speedy Drive," The New York Times
, 27 February 1916:
In the world of lawn tennis, Miss Molla Bjurstedt has accomplished that for which others have often striven but which none has ever before attained. She occupies a unique and envied place in the sphere of her athletic activity. Having spent less than a year and a half in this country, she is the holder of three women's national championships, a record that did not fall to the lot of even the redoubtable Mrs. May Sutton Bundy when she was at the height of her career. And more, this girl of Norway is the only foreigner to be chosen for the premier position by the ranking committee.
The last tennis year, aside from the national competitions, offered a ripe harvest of trophies to this new recruit, whose advent in to the American tennis field has proved as much of a sensation as that of the native sons and daughters of California. "Success" appears to have been the first English word she learned. She is the metropolitan champion, she won the Crescent Athletic Club invitation tournament, was first in the Pelham invitation, won the Middle States tournament, the Nyack tournament, the Tri-State, the Ohio State, and the Longwood, and this activity of lesser degree was crowned by her victories in the national events, the women's invitation at Forest Hills, the indoor at the Seventh Regiment, and the clay court at Pittsburgh. It is a record for the annals of tennis that will probably be unsurpassed for many years.
Miss Bjurstedt came to this country unheralded - almost unknown. In December, 1914, a short, sturdy girl stepped from a transatlantic liner to visit New York, and passed comparatively unknown into the confines of the big city. There was no applause for her then; she was just one of the many - but in less than three months her name was known wherever tennis is played.
Highly interested in tennis in her own Norway, she naturally inclined to that pastime when she arrived here. Some of those with whom she became acquainted told her that there was an opportunity for her to enter in the women's national indoor championship, which was to be played at the Seventh Regiment Armory. She was probably the only one to have any faith in her chances of ultimate success in the event, and even her enthusiasm was undoubtedly dimmed by subsequent happenings. The American women, when practice play began for the tournament, did not take seriously this foreigner who had entered. The good players could not see the merit of her game. The result was that Miss Bjurstedt had to get her practice as best she might, playing against the lesser lights of the women's tennis world.
After her defeat of Mrs. William Lesher in straight sets, 6-1, 6-3, there was a change. Then the many as well as the few were ready to concede that the young lady, who came here bringing with her the title of champion of Norway, was really something more than an average player, and that it might have required real merit to win the honors in her home country. There began to be talk that Miss Marie Wagner, the then champion, who was in the lower half of the draw, might be called upon to face this Norse maiden in the finals.
As Miss Bjurstedt went through succeeding rounds with unvarying success, belief became certainty, and Miss Wagner and Miss Bjurstedt were the finalists for the national indoor championship. The result of that match was a triumph for Miss Bjurstedt, and it detracts from her honors no whit to say that Miss Wagner did not measure up to her accustomed playing ability. The champion of Norway won at 6-4, 6-4 by clearly outplacing her rival. This success started her on a path of wonderful accomplishment.
If one were to ask Miss Bjurstedt how she plays tennis she would probably answer that it were better to seek the information from some one who had seen her play, rather than from herself. She is not a theorist on tennis, only a practical demonstrator of how to play the game so effectually that it is comparatively easy to win championships. She doesn't know how she does it, she just plays and plays because she likes the game. Liking the game has been a dominant factor in her success.
Not by any flight of imagination could one believe that Miss Bjurstedt was a form player. Radically she is not. It's a remarkable thing that this champion displays fault after fault, some of them glaring, and yet she is the champion. Those who make form their hobby and playing a side issue, could demonstrate at great length that Miss Bjurstedt should not be a champion. They could tell you that in many respects she is a weak player and substantiate the argument. There is only one solution, and this is that the Norse girl does so wonderfully well that which she does well at all that her strong points far outweigh the weak ones. She knows her own deficiencies in the game and she is always playing to counteract their effect.
There is one outstanding feature of her play that is evident to even the untrained eye. That is her powerful forehand drive, and on this her whole game is based. It is not the usual stroke of the woman in tennis. It is the stroke rather of the man, the man from California, or the stroke that May Sutton Bundy used so effectually.
Molla Bjurstedt has mastered the stroke and she has become an adept, not only in making the drive, but in making it go to just the particular point that she wishes. She can play it to within an inch of the baseline and nick the corners as well as if the tennis ball followed a groove. Having played for twelve years on the open and covered courts of Norway, the champion has had ample opportunity to develop this drive to perfection, and it was this feature of her play that carried her through to the indoor championship of this country. She had no other asset of importance.
Realizing her inadequacies, she determined to develop her backhand, and this she has succeeded in doing until it is one of her valued strokes. After seeing her forehand drive there are those who call her backhand weak, but it is weak only by comparison. There is not the power that is developed with the forehand, but the stroke measures up to a high degree of excellence, better than that of almost any of the other players she will have to meet in any of the championship events this year.
One feature of Miss Bjurstedt's play that makes her formidable is a natural agility. She can cover the court with the freedom and ease of a man. She seems to be everywhere at once and far outclasses the other women players in this particular. If there is something of the grace of the finished tennis player lacking, Miss Bjurstedt does not mind. Her one object is to get the ball back over the net and it is seldom that she loses on long rallies. To her opponents it seems that the ball is eternally popping back at them until at last they are passed or forced into an error.
Those who watched R. Lindley Murray in the recent indoor tournament at the Seventh Regiment were impressed with the manner in which he went after everything, never conceding that he had been passed, until the ball had actually passed out of play. It is characteristic of the California type of tennis and it must also be a characteristic of Norwegian tennis, for Miss Bjurstedt plays with the same degree of energy. Most women tennis players are prone to be somewhat lackadaisical, conceding the point without too much effort, if it looks to be out of range. But not so with the Norwegian. She tries for everything and many a point that would be scored against a less ambitious player is saved by her.
Probably one reason for this difference is the fact that Miss Bjurstedt has wonderful endurance. Apparently she is tireless in playing the game and she does not have to conserve her strength as some others have to do if they are to meet with any success. In any case endurance turns out to be a big asset in favor of the Norse girl. No one has ever seen her thoroughly exhausted after playing a hard match. Fatigue is one English word to which she has not been introduced.
After recounting her good points, it may well be asked what are her weak points. First among them must be considered service. In this line Miss Bjurstedt is distinctly feminine. She has no service worth speaking of under that name. Service to her, instead of meaning a twist or a hard fast ball, is simply a method of beginning the play. The ball is almost lobbed over the net. There is little propelling force behind the racquet. Instead of the swift stroke far above the head on the descending ball, Miss Bjurstedt almost pushes the ball away from her, rather than striking at it. It seems strange that a woman with such a terrific drive should be so weak in this point of the game. In playing the drive she does it as the Californians do, taking the ball as it rises instead of as it descents after the bound. The racquet for this stroke is never more than shoulder high, and seldom that.
But for the serve there must be a shoulder stroke and Miss Bjurstedt cannot swing the racquet with that motion. Hence she can't serve. A strong forearm is handled by a shoulder weakness, and her entire overhead game suffers. It may be for this reason that Miss Bjurstedt plays a deep court game, seldom making the run for the net to kill. She can't kill any more than she can serve. What she does do in the case of a short lob is to place it almost by laying her racquet against the ball, never driving down on it. And this is many times a successful mode of attack when she is at the net.
Miss Bjurstedt is not the best tennis strategist among women players, perhaps not quite so good as May Sutton Bundy, the only player of similar force with whom she may fairly be compared. However, stratgegy is part of her game; she relies on outguessing her opponent and often does it successfully.
If one were to ask Miss Bjurstedt on what particular features of her game she most depends, she would probably say speed first - and the second point would be placement. Perfect in both of these elements, they make her the strongest player of the game among the women, with the possible exception of Mrs. Bundy, many times champion. These two met during this Winter in three matches played in California and Mrs. Bundy was strong enough to win two of them, while Miss Bjurstedt took the other. All were hard fought, closely contested events, and in a measure not conclusive as to the relative merit of the two, Mrs. Bundy, it is believed, will come East this Summer, and in that case the question of superiority will undoubtedly be settled conclusively.
It is generally true that natural ability is attributed to every champion, no matter what may be the line of athletic endeavor. Sometimes it is actually the case, and with reference to Miss Bjurstedt there seems to be little doubt. She has a natural aptitude for the game, believing in it not alone as a pastime, but as a health-giving exercise.
She started playing in her native city of Christiania [now known as Oslo] in 1903 as a member of the Christiania Lawn Tennis Club. At the start of her career she took a few lessons from a professional, thus getting the fundamentals of the game. A year later she played in her first tournament, and won. Every opportunity for play found her on a tennis court, and she determined that, as she liked the sport, she would apply herself to becoming a good player. From 1903 to 1915 she played regularly and won constantly. For ten years she was the champion of Norway. Then came the lure of greater conquest, and she visited the United States, with the success that has been recounted.
For tennis in her own country she has not a very high regard. There are few good players, according to her estimate; in fact, it is said that she could defeat most of the men. There was, however, one constant in Norway who could give her a hard battle, and this was her younger sister, Valborg Bjurstedt. The two played together a great deal, and the younger girl displayed almost as high a degree of skill as Miss Molly Bjurstedt.
Within a few weeks the women's national indoor championship will be constested at the Seventh Regiment Armory, and Miss Bjurstedt will endeavor to clain anew the title which was the first which she won in this country. She will probably play in the other national events, but is not certain that her tournament competition will be as general as it was last season.