Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan and Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills -
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Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan and Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills

The complete title of this thread is: Two Invincible Women’s Doubles Teams – Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan and Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills

By Mark Ryan

Part I: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan

They were not quite invincible because they lost the final of the first tournament they ever played in together. This was in late February 1913, at the Monte Carlo (Condamine) tournament, where Suzanne Lenglen and Elizabeth Ryan entered the handicap doubles event and lost the final match to the unheralded English pair of O. Ranson and M. Stuart whose first names are not known. The score was 6-3, 2-6, 7-5.

At this point in time Suzanne Lenglen was still thirteen years of age. In a photograph taken of the four finalists Suzanne is standing between Elizabeth Ryan and one of the English players. Either O. Ranson or M. Stuart has placed her arm around Suzanne’s shoulder in what might be a motherly gesture. Given the difference in age, any one of the other three women might be Suzanne’s mother. Yet, young as she was, Suzanne was already displaying the prodigious talent that would see her becoming the best tennis player in the world.

In the same photograph a rather stout-looking Elizabeth Ryan is smiling and looking as jovial as she often did. Since much more is known about Suzanne Lenglen than about Elizabeth Ryan, it might be worth having a closer look at Elizabeth Ryan’s early life and career. The Condamine tournament was one of the first tournaments Elizabeth Ryan ever played on the French Riviera. In the spring of 1912, their mother, Matilda Ryan (née Brooks) had brought Elizabeth and her elder sister Alice to London. Mrs Ryan’s first husband and their father, Francis Ryan, who appears to have been born in England, had died in 1898, leaving the family comfortably off after making shrewd investments in land. Mrs Ryan, a native of California, later remarried, but this second marriage was not a success. Its failure and her desire for a fresh start were probably the main motivating factors in her decision to move to England with her two daughters.

Elizabeth Ryan had been born in Anaheim, a suburb of Los Angeles, on February 8, 1892, fifteen months after the birth of her sister Alice. It appears that the Ryan family moved to Santa Monica shortly after Elizabeth’s birth and it was in that city that the two sisters first began to play tennis, hitting balls to each other on the pavement in front of the family home. In 1906, when Elizabeth was fourteen and Alice fifteen, they took part in open tennis tournaments for the first time, on the west coast of the United States and Canada.

In the early summer of 1906, Elizabeth won what was probably her first singles title in what might have been the first tournament she ever played, the British Columbia Championships, held in Vancouver, Canada. In the final she beat Marion Pitts who appears to have been Canadian; the score is not known. Elizabeth and Alice also won the doubles title.

One week later Elizabeth played at the Pacific Northwest Championships in Tacoma, Washington and, again, won the singles title and the doubles with her sister Alice. Elizabeth also won the mixed doubles event with one J.A. Rithet, whose first name is not known. Thus at one of the first tournaments she ever played Elizabeth set a pattern which would be repeated many times throughout her long tennis career whereby she would frequently win the singles, doubles and mixed titles at tournaments she took part in.

In 1907, Elizabeth played in several more tournaments up and down the west coast of North America. At the Ojai Valley tournament, held in California in early spring, Elizabeth won the doubles event with Florence Sutton and the mixed with Simpson Sinasbaugh. Florence Sutton was a member of the family that had produced four tennis champions, including May, the youngest and best, who would win her second Wimbledon singles title later in the 1907 season.

The Sutton sisters – Violet, Ethel, Florence and May – were the dominant force in American tennis at this point in time even though they rarely played on the east coast, where the United States Championships were held. The Sutton girls had all been born in the British Isles, but were raised in California. Their supremacy went unquestioned in California for many years until the emergence of Hazel Hotchkiss who became the first player other than a Sutton to beat a Sutton.

By 1907, Hazel Hotchkiss was already a force in singles. In the summer of that year Elizabeth Ryan played and lost to her in the final of both the Mainland Championships in Vancouver, Canada, and the Pacific Northwest Championships in Tacoma, Washington. There was consolation for Elizabeth when she won the doubles and mixed doubles titles at both tournaments.

In 1908, Elizabeth Ryan continued to enjoy success at tournaments held on the west coast of the United States. During that year’s tennis season, she played the doubles event at a number of tournaments with May Sutton, the dominant figure in American tennis in the years 1900-12. The fact that May Sutton was her partner for much of this year is an indication of the esteem Elizabeth was already being held in by her contemporaries. Together, they won the doubles title at the tournaments held in Long Beach, Venice (California), the Southern California Championships (also held in Long Beach, in mid-summer) and at the prestigious Pacific Coast Championships, which in 1908 were held in Monterey.

The Pacific Coast Championships tournament tended to attract the top players from the east coast of the United States and was therefore probably Elizabeth’s biggest tournament win in doubles to date. She appears not to have had much success in singles events in 1908, but the Suttons sisters, Hazel Hotchkiss and another rising Californian player, Mary K. Browne, were superior to Elizabeth in singles at that point in time. (It is worth remembering that Elizabeth was only sixteen years of age in 1908.)

In 1909, Elizabeth enjoyed more success in west coast tournaments, taking the singles title at the Ocean Park Country Club tournament, held in Santa Monica in late June; at this tournament she beat Alice Scott 6-1, 6-1 in the final. This year Alice Ryan also enjoyed some success on the same circuit, reaching the final of the singles event at the Pacific Northwest Championships, held in Tacoma, Washington. In the final Alice lost easily to Hazel Hotchkiss. It is clear that Alice Ryan did not play in as many tournaments as her younger sister and that she was not as talented as Elizabeth.

Elizabeth’s last appearance in 1909 probably came at the tournament held at the end of November at the Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles, where she lost in an early round of the singles event to Mary K. Browne. After this tournament it is difficult to trace Elizabeth’s movements until her arrival in England in the spring of 1912. She appears not to have played in any tournaments at all in the years 1910 and 1911, although this might not have been the case. Alice Ryan took part in the tournament held in Long Beach, California, in late February 1912, but Elizabeth appears not to have done so. The sisters and their mother would have left for England not long after the end of this tournament.

It is next possible to trace Elizabeth when she appears at the 1912 Surrey Championships tournament, held in Surbiton in late May. For many years this tournament was the main grass court opener in England and usually attracted a good field. In her first ever tournament appearance outside of North America Elizabeth lost in the second round of the open singles event to the capable English player Winifred McNair; the score was 6-4, 7-5. Elizabeth and Alice made it to the third round of the doubles event before losing 6-1, 6-1 to the eventual champions, the Englishwomen Ethel Larcombe and Winifred Longhurst.

In the handicap singles event at the Surrey Championships Elizabeth reached the quarter-final before losing to a Hazel Harper of England, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. Elizabeth enjoyed her greatest success in the mixed doubles handicap where she reached the semi-final with the Canadian Robert Powell. At that stage they were beaten by the unheralded pair of V. Hill and Miss Willis, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2. In later years Elizabeth was to say, ‘Before Surbiton we had never seen a grass court,’ so it is clear that the Surbiton tournament was the first grass court tournament in which she ever played.

Elizabeth’s success at the Surrey Championships was noted in the British publication “Lawn Tennis and Badminton” on June 6, 1912: “A newcomer, Miss E. Ryan, of California, made a successful appearance in English tournaments. She was only just beaten by Mrs McNair in the open singles at Surbiton and reached the semi-final of the mixed doubles handicap. Her style of play is strongly reminiscent of Miss May Sutton – she volleys well and has an American reverse service which really breaks. It is to be hoped that she will often be seen in tournaments this year.”

Elizabeth would indeed often be seen in British tournaments in 1912. At only her second tournament, the modest Stratford-on-Avon meeting held just after the Surrey Championships, she took the singles, doubles and mixed titles, albeit in the three handicap events. Of these victories she later said, ‘We were so bad that at Stratford they gave us big handicaps and we won everything. Some of the other women were furious.’

Alice Ryan was Elizabeth’s partner in the handicap doubles event at Stratford; she won the mixed doubles handicap with the English player Arnold Hershcell. According to “Lawn Tennis and Badminton” of June 27, 1912: “Miss E. Ryan, of California, is evidently becoming more accustomed to English conditions. She won three first prizes at Stratford… She is a most cheery player and has become very popular in lawn tennis circles.”

In “100 Years of Wimbledon”, (first published 1977), Lance Tingay states that, in addition to the Surrey Championships in Surbiton and the Stratford-on-Avon tournament, “In 1912, Miss Ryan also played at tournaments in Liverpool, Malton, Wimbledon, Warwick, Winchester, Nottingham, Edgbaston, Lincoln, Tunbridge Wells, Saxmundham, Felixstowe, Scarborough, Colchester, Chichester, Dinard [in France], Eastbourne and Hythe – 19 tournaments in all.”

Elizabeth’s first win in an open event in Great Britain came at the 1912 Malton tournament, held from June 20-22, just before Wimbledon. At Malton Elizabeth won the mixed doubles title with J.P. Medley who appears to have been an English player. In the final they beat M.D. Hick and K. Aitchison 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.

In 1912, on her debut at Wimbledon, Elizabeth had a bye in the first round of the singles event before beating the Belgian Jeanne Liebrechts in the second round, 7-5, 6-3, and D. Allen, probably an English player, 6-1, 6-2, in the third round to reach the quarter-final. In her next match Elizabeth played the Englishwoman Blanche Hillyard (née Bingley), six times a Wimbledon singles champion in the years 1886-1900, but now almost fifty years of age. In their match Elizabeth started well, taking the first set and reaching match point in the second, but the greater experience of Blanche Hillyard eventually saw her through by the score of 3-6, 8-6, 6-3.

According to “Lawn Tennis and Badminton” of July 4, 1912: “Mrs Hillyard accomplished another good performance by passing into the last four at the expense of Miss Ryan. The American lady won the first set, baffling Mrs Hillyard considerably by short chop shots and an aggressive service, but Mrs Hillyard was equal to any amount of running about, and her steadiness prevailed in the end, though it was a close call in the second set. The contrast in style was very interesting, Miss Ryan’s methods being singularly like those of May Sutton…”

At her first Wimbledon Elizabeth also played in the mixed doubles event where she and her partner F. Good lost 6-1, 6-0 in the first round to R.W.F. Harding and Miss D. Allen (Elizabeth beat the latter player in the third round of the singles event at the same tournament).

Elizabeth’s first win in an open women’s doubles event in Great Britain came at the 1912 Saxmundham event, held from August 5-7. There she and her English partner Agnes Morton beat the unheralded pair of Mrs Harrison/G. Oxlade 6-1, 6-1 in the final. (Because a player’s first name was not usually published even in sporting publications in the early days of tennis it has not been possible to find a number of players’ first names. A number of female players’ maiden names are also unknown due to the usual policy of not mentioning these in published sources after a particular player has married.)

The 1912 Saxmundham tournament is significant for another reason, namely because Elizabeth won her first singles title in Great Britain at this particular tournament. However, she had to share the title with the other finalist because, due to bad weather, the final could not be played. The other finalist was Agnes Morton, Elizabeth’s partner in the women’s doubles event at the same tournament, and a player with whom she would enjoy her most significant success in women’s doubles before Elizabeth’s partnership with Suzanne Lenglen began to blossom.

Elizabeth won her first individual singles title in Great Britain at the Essex Championships tournament, held in Colchester the week after the Saxmundham tournament. In the singles final at this tournament Elizabeth beat J. Coles, who was probably an English player, 6-3, 6-4.

A few weeks after the Essex Championships Elizabeth travelled across the English Channel to Dinard, in Brittany on the north-west coast of France. Since the early 1890s, the resort of Dinard had been the venue for a tennis tournament particularly popular with English players. The 1912 edition marked the first time Elizabeth Ryan ever took part in a tournament in Continental Europe and possibly the first time she had ever played in a tournament held on clay.

In Dinard, Elizabeth reached the final of the singles event before losing 6-2, 6-3 to Agnes Morton, with whom she teamed up to win the doubles event (Elizabeth’s first title in an open tournament in Continental Europe), beating the English pair of Doris Craddock and V. Fitter in the final, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. In the mixed doubles event Elizabeth and her partner, the veteran Englishman Frank Riseley, lost to Robert Powell and Agnes Morton 6-4, 6-4.

In 1913, Elizabeth Ryan enjoyed continued and increasing success at tennis tournaments both in Great Britain and in Continental Europe. For many years London would be Elizabeth’s base. It is clear that she intended to stay in England after the initial move to London by the Ryan family in the spring of 1912. (Alice Ryan’s name disappears completely from tournament records after the summer of 1912.)

In early February 1913, at the tournament in Beaulieu, a village located on the French Riviera, between Nice and Monte Carlo, Elizabeth won her first singles title in Continental Europe, beating the Englishwoman M. Towler 6-2, 6-1 in the final. This was probably also Elizabeth’s first singles title in a clay court event. At the same tournament she won the mixed doubles title with the Austrian Count Ludwig von Salm; in the final they beat the English pair of Arthur Wallis Myers (then the lawn tennis correspondent of “The Field” sports magazine, editor of “Ayres’ Lawn Tennis Almanack” and author of a number of books on lawn tennis) and Miss Towler 6-2, 6-2. This victory was Elizabeth’s first in a mixed doubles event in Continental Europe.

Three weeks later, at the Monte Carlo (Condamine) tournament, Elizabeth lost in the final of the singles event to the Englishwoman Madeline O’Neill, 6-3, 8-6, but won the mixed doubles event with the great New Zealander Tony Wilding; they beat Arthur Wallis Myers and his compatriot J. Tripp in the final, 6-4, 6-3. It was at this tournament that Elizabeth and Suzanne Lenglen teamed up for the first time, in the doubles handicap.

Suzanne Lenglen had been competing in a small number of tournaments during the past year or so, in both handicap and open events. Later in the 1913 season she would win her first singles title in an open event, at the Picardy Championships tournament held in Compiègne in mid-May, on the eve of Suzanne’s fourteenth birthday. By the end of the year Suzanne had added a number of other singles titles, and some in mixed doubles, to this first tournament victory.

After teaming up to play at the 1913 Monte Carlo (Condamine) tournament, Elizabeth and Suzanne did not play together again until the 1914 World Hard Court Championships, held in Saint Cloud, Paris, from May 29-June 8. However, in the interim they had met in singles, at the 1914 edition of the Monte Carlo (Condamine) tournament. In the quarter-finals of this tournament Elizabeth beat Suzanne 6-3, 6-4. This would be the only loss Suzanne would suffer against Elizabeth in circa eighteen meetings in singles events.

Elizabeth and Suzanne had also faced each other across the net in the final of mixed doubles event at the 1914 Carlton Club (Second Meeting) tournament, held in Cannes in early April. In this match Elizabeth and the Frenchman Max Decugis beat Suzanne and the Australian Alfred Dunlop 7-5, 7-9, 6-2. In later years, despite her supremacy in singles, Suzanne would sometimes be vulnerable in a women’s doubles or mixed doubles match when not paired with a player close to her class. Max Decugis and Elizabeth were an excellent combination.

Suzanne Lenglen, who was born on May 24, 1899, turned fifteen just before the start of the 1914 World Hard Court Championships. At this tournament, first held in 1912 and considered by many experts to be the precursor to the French Championships (now the French Open), Suzanne won the singles event, her biggest title to date. In the final she beat her compatriot Germaine Golding 6-2, 6-1. After this tournament Suzanne would lose only one more completed three-set match in her whole career (to her countrywoman Marguerite Broquedis at the 1914 Closed French Championships, held soon after the World Hard Court Championships).

Together with Elizabeth Ryan, Suzanne also won the women’s double event at the 1914 World Hard Court Championships. In the final they beat the French twins Suzanne and Blance Amblard by the revealing score of 6-0, 6-0. This match was played late on a day that had seen several rain delays, but the outcome cannot really have been in doubt.

Suzanne also featured in the mixed doubles final at the 1914 World Hard Court Championships, but in this event the combination of Elizabeth Ryan and Max Decugis proved far too strong for Suzanne and Count Ludwig von Salm, who were beaten 6-3, 6-1.

Suzanne and Elizabeth probably did not play much together before World War I because many of the Riviera tournaments (and tournaments elsewhere) did not then include open doubles events for women. With one exception – the 1925 Cromer Covered tournament – Suzanne did never played in tournaments in Great Britain outside of Wimbledon, while Elizabeth Ryan did not play on the Riviera in early 1919 after tennis had tournaments resumed there following the end of World War I the previous November. This meant that the next tournament at which Suzanne and Elizabeth played together was the 1919 Wimbledon tournament.

During World War I, Suzanne Lenglen had continued to improve her game, in particular by practising against male players. She also played in a number of matches for charity. At the war’s end she was still only nineteen years old. It is not known how Elizabeth Ryan spent World War I. Its outbreak had come a few months after she had won her first Wimbledon title, the 1914 women’s doubles event, with Agnes Morton. In the final they had beaten the English pair of Edith Hannan and Ethel Larcombe, 6-1, 6-3. According to “Lawn Tennis and Badminton” of July 11, 1914: “Miss Morton and Miss Ryan deservedly won the ladies’ doubles. Miss Morton was much better than Miss Hannam and Mrs Larcombe, who had little to do, but was outshone by Miss Ryan’s splendid play. Her net work was wonderful, and she poached in a most disconcerting manner. Rushing to and fro close to the net with tremendous energy, she killed nearly every ball she reached and was seldom in the wrong place.”

When tennis tournaments began again after the war, Elizabeth Ryan was thus the defending champion in the women’s doubles event at the 1919 Wimbledon. It appears that Agnes Morton had stop playing competitive tennis by that time. Even if she had not, it is likely that Elizabeth would still have paired with Suzanne Lenglen.

The 1919 Wimbledon tournament was epoch-making because it ushered in the modern era in women’s tennis, personified by Suzanne Lenglen, who won the singles title there for the first time in that year. Due to her modern clothing, magnetic personality and brilliant all-court game – she could play equally well from the baseline or at the net – women’s tennis would never be the same again. In the Challenge Round at that year’s Wimbledon she beat the defending champion, the Englishwoman Dorothea Lambert Chambers, 10-8, 4-6, 9-7 after saving two match points in the final set.

Dorothea Lambert Chambers, seven times a Wimbledon singles champion in the years 1903-1914, was essentially a baseliner with an excellent forehand and a great match temperament. Although no prude, she still followed the conventions of behaviour and dress that had been in force since before World War I. Aged forty at the time of the 1919 Wimbledon Challenge Round, she was, like so many of her contemporaries, a throwback to an earlier period almost Victorian in its respectability. In contrast, Suzanne Lenglen was a breath of fresh air.

In the women’s doubles final at the 1919 Wimbledon Suzanne Lenglen and Dorothea Lambert Chambers met again, with Mrs Lambert Chambers being partnered by Ethel Larcombe, who had won the Wimbldeon singles title in 1912. Rather unusually, Mrs Larcombe was a skilful volleyer (she won many All England badminton titles in a dual career) and, when playing with Mrs Lambert Chambers, would take the net position. At the time of the 1919 Wimbledon Ethel Larcombe was also forty, but despite their combined ages, they put up a great battle against Suzanne Lenglen, then aged twenty, and Elizabeth Ryan, who was twenty-seven. The final score was 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.

The following report on the match comes from “Lawn Tennis and Badminton” of July 17, 1919:

“Miss Ryan annexed a second championship in winning the ladies’ doubles with Mlle Lenglen. They had no difficulty in reaching the final, where they encountered Mrs Lambert Chambers and Mrs Larcombe, who had had an equally easy passage.

“The final produced a great fight in which Mrs Lambert Chambers, for the second time in a week, held a championship almost within her grasp only to have it snatched from her.

“The losers were a set up and 3-0 and then 5-4 and 30-0. Miss Ryan and Mlle Lenglen are a very difficult pair to play. Miss Ryan prefers being at the net to the baseline, but Mlle Lenglen doesn’t seem to mind where she plays. She is quick enough to go back for lobs when they are both at the net. This has always been the difficulty with two lady volleyers – if one is lobbed the other cannot get back in time. But in this case it had to be a very fine lob which would beat them both. Both these players, too, are very good at taking overhead balls some way back in the court. It is the first time two lady volleyers have played together with any success, and it shows what can be done in this way if only the players are good enough overhead and quick enough to get back.

“The credit of winning the match belonged chiefly to Mlle Lenglen. She never made a mistake from start to finish, and extricated her partner from awkward positions many a time. Miss Ryan was severe and energetic, but made mistakes, especially in the first set.

“Mrs Larcombe did some wonderful picking up of smashes and volleyed with her accustomed delicacy, but she was not severe enough against a player of Mlle Lenglen’s agility. Mrs Lambert Chambers drove well and lobbed steadily from the back of the court.”

It is clear from this report that one of the decisive factors in the Franco-American victory was the greater variety in Elizabeth’s and, especially, Suzanne’s game. The English pair had to rely on a “one up” (Mrs Larcombe)/ “one back” (Mrs Lambert Chambers) formation, while Elizabeth and, especially, Suzanne were comfortable playing either on the baseline or at the net. The sight of two women playing up at the net was something relatively new, though this would not be the case for much longer. (There would be a similar change, too, in mixed doubles, where the man tended to take the net position while the woman drove or lobbed from the back of the court. Since the dawn of lawn tennis the attacking game in general had been associated almost exclusively with men.)

The 1919 Wimbledon doubles title was just the second title up until that point for the Lenglen/Ryan combination in what was their second open event following the 1914 World Hard Court Championships. The loss of a set in the 1919 Wimbledon final was significant because it was one of only two they would lose in completed three-set matches over the next six years until the 1925 Wimbledon tournament, when their partnership effectively ended. Although both Suzanne and Elizabeth played doubles with other partners and mixed doubles with various partners, they were never quite as dominantly successful with anyone else than with each other. With Elizabeth, Suzanne was as invincible in doubles as Suzanne was by herself in singles.

They tended to play together early in the season, in the Riviera tournaments where, after World War I, Suzanne never lost a set in singles and tended to win most of her singles matches with the loss of just one or two, if any, games. The Lenglen/Ryan doubles wins were also notable for the number of 6-1 or 6-0 sets they captured, and not just in the early rounds of the event.

Only once did they play in a tournament outside of France or Wimbledon, namely in 1922, when they teamed up for the World Hard Court Championships, which that year were held in mid-May at the Leopold Club in Brussels, Belgium. In the singles final Suzanne beat Elizabeth 6-3, 6-2 and in the doubles final they teamed up to beat the English pair of Kathleen McKane and Geraldine Beamish 6-0, 6-4. The English pair were world-class, but still no match for Franco-American combination. (In the semi-finals of the singles event at the same tournament Kathleen McKane had played Suzanne and managed to reach double set point at 5-4, 40-15 before Suzanne’s steadiness and superiority reasserted themselves; she eventually won the match 10-8, 6-2.)

Later in the 1922 season, after retaining their Wimbledon doubles title at the newly-opened grounds in Church Road, Suzanne and Elizabeth teamed up in early September at the Le Touquet (First Meeting) tournament, held in that resort on the far north-west coast of France. This was the only time Suzanne and Elizabeth ever teamed up after the Wimbledon tournament. In the final at Le Touquet they had a walkover against the veteran English pair of Mrs B. Armstrong and Aurea Edgington.

In that Le Touquet (First Meeting) tournament Suzanne scratched from the singles event at the semi-final stage, giving Edith Hannam a walkover. In the final Elizabeth Ryan beat Edith Hannam 6-3, 6-0. Suzanne had apparently been indisposed at the time she was due to play her singles semi-final but, in addition to the women’s doubles event, nevertheless also managed to win the mixed doubles title in partnership with her compatriot Roger Danet. In the final they beat Gordon Lowe of England and Elizabeth, 7-5, 6-1.

According to certain sources, Suzanne was dating Roger Danet at this point in time and there were even rumours of an engagement, but as with so much concerning Suzanne it is not possible to verify whether these rumours contained any truth or not. In her adult life she was “linked” with several men, including fellow French tennis players Pierre Albarran and Antoine “Coco” Gentien, but few, if any, photographs of Suzanne with any of these men exist and, more often than not, she was accompanied at tournaments by one or both of her parents even after she turned professional in 1926, at the age of twenty-seven.

The 1922 Le Touquet (First Meeting) tournament marked Suzanne and Elizabeth’s fourteenth win as a pair, with still just that one set lost in the 1919 Wimbledon final to Dorothea Lambert Chambers and Ethel Larcombe. In 1923, they played together at six tournaments, winning all of them, including a fifth consecutive Wimbledon title (a feat no other pair has since managed to equal). However, earlier in the season, at the Monte Carlo Championships, held at La Festa, Monaco, in late February/early March, the unthinkable had almost happened.

Having annihilated Dorothea Lambert Chambers, then aged forty-four, and Kathleen McKane a few weeks earlier in the final of the Carlton Club tournament in Cannes – the score was 6-0, 6-1 – the same two pairs met again in the final of the same event at the La Festa tournament. This time the English pair won not only more than one game, but also managed to win a set and even led 4-3 in the final set before their opponents managed to turn things around, eventually winning 6-1, 3-6, 6-4.

The following report on this match, probably written by Arthur Wallis Myers, was carried in the 1924 edition of “Ayres’ Almanack”:

“So far as quality went the best match of the week was the final of the ladies’ doubles, in which Mlle Lenglen and Miss Ryan found themselves in the quite unfamiliar position of being led 4-3 in the final set. Never before since they became [Wimbledon] champions had they lost a set, but the feat of Miss McKane and Mrs Lambert Chambers was not due to any fortuitous circumstances, but to really brilliant play. They were aided in the last game of this [second] set by two double faults by Miss Ryan, but they had worked up gallantly to this episode.

“Mrs Lambert Chambers showed how much she has advanced as a volleyer by smashing the lobs of her opponents into winning zones, while she made many low volleys of first class quality. Also her oblique drives past the champion’s backhand, when Mlle Lenglen was expecting a centre drive, influenced the capture of the set; another factor was Miss McKane’s backhand down the line – she brought it off repeatedly to win important rallies.

“Leading 5-4 in the final set, Mlle Lenglen was serving and went to 40-15. Brilliantly the English pair pulled up to deuce. At ‘vantage Mlle Lenglen served a ball to Miss McKane which the latter evidently deemed to be a fault. The opinion was shared by many spectators and thus a great match ended a little unfortunately.

“Never before on the Riviera (nor for that matter in England) had there been such a high quality ladies’ double. All four competitors, with the possible exception of Miss Ryan, were at their best, and it was a great personal triumph for Mrs Lambert Chambers, who had first won the [Wimbledon] championship twenty years ago, to be on a parity with the other three.”

Although Elizabeth Ryan seemed to be somewhat off her game, the excellent all-round play of Kathleen McKane is evident from this report. It also sounds somewhat ironic that the forty-four-year-old Dorothea Lambert Chambers was still managing to improve her game and had mastered the volley!

This was the second and last time that the Lenglen/Ryan combination would lose a set in open competition. Even the following year, 1924, when Suzanne’s season was curtailed by illness, she and Elizabeth Ryan managed to win seven doubles titles together, including the Riviera Championships in Mentone, the South of France Championships in Nice, the Cote d’Azur Championships in Cannes and the Cannes Championships in the same town.

The 1924 Wimbledon tournament was unusual for several reasons. For one, both Suzanne Lenglen and the young American champion Helen Wills, who would eventually be as invincible in singles as Suzanne, both entered the singles event, but neither of them won it. In addition, after winning her first three singles matches 6-0, 6-0 to reach the quarter-finals (the most overwhelming start ever in that event), Suzanne almost lost her next match, which was against Elizabeth Ryan. After winning this match Suzanne would withdraw from all three events (in the doubles she and Elizabeth Ryan had reached the quarter-finals, while in the mixed doubles Suzanne and her compatriot Jean Borotra had reached the same stage). The beneficiaries of Suzanne’s withdrawal were, in the doubles event, Hazel Wightman and Helen Wills, and in the mixed doubles event, the British combination of Max Woosnam and Phyllis Covell.

Although playing in much fewer events than the Lenglen/Ryan pairing, the Wightman/Wills combination would also remain unbeaten in open competition in the years they played together (1923-28). One of the “What ifs?” thrown up by the 1924 Wimbledon tournament is, what if Suzanne and Elizabeth had played Hazel Wightman and Helen Wills in the quarter-finals of the doubles event – who would have won? The answer is more than likely that Suzanne and Elizabeth would have beaten the thirty-seven-year-old Hazel and the young (eighteen-year-old) Helen who, although a capable doubles player, was not in the same class as Suzanne or Elizabeth when it came to play at the net. In addition, Hazel Wightman had been one of Suzanne’s victims in the singles event and the former’s inability to win a game from Suzanne indicates that the latter knew how to handle her game.

Suzanne’s withdrawal from all three events meant that, for the first time since 1913, Elizabeth Ryan would not win a Wimbledon title because she and the Australian-born Randolph Lycett, the defending champions, had lost a close match (6-4, 1-6, 8-6) in the second round of the mixed doubles event to the eventual champions, the Englishman John Gilbert and Kathleen McKane, who would beat Helen Wills in a memorable singles final at the same tournament.

Some observers argued that Suzanne should have withdrawn before her singles quarter-final with Elizabeth Ryan, thereby giving her doubles partner a chance to go on and win this title. However, the related evidence does not help to back up this argument. After all, in sixteen attempts, Elizabeth reached the final match at Wimbledon only twice, in 1921, when Suzanne beat her 6-2, 6-0 and in 1930, when Elizabeth was thirty-eight, and Helen Wills Moody beat her 6-2, 6-2. In later life Elizabeth’s main plaint was that she had never been able to win a singles title at either Wimbledon or the United States Championships, mainly because she played during the Lenglen and Wills (Moody) eras.

There is some truth in this complaint, but in reality she never had a better chance to beat the adult Suzanne, if not to win the whole tournament, than at the 1924 Wimbledon when she played an out-of-form Suzanne in the quarter-finals. Suzanne won this match 6-2, 6-8, 6-4. It was notable for its closeness and for the fact that Suzanne lost a set in singles for the first time since her encounter with Molla Mallory in the second round of the 1921 United States Championships at Forest Hills, where Suzanne had retired with the score 6-2, 30-0 in the Norwegian-born player’s favour. The only other time the adult Suzanne had lost a set in singles was to Dorothea Lambert Chambers in the Challenge Round of the 1919 Wimbledon tournament.

The following report on this singles match was more than likely written by Eustratius Emmanuel Mavrogordato; it was carried in the London “Times” on July 1, 1924. This report shows not only how close Elizabeth Ryan came to causing a huge upset, but also how the refusal of a supreme champion to lose meant that Suzanne, not playing at her best, still managed to win the match:

“Miss Ryan’s set

“Honours were divided, for Mlle Lenglen has not lost a set in a Single at Wimbledon since the match in which she won her Championship in 1919. On the day there was nothing to choose between the two players in lawn tennis; Miss Ryan has never played so well in any match that I have seen. Wimbledon knows well the spurt with which Miss Ryan takes points one after another, and that is enough to enable her to win matches against all but one or two players and to run those players hard. But she is so enterprising and aggressive that she is apt to drop points in series now and again in a long match when her luck is out.

“There were none of these lapses in yesterday’s match; as soon as she began to win games she won as many as she lost. With her bold style she might have been helped by luck: daring strokes might have come off against all the odds when she wanted them most. That was the game one expected her to try against a player whom she was not likely to beat without the luck; but she did not try it; she had no need to.

“The game she played was tactically the game one associates with Mlle Lenglen; she hit nothing weak, but she was in no hurry to finish the rally, and she withstood the temptation to run into the net to pluck the fruit before it was ripe. She seldom plays long rallies, but she did yesterday; and we saw – what I at any rate have never seen since her first Challenge Round – Mlle Lenglen’s opponent repeatedly winning a long rally by gradually piling up an advantage. With that Miss Ryan finished off the rallies with the dashing strokes that the public like to see.

“Mlle Lenglen beat Miss Ryan with Miss Ryan playing this game, and that is praise enough for any player. But it was not Mlle Lenglen at her best. It was not so much that her forehand drive wavered over the line at times, but that her game lacked her own assurance and finish. She does not force openings, but as a rule she takes them automatically when they come. Yesterday she would make these openings, and then hit – for her – slow and short, so that Miss Ryan had only to take the ball to be on terms. Judged by the only standard that can be applied to her – her own – she was frequently weak in her hitting, and what pulled her through was her perfect style which leaves the least possible responsibility to the racket. She may have been short of hard practice.

“Apart from the lawn tennis the match was absorbing as an exhibition of courage. Miss Ryan proved conclusively that there is no truth in the rumour that she starts against Mlle Lenglen beaten. She always plays as well as Mlle Lenglen lets her. Yesterday she carried the further handicap of losing the first four games, and she seized one more game when Mlle Lenglen was leading 5-3 in the final set. Any doubts of Mlle Lenglen’s courage that have survived her first Championship match were surely dispelled yesterday. She had the most trying experience. She found suddenly, when meeting an opponent she must have felt sure that she could beat, that her best game was not available, and she held on without faltering to the game she thought she could play.

“Mlle Lenglen took the first four games in a set which was mainly interesting when she lost the fifth – the first out of 41 in the court. She won the set. It was what everyone expected. The excitement began to rise when Miss Ryan proceeded to the attack and kept it: she was going to win a set! No, she was not – there came a bad patch, and the score was 5-4 to Mlle Lenglen; one talked of tea. Whereupon Miss Ryan played well enough to beat the champion at her best.

“It was not a game in which one insists on strokes – one assumes them, but two hooked diagonal drops of Miss Ryan’s in her time of need must be mentioned – one was from the forehand corner. Set-all. Two-all in the third, with Mlle Lenglen obviously on the defensive and her strokes for position going astray. At that point she forced herself into something approaching her true form, Miss Ryan made a few mistakes and Mlle Lenglen had her lead. Miss Ryan recovered in the ninth game and Mlle Lenglen then won what must have been a nerve-racking match.”

After the 1925 Wimbledon tournament Suzanne did not play in open competition again until the Beau Site New Year Meeting, which began on December 29, 1924, in Cannes. Even then she did not play in either the singles or doubles events at this tournament, restricting herself to the women’s doubles event where, in the final, she and Elizabeth Ryan beat the English pair of Mrs N. Smith and Phyllis Satterthwaite 6-0, 6-2.

In 1925, their last year as a team, Suzanne and Elizabeth won eight titles, including a sixth and final title at Wimbledon, where Suzanne also won a sixth singles title (for the loss of five games in five matches) and a third mixed doubles title (this time with Jean Borotra). This was the third time she had won the “triple crown”, having also done so in 1920 and 1922. In the intervening years no other player has won it more than twice.

In 1926, bowing to pressure from the French Tennis Federation, Suzanne played at Wimbledon with another French player, Diddie Vlasto. Somewhat ironically, their first-round opponents were none other than Elizabeth Ryan and Mary K. Browne. Wimbledon had not yet adopted full seeding by merit, so top players could still meet each other in the first round of any event. In the women’s doubles event Elizabeth and Mary K. Browne beat Suzanne and Diddie Vlasto 3-6, 9-7, 6-2 in a rain-interrupted match after the French pair had had three match points at 7-6 in the second set. The Ryan/Browne team went on to win the title. This was Elizabeth’s seventh title in the last eight women’s doubles events at Wimbledon and she had still not lost in that event since the second round in 1913 when she and Agnes Morton were beaten 6-4, 6-3 by the English pair of Mrs B. Arsmstrong and Olive Manser.

Because 1926 was also the Jubilee Wimbledon tournament – it had first been held fifty years earlier, on the old Worple Road site in the days when it consisted solely of a men’s singles event – that year’s tournament opened with a parade of thirty-four of the former champions, who were presented with a commemorative medal on Centre Court by Queen Mary, with King George V also present on the court. Also arranged for this occasion was a special exhibition set of women’s doubles pitting Suzanne and Elizabeth against Kathleen McKane and the Dutch player Kornelia “Kea” Bouman. The Anglo-Dutch pair won this set 8-6, but it has virtually no significance, although the 1926 Wimbledon tournament was a strange one for Suzanne Lenglen who had never before lost a women’s doubles match there and who, after a misunderstanding with the rather autocratic referee Francis R. Burrow, withdrew from the singles and mixed doubles events half-way through the tournament.

Suzanne claimed that she was unwell, but the pressures of her invincibility in singles plus a new challenge in the form of Helen Wills, whom Suzanne had beaten earlier in the season in a match at the Carlton Club in Cannes, were no doubt contributing factors in her decision not only to withdraw from Wimbledon, but also to leave the amateur game behind and, later in 1926, sign a contract for a professional tour of the United States and Canada with Mary K. Browne as her opponent in singles.

Her women’s doubles victory with Mary K. Browne at the 1926 Wimbledon was Elizabeth Ryan’s eleventh Wimbledon title. She had also won the mixed doubles title three times, in 1919, 1921 and 1923, each time with the Australian-born player Randolph Lycett. In the years 1919-25 there was a pattern in the mixed doubles event at Wimbledon whereby if Elizabeth Ryan and her partner did not win it, Suzanne Lenglen and hers would. Suzanne had won this title in 1920 (with the Australian Gerald Patterson), in 1922 (with Pat O’Hara Wood, another Australian) and in 1925 (with Jean Borotra). The only “break” in this pattern came in the aforementioned unusual year of 1924, when Max Woosnam and Kathleen McKane won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title.

Although already thirty-four by the 1926 Wimbledon, Elizabeth would still be able to win eight more Wimbledon titles in the next eight years. Between 1914 and 1934 (inclusive), the only years in which her name is absent from the winners’ roll at Wimbledon are 1924, 1929 and 1931. Of the thirteen women’s doubles finals she played at Wimbledon during that period, she won twelve, losing only the 1932 final; that year she and her partner Helen Jacobs, another Californian, were beaten 6-4, 6-3 by the Franco-Belgian pair of Doris Metaxa and Josane Sigart.

Elizabeth’s unbeaten run of success in the women’s doubles event at Wimbledon, comprising circa forty consecutive victories, came to end in the 1928 edition of that tournament when she and her partner, the Englishwoman Joan Lycett (née Austin), lost 6-3, 6-4 in the semi-finals to the English pair of Phoebe Holcroft-Watson and Peggy Saunders. In 1927, Elizabeth had won the event with Helen Wills.

In the mixed doubles event at Wimbledon Elizabeth Ryan was runner-up a total of three times; on each occasion the winners were Suzanne Lenglen and her aforementioned partners (in 1920, 1922 and 1925). Each time Elizabeth’s partner had been Randolph Lycett, except in 1925, when she teamed up with the Italian player Umberto de Morpurgo.

Elizabeth won her last two Wimbledon titles in 1934, the women’s doubles with Simone Mathieu, of France, and the mixed doubles with the Spaniard Enrique Maier. The latter was her nineteenth Wimbledon title, a record which would stand for forty-five years and which Elizabeth would almost but not quite live to see broken.

Elizabeth was forty-two when she won her final title at Wimbledon. She was still winning titles the following year, including a victory in mid-March in the women’s doubles event at the Cairo tournament, where she and her compatriot Helen Jacobs beat the Englishwomen Evelyn Dearman and Nancy Lyle in the final, 6-3, 6-4. Soon after this victory Elizabeth announced her retirement.

According to a report carried in the “New York Times” newspaper on April 23, 1935: “After more than twenty years of unflagging competition in the international net wars, Miss Elizabeth Ryan, formerly of Santa Monica, California, plans to retire following the Italian Championships at Rome, she announced today.

“The stocky, hard-hitting former partner of Mlle Lenglen and Mrs Moody is quoted by ‘The Evening Standard’ as deciding to retire to devote her time to writing about tennis.”

According to another contemporary report: “Elizabeth Ryan, beefy California lady whose well-muscled forearms and knotted calves carried her to more titles than any other woman or man, tonight turned her back on the game after a quarter of a century of playing for fun. Miss Ryan will now play tennis hereafter for cash wages, teaching the game to young folk on the ‘championship circuit’, embracing half a dozen fashionable villages on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

“Miss Ryan’s decision to turn pro was not much of a surprise. She has been tinkering with the idea for years. After her last Wimbledon championship in doubles in 1934 – the 19th Wimbledon championship she has held – she toured Europe to consult with some of the leading masters.

“I’ve spent 25 years playing the game for exercise and fun. Things haven’t been going so well lately, so I decided to try and make a living out of the game.

“For more years than she cares to remember the genial and good natured lady with the weathered and crinkly, sunburned smile has been a familiar figure on international tennis courts.”
It is difficult to know what exactly she is referring to when Elizabeth Ryan says, “Things haven’t been going so well lately…” Some reports stated that she had experienced a downturn in her finances (she appears to have been living on income from her father’s investments). On the other hand, she could simply have meant that she felt she had passed her peak in terms of tennis and would no longer be able to challenge for the biggest titles. Then again, she had won two Wimbledon titles the previous year and, with Simone Mathieu, of France, the French doubles title for the second year in a row, Elizabeth’s fourth win in this particular event, not including her two World Hard Court Championship doubles wins with Suzanne Lenglen.

The two above-mentioned reports contradict each other in that one states that Elizabeth Ryan was retiring from the amateur game to write about tennis, while the other report says that she was retiring in order to begin working as a coach. Certainly she did coach after her retirement from the professional game, somewhat ironically in the United States, her country of birth where, after her move to England in 1912 with her mother and sister, she did not often play again during her days as an amateur.

At some point, possibly not long after World War Two, Elizabeth Ryan returned to London, which she appears to have regarded as her real home. In later life she liked to attend the annual Wimbledon tournament, and even lived near the All England Club for a number of years. As previously mentioned, her main plaint after her retirement appears to have been that she did not win the singles title at either Wimbledon or the United States Championships. Her many titles, including several national singles titles – those of Ireland, Wales, Monaco, Italy, Russia and Mexico among them – were little consolation to her as the years passed.

Elizabeth’s main consolation appears to have been her record nineteen Wimbledon titles, a record which her fellow Californian Billie Jean King (née Moffitt) began to chip away at starting in 1961 when she won the women’s doubles title with her compatriot Karen Hantze. In 1975, Billie Jean equaled Elizabeth’s Wimbledon record when she won the women’s singles title for the sixth and final time (the main difference between their Wimbledon records is the fact that Elizabeth never won the singles title, while Billie Jean did so six times).

Ted Tinling, the former tennis umpire, dress designer to the tennis stars and commentator on the sport, knew Elizabeth for more than fifty years, having in the 1920’s first umpired matches on the French Riviera featuring her and/or Suzanne Lenglen. Tinling later wrote an autobiography, “Sixty Years in Tennis” (first published in 1983) in which one of the aspects of tennis history he looked at was Elizabeth’s vacillating fear of losing her record to Billie Jean King and her aforementioned plaint of having never won the singles title at either Wimbledon or the United States Championships. It is worth quoting in detail from Tinling’s autobiography:

“During the last years of her life, when Elizabeth had reached the mid-eighties and was living near Sloane Square, I was again summoned, this time to answer a question that had become an obsession with her. She was obviously suffering from a sense of deep frustration and grievance that she had only beaten Suzanne in the first of their thirty-seven meetings, and wanted to know the reason why. She said I was the only person in the world who could explain why she always lost to Suzanne. I tried to couch the obvious technical and physical reasons in the gentlest possible terms. In truth she had also been extremely unlucky that in the days before ‘seeding’ she had been drawn in an early round against Lenglen in five of the seven years of Suzanne’s Wimbledon supremacy.

“During that time, she was also brooding about losing her Wimbledon record. Despite her statement about records being made to be broken, she could not conceal her joy when in 1976, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova fought back against Billie Jean [King] and Betty Stove in the doubles final after being 0-3 down in the third set. A win for Billie Jean that day would have given her the record and, mid-way through that final set, Elizabeth insisted on being carried to the Centre Court doorway, determined to be the first person to congratulate Billie Jean on taking her own record.

“Three years later, in 1979, I dined alone with Elizabeth on the second Wednesday of Wimbledon and we discovered, after fifty-five years of friendship, that we both believed in reincarnation. She was full of good spirits that evening and we discussed a recognition signal should we meet again in some future place. In the meantime we set a more prosaic rendezvous for lunch in the members’ enclosure on women’s finals day. For the previous ten years, Elizabeth, with her two constant companions, Frances McKay and Muriel Thomas, had entertained me in this fashion and the lunch had become a happy ritual.

“Unfortunately, however, I had to have minor surgery at Charing Cross Road Hospital on that Friday morning and, as a result of an infuriating delay, only arrived at Wimbledon five minutes before play was due to begin. I was ten seats away from Elizabeth and my last memory is of her and Muriel Thomas making questioning signs as to why I had not come to lunch. Muriel, who died herself very soon afterwards, told me that at the end of the women’s singles final, Elizabeth said, ‘And now for Billie Jean and my record.’

“It was true that Billie Jean had reached the doubles final with Martina Navratilova, and was considered a certainty to win, thus finally gaining the record-breaking twentieth title. However, as everyone else knew, the women’s doubles final was not scheduled until the following day, Saturday, so Muriel realized Elizabeth was confused and concluded that she was feeling unwell. Moments later Elizabeth said, ‘I have a terrible tootache. I must have eaten too many sweets.’

“She was taken to the first-aid room where, after asking for some valium and a cup of tea, she collapsed. She was put, unconscious, into an ambulance and died on the way to hospital, aged eighty-seven. Twenty-four hours later Billie Jean duly won the doubles and broke Elizabeth’s record. Destiny’s timing for Elizabeth was unbelievable, and all her friends considered it marvellous that she was spared from seeing her beloved record actually surpassed.”

Certainly it was a strange coincidence that Elizabeth died during the 1979 Wimbledon tournament, only the day before Billie Jean King won her record twentieth Wimbledon title by winning the doubles event with Martina Navratilova (who, in 2003, would herself equal Billie Jean’s record). It is also understandable that Elizabeth probably wanted to see her record preserved during her lifetime because it was something of which she was very proud, even if she was too polite to quite express herself in those words.

Tinling himself appears to have been too polite to tell Elizabeth that the reason she never beat Suzanne Lenglen in singles after their initial meeting was that Suzanne was simply a far better singles player than Elizabeth and everyone else in her era, with the possible exception of Helen Wills. (Tinling also thought that Elizabeth and Suzanne met in the early rounds of Wimbledon five times and thirty-seven times in all in singles, but it is clear that he did not check the records very closely.)

One of the ironic features of Elizabeth Ryan’s singles record is that the closest she ever came to winning a major singles title was not at Wimbledon, but at the United States Championships. This was in 1926, when she reached the final at Forest Hills and had a tremendous battle with Molla Mallory in which Elizabeth led 4-0 in the final set and had a match point at 6-5 before eventually losing 6-4, 4-6, 9-7. Molla Mallory was forty-two years old at this point in time.

That year, 1926, Elizabeth won the women’s doubles at the US Championships with her compatriot Eleanor Goss and the mixed doubles title with Jean Borotra, so she could have won the “triple crown” at a tournament she seldom took part in. (Elizabeth Ryan’s only other title at the United States Championship came in 1933, when she won the mixed doubles event with her compatriot Ellsworth Vines.)

Despite its inaccuracies, Ted Tinling’s picture of Elizabeth Ryan in the later years of her life is valuable because it provides a brief portrait of her by someone who knew her personally, albeit often at long distance, for more than half a century.

Another view of Elizabeth Ryan is provided in an interview she gave to Geoffrey Green, a journalist with the London “Times” and which was published in that newspaper on September 11, 1976. Elizabeth was eighty-four years old at the time and her Wimbledon record was still intact although, as already stated, Billie Jean King had equalled it the previous year. Restricted in her movements by arthritis, Elizabeth’s mind is still as clear as ever as she looks back across the decades to the golden era of tennis in which she played such a significant role. The plaintive tones are there, but it is unusual to hear her voice first-hand. The following extracts come from this article:

“Miss ‘chop and drop’ Ryan looks back to the golden age of international tennis


“As a shaft of sunlight fell from the window she sat there serene and alert among her memories and personalia. Every faculty supremely alive, her soft voice had an extraordinary ring of authority. Only a discreet pair of elbow crutches told of a hip and back frayed by a rich past.


“Anecdotes and events flow from her in an endless cascade. Her body arched with memories which seemed a definite consolation. It reassured her and she rose upon it like a siphon.

“‘Chop and drop’ they used to call me,” she smiled. She enjoys that as a sudden image drifted before her like a miraculous kite. “I once had a letter,” she continued, “which suggested that in the old days I might have been the wife of a Viking chieftain. The correspondent was sure that I would have wielded a battleaxe as well as a tennis racket. He had a point since I possessed a fierce picture of myself somewhere doing the chop.’


“‘I tried for 14 years and don’t think it wasn’t a sorrow to me. But I coincided with Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills Moody. Lenglen was never beaten, you know, and Moody holds the record with eight titles.

“‘In those days, too, there was no seeding and twice I had to play Suzanne as early as the second round. In 1924, I only lost to her 6-4 in the third set and she was so exhausted that she scratched from the next round. The two finals I lost were against Lenglen and Wills, so that was too bad.’

“A familiar feeling of thrill and expectation came from her like a perfume. One sharp memory which opened was a visit to Saint Petersburg in 1914, where she won a Russian singles.

“‘I remember being met at the station by some 50 men and not a woman in sight. I was 12 stone in those days and not a movie star in looks. And from that moment it was a stream of lunch and dinner parties at a time when the Czar was on the throne. The trophy I won resembled a silver coffee pot. As a matter of fact I am giving it to the Wimbledon Museum, which is to be opened next June…’


“Forced to take up tennis coaching in 1935 to earn a living when the family fortunes failed, Miss Ryan one day was approached by Lady [Clementine] Churchill – then Mrs Churchill – at Wimbledon, who said, ‘We are sorry to hear you’ve had family reverses. I’d love my daughter Mary (now Lady Soames) to have lessons from you. You could come to us for a long weekend, teach all the country children in the morning and spend the rest of the time with us.’

“‘I was most touched by that charming thought. But I declined, I hope graciously, explaining that I was returning to America to do my teaching there. And one day, years later, after Second World War, I followed the great lady out of Harrods to say, ‘You never will know what that wonderful thought did for me. When I was homesick for my friends back in England it was just like a light in the dark.’

“Tilden was the finest man player and Lenglen the greatest woman in her opinion. ‘Big Bill had five different types of service. Lenglen possessed a stride a foot and a half longer than any of her contemporaries. In three leaps she could reach the net. Yet she was not a strong, rugged person. She was more the Maria Bueno type, but she could still have won Wimbledon now with some adjustment. As for these modern girls demanding equal pay all round, it’s quite ridiculous. They should be made to play singles against the men and then we’d soon see…’

“The journey out to the Worple Road ground, in 1914, on open-top buses. ‘We even stayed at Wimbledon in humble lodgings then. Can you imagine that these days?’ Helen Wills once saying in the dressing room, ‘My dear Elizabeth, I never play unless it’s 2-1 on me.’ Miss Ryan lowered her eyelids momentarily like drawing curtains on a secret place.

“Old knowledge is deposited; new knowledge is minted and there are depths and depths of her yet to be uncovered.”

One expert has calculated that Elizabeth Ryan won more than 650 titles, singles, doubles and mixed doubles combined, throughout her career. In reality, she might have won more than 700 titles. Her greatest wins in doubles and mixed doubles are clear; what her biggest singles title was, is less clear. Perhaps she did not place any one singles title above another. Interestingly, her early, and only victory over Suzanne Lenglen in singles, combined with two victories in singles over Helen Wills, in 1925 and 1926, in the final of the Seabright Invitational tournament, in New Jersey, make her the only player to have ever beaten both Lenglen and Wills in completed singles matches.

Despite what was clearly a broad and deep fund of anecdotes, stories and information, Elizabeth unfortunately never wrote an autobiography or memoirs. This probably says something about her character. She did not marry.

Elizabeth Ryan died in London, on July 8, 1979, at the age of 87.

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Re: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan and Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills

Part II: Doubles titles won by Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan

1914 (1)

May 29-June 8, World Hard Court Championships, Saint Cloud, Paris, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Blanche Amblard/Suzanne Amblard 6-0, 6-0

1919 (1)

June 23-July 5, Wimbleon, London, England (Grass)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen (FRA)/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Dorothea Lambert Chambers/Ethel Larcombe 4-6, 7-5, 6-3

1920 (3)

March 1-7, Monte Carlo (Condamine), Monaco (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen (FRA)/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Geraldine Beamish (GBR)/Sigrid Fick (SWE) 6-1, 6-2

March 22-28, Cote d'Azur Championships, Cannes Club, Cannes, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Geraldine Beamish (GBR)/Phyllis Satterthwaite (GBR) 6-1, 6-1

June 21-July 3, Wimbledon, London, England (Grass)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen (FRA)/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Dorothea Lambert Chambers/Ethel Larcombe 6-4, 6-0

1921 (7)

February 14-21, Carlton Club Second Meeting, Carlton Club, Cannes, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Geraldine Beamish (GBR)/Eleanor Goss (USA) 6-0, 6-1

February 21-27, Bristol Hotel, Beaulieu, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Eleanor Goss (USA)/Dorothea Lambert Chambers (GBR) 6-0, 6-0

February 28-March 6, La Festa, Monte Carlo, Monaco (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen (FRA)/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Dorothea Lambert Chambers (GBR)/Phyllis Satterthwaite (GBR) 6-0, 6-3

March 7-14, Riviera Championships, Mentone, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Phyllis Howkins (GBR)/Dorothy Shepherd (GBR) 6-0, 6-1

March 14-21, South of France Championships, Nice, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Geraldine Beamish (GBR)/Phyllis Satterthwaite (GBR) 6-1, 6-2

March 21-28, Cote d'Azur Championships, Cannes Lawn Tennis Club, Cannes, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Phyllis Howkins (GBR)/Dorothy Shepherd (GBR) 6-0, 6-3

June 20-July 2, Wimbledon, London, England (Grass)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Geraldine Beamish/Irene Peacock 6-1, 6-2

1922 (4)

March 13-19, South of France Championships, Nice, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Miss Platt (GBR)/Miss Radcliffe (GBR) 6-0, 6-0

May 13-21, World Hard Court Championships, Brussels, Belgium (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen (FRA)/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Geraldine Beamish (GBR)/Kathleen McKane (GBR) 6-0, 6-4

June 26-July 8, Wimbledon, London, England (Grass)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen (FRA)/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Kathleen McKane/Margaret Stocks 6-0, 6-4

September 4-9, Le Touquet (First Meeting), Le Touquet, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Mrs S. Armstrong (GBR)/Aurea Edgington (GBR), walkover

1923 (9)

January 7-14, Carlton Club (First Meeting), Carlton Club, Cannes, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Madeline O'Neill (GBR)/M. Tripp (GBR) 6-3, 6-1

February 5-11, Parc Imperial, Nice, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Madeline O'Neill (GBR)/M. Tripp (GBR) 6-2, 6-1

February 12-18, Carlton Club (Second Meeting), Carlton Club, Cannes, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Dorothea Lambert Chambers (GBR)/Kathleen McKane (GBR) 6-0, 6-1

February 20-26, Bristol Hotel, Beaulieu, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Geraldine Beamish (GBR)/Phyllis Satterthwaite (GBR) 6-2, 7-5

February 26-March 5, Monte Carlo Championships, Monte Carlo, Monaco (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Dorothea Lambert Chambers (GBR)/Kathleen McKane (GBR) 6-1, 3-6, 6-4

March 5-12, Riviera Championships, Mentone, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Geraldine Beamish (GBR)/Phyllis Saterthwaite (GBR) 6-2, 6-1

March 12-19, South of France Championships, Nice, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Dorothea Lambert Chambers (GBR)/Kathleen McKane (GBR) 6-4, 6-2

March 19-25, Cote d'Azur Championships, Cannes, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Dorothea Lambert Chambers (GBR)/Kathleen McKane (GBR) 6-3, 6-3

June 25-July 7, Wimbledon, London, England (Grass)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen (FRA)/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Joan Austin/Evelyn Colyer 6-3, 6-1

1924 (6)

January 21-27, Gallia Club, Cannes, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Phyllis Covell (GBR)/Dorothy Shepherd-Barron (GBR) 6-3, 6-4

February 11-17, Carlton Club, Cannes, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Phyllis Covell (GBR)/Dorothy Shepherd-Barron (GBR) 6-3, 7-5

March 3-9, Riviera Championships, Mentone, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Phyllis Covell (GBR)/Dorothy Shepherd-Barron (GBR) 6-1, 6-1

March 10-16, South of France Championships, Nice, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Phyllis Covell (GBR)/Dorothy Shepherd-Barron (GBR) 6-1, 6-4

March 17-23, Cote d'Azur Championships, Carlton Club, Cannes, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Mrs James/Phyllis Satterthwaite (GBR), walkover

March 24-30, Cannes Championships, Beau Site, Cannes, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Helene Contostavlos/Diddie Vlasto 6-1, 6-1

1925 (8)

December 29, 1924-January 4, 1925, Beau Site New Year Meeting, Beau Site, Cannes, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Mrs N. Smith (GBR)/Phyllis Satterthwaite (GBR 6-0, 6-2

January 5-11, Carlton Club New Year Meeting, Carlton Club, Cannes, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Mrs N. Smith (GBR)/Phyllis Satterthwaite 6-0, 6-1

February 9-15, Carlton Club (Second Meeting), Carlton Club, Cannes, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Ermyntrude Harvey (GBR)/Dorothea Lambert Chambers (GBR) 6-0, 6-2

February 16-22, Bristol Hotel, Beaulieu, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Ermyntrude Harvey (GBR)/Dorothea Lambert Chambers (GBR) 6-1, 6-1

March 2-8, Riviera Championships, Mentone, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Geraldine Beamish (GBR)/Phyllis Satterthwaite (GBR) 6-0, 6-1

March 9-15, South of France Championships, Nice, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Geraldine Beamish (GBR)/Diddie Vlasto 6-1, 6-1

March 16-22, Cote d'Azur Champsionsips, Cannes, France (Clay)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Geraldine Beamish (GBR)/Phyllis Satterthwaite 6-1, 7-5

June 20-July 4, Wimbledon, London, England (Grass)

DF: Suzanne Lenglen (FRA)/Elizabeth Ryan (USA) d. Kathleen Bridge/Mary McIlquham 6-2, 6-2

Last edited by newmark401; Apr 9th, 2011 at 01:01 PM.
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post #3 of 13 (permalink) Old Apr 7th, 2011, 03:20 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan and Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills

Part III: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills

Although they played together much less than Suzanne Lenglen and Elizabeth Ryan, the team of Hazel Wightman and Helen Wills were equally as invincible as the former pair. Hazel and Helen tended to play together only at big tournaments or in international competitions like the Wightman Cup (in 1924 and 1927) and the Olympic Games (in 1924). In addition to those two competitions, they appear to have played together on only five other occasions: in 1923, at the Pacific Coast Championships, held in their native California; at the 1924 Wimbledon tournament; at the United States Championships in 1924 and 1928; and at the 1927 edition of the Essex County Club Invitational tournament, held in Manchester, Massachusetts.

They made an interesting combination. Hazel Wightman (née Hotchkiss) was already 36 when she teamed up with the 17-year-old Helen Wills for the first time, at the 1923 Pacific Coast Championships, at that time held on hard courts in Berkeley, California, towards the end of June. Hazel was more of a volleyer than Helen, who would always be most comfortable pounding her groundstrokes from the baseline. Hazel had already won the singles title four times at the United States Championships, as well as the doubles and mixed doubles title several times, while Helen Wills was just a few weeks away from winning her first singles title at the same tournament.

In the beginning, Hazel Wightman and Helen Wills appear to have had something of a mother-daughter relationship, or at least a teacher-pupil relationship, with Hazel the keen dispenser of advice on how Helen might improve her game and Helen the willing pupil. It was a role Hazel Wightman would increasingly play with many other budding tennis champions as the years went by, and one which she clearly enjoyed.

In their first tournament together, the aforementioned 1923 Pacific Coast Championships, Hazel and Helen beat the unheralded Mrs J. Cushing and Carmen Tarilton, another local player, in the final, 6-2, 6-2. By that time Hazel Wightman had been playing in tournaments in North America for more than twenty years. She is arguably the second-best American player of the pre-World War One period, after her English-born fellow Californian May Sutton, who lead their head-to-head by a wide margin.

Since so much is known about Helen Wills’s early life and career, it is worth taking a close look at the early years of Hazel Wightman whose name remained familiar to tennis fans for decades due to the Wightman Cup, which was essentially her brainchild. The following extracts are taken from the book “The Story of Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman”, by Herbert Warren Wind.

“Hazel Hotchkiss [Wightman] was born in Healdsburg, California, [on December 20], 1886, five years after the United States Lawn Tennis Association was founded, eleven years after the All-England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club laid out its first court at Wimbledon, and thirteen years after Major Walter Clopton Wingfield, a retired British Army officer, worked out a primitive form of lawn tennis to serve the same Victorian garden-party functions as croquet and bequeathed to his baby the happily short-lived name of Sphairistike.

“Both sets of Mrs Wightman’s grandparents made the transcontinental journey to California, though their modes of travel differed. Benoni Hotchkiss, her paternal grandfather, was living in Campbellsville, Kentucky, when he decided on the spur of the moment, in the spring of 1850, to join a covered-wagon caravan that was passing through the village and looking for one more wagon to complete the train.

“William Grove, her mother’s father, and a native of Staunton, Virginia, transported his family West after the Civil War under slightly plusher conditions. The Groves journeyed by rail most of the way and carried all their belongings with them, including the old square piano. The Hotchkisses and the Groves settled on adjoining ranches along the Russian River in the Sonoma Valley, and in the best Harold Bell Wright tradition one of the Hotchkiss boys, William Joesph [born October 20, 1858], conducted a successful open-air courtship with one of the Grove girls, Emma Lucretia [born August 20, 1853]. They purchased a 1,500-acre ranch and proceeded to raise a family in an orderly manner…”

Hazel Hotchkiss had four siblings, all of them brothers, so perhaps she first developed her combative instincts within the family home. Her brothers were James Miller Hotchkiss (1881-1952; known as Miller); Homer Grove Hotchkiss (1883-1924); Marius William Hotchkiss (1884-1974); and Linville Lee Hotchkiss (1888-1962).

According to Herbert Warren Wind: “Hazel Hotchkiss was an extremely frail child, so subject to headaches that she could not attend school regularly. On the advice of the family doctor, her parents encouraged her to spend as many hours as possible outdoors, and her brothers were instructed to include her in their games. Hazel developed into a fair pole vaulter and halfback, and a stylish baseball player. In 1900, shortly after Mr Hotchkiss had moved his business offices to San Francisco and his family to Berkeley, a commutable distance across San Francisco Bay, the two middle boys, Homer and Marius, took up tennis and captured a local tournament the first year they played the game.

“In an effort to interest their sister in tennis, a suitable sport for a young lady, her brothers took her to San Rafael in the summer of 1902 to watch the Pacific Coast Championships. Hazel fell in love with tennis at her first sight of good tennis. ‘The feature match was the final between two of the famous Sutton sisters, Ethel and May, and they were mighty impressive,’ Mrs Wightman has said of that portentous day. ‘Both of them had fine forcing forehands, and May particularly could soak that ball. But what caught my fancy even more than the Suttons was the doubles match put on by the Hardy brothers, Sam and Sumner. They’d been in a class by themselves on the Pacific Coast for eight or nine years, and they were a skillful team. The way girls played singles in those days, there was no net game at all. They didn’t budge from the baseline. The ball passed over the net as many as fifty times in a rally before someone made an error or finally won the point on a placement.

“‘Doubles like Sam and Sumner Hardy played it – now that appealed to me. They were awfully quick up at the net, and even a greenhorn like myself could appreciate the precision with which they volleyed and smashed, and their split-second manoeuvres for drawing their opponents out of position and setting up the openings. I decided that afternoon that I’d go in for tennis and model my game on the Hardys’.’

“As it turned out, the gravelled yard behind the Hotchkisses’ home, where Hazel and her brothers did the bulk of their practicing since there was only one court in Berkeley, compelled them to play like the Hardys. The bounces off the gravel were so erratic that the ball had to be volleyed – that is, played before it struck the ground. It was all net play, and since the net was simply a rope strung between the house and a cluster of rosebushes, the players soon learned that if they wanted to avoid a fine patina of black-and-blue welts, they had to get their rackets in front of every ball hit at them. The brilliant anticipatory sense that later characterized Mrs Wightman’s game – and excited Wallis Myers, the English critic, to rank her alongside Suzanne Lenglen in that rare company of players whose rackets seemed to attract the ball – was born in self-defence on the gravelled back yard at 2985 Claremont Avenue.

“Berkeley’s one tennis court at the turn of the [nineteenth] century was an asphalt one belonging to the University of California. The court was open to the public, but girls were not allowed to play on it after eight in the morning. In order to bypass this regulation, Hazel and her brothers rose daily at five. A friend of Homer’s, who made the fourth for doubles, would awaken him by jerking a string that was wound around Homer’s big toe and which ran out the window and down the side of the house. Homer would then rouse Marius and Hazel. They would grab an apple from the kitchen for breakfast and eat it as they trotted the mile to the court in the ochre light of dawn.

“These workouts came to an end at six-thirty when Hazel returned home to practice the piano for an hour before heading to classes at Berkeley High School. Whenever Hazel could find no one to rally with on the gravel, she worked on her strokes by banging a ball against the wall of the Hotchkiss house, evolving increasingly complex patterns during these drills – forehand-backhand, two forehands-two backhands, three forehands-one backhand, and so on. She has always contended that solo practice against a bangboard, no matter how crude, can be the making of a tennis player…”

In time, not only Hazel, Homer and Marius, but also Miller Hotchkiss would begin to take part in local tournaments. Although her brothers would initially enjoy some success at such tournaments, they appear not to have pursued tennis as seriously as Hazel did. It is also likely that none of them were as talented as she was.

Herbert Warren Wind continues: “In December 1902, six months after she had taken up tennis, Hazel Hotchkiss entered her first tournament, the Bay Counties Women’s Doubles Championship, sponsored by the San Francisco Park Department. On the ferry across the bay she ran into a girl named Mary Radcliffe [Ratcliffe] and learned that she also was going to play in the tournament. Mary, like herself, was waiting to be assigned a doubles partner by the tournament committee. The two girls decided to team up, and although neither had previously seen each other play, they went on to win the championship without the loss of a set.

“It was a historic day in women’s tennis because of the revolutionary tactics that Hazel Hotchkiss introduced. Standing a yard and a half from the net when her opponent served, she intercepted the majority of their opponents’ drives and volleyed them for winners. She rushed forward during rallies whenever a short return provided that opening, and she stayed poised at net instead of retreating to backcourt. She followed in after her better serves, just like the Hardy brothers and her brothers did, to volley the return. These measures thoroughly demoralized her opponents, who had been brought up to think that the woman’s place was the baseline. After Mrs Wightman had showed the way, other women, notably Mary K. Browne, Eleonora Sears and Elizabeth Ryan, learned to play net, and the emancipation of the woman from the backcourt was definitely underway…

“In doubles, Hazel was unapproachable; she could win with any partner. In singles she was a degree less formidable. Her service was well placed but not too hard to handle. Her groundstrokes – when the ball is played after the bounce – were chopped and, as a result, not true attacking weapons. ‘If Hazel had stayed on the baseline, she would have been absolutely overwhelmed by a player with first-class drives,” Mrs William MacKenzie Kalt, for many years the chairman of the Women’s Ranking Committee of the United States Lawn Tennis Association, has said. ‘She had to get to the net to win, and she knew it.

“‘She couldn’t get up there behind a forcing service or drive, the way most players do it today, because she didn’t have those shots. Here’s how she got there. Two moves. First, after she had chopped a backhand or forehand deep into her opponent’s court, she could get as far up as mid-court, about halfway between the baseline and the net. That’s no-man’s-land for a tennis player. You’re easily passed down the sidelines, and most of the balls you get there land at your feet. You’re lucky if you can play a strong defensive shot. Now what Hazel could do, and she alone among the women could do it, because she could volley and half-volley nobody’s business, was to turn mid-court from a wretched defensive position into a very comfortable offensive position. Then, mind you, after she had made her volley or half-volley at mid-court, then she could get all the way to the net and put the ball away with an angled smash.’”

This attacking game proved increasingly successful for Hazel, who had been only 16 at the time she entered the 1902 Bay Counties Championships tournament. (In a best-of-five-set final, she and Mary Ratcliffe had beaten the sisters Eva and Maud Varney 6-1, 6-8, 6-4, 7-5.) In early July 1904, Hazel won the singles title at the California State Championships, held in San Rafael; in the Challenge Round she beat Miriam Edwards, the holder, 6-3, 6-1. This was one of Hazel’s first significant singles titles.

Two years later, in 1906, Hazel won the singles title at the Pacific Coast Championships, albeit in the absence of her Nemesis, May Sutton, but by this time Hazel was also winning the singles, doubles and mixed doubles at tournaments. By this time Hazel had also become a student at the University of Berkeley, from which she graduated in 1911.

In 1909, Hazel travelled “east” to compete at the United States Championships for the first time, (in those days the tournament was held in Philadelphia). That year she won not only the singles title, but also the doubles (with Edith Rotch) and the mixed doubles (with Wallace Johnson), at the time a unique debut in a major tournament. She repeated the “triple” in the following two years (at that point in time a Challenge Round still existed in the singles event).

However, Hazel’s two most impressive victories in these years are arguably her two defeats of May Sutton in singles matches. Hazel first beat May in 1910, in the final of the prestigious Ojai Valley tournament, held in California. The score was 2-6, 6-4, 6-0. This was the first time May Sutton had lost a singles match on American soil since 1899, and her first loss in singles overall since June 1907, when Charlotte Sterry had beaten her in the final of the Northern Tournament in Manchester, England.

Hazel Hotchkiss beat May Sutton for a second time in the late summer of 1911, in the final of the Niagara-on-the-Lake international tournament held on grass in Ontario, Canada. Although May Sutton at one stage led by 6-0, 5-1, she could not quite finish the match off in the second set and Hazel eventually won by the score of 0-6, 7-5 6-0.
In an interview she gave in 1974, the last year of her life, to the American journalist Barbara Klaw, Hazel Wightman (as she then was) said of her rivalry with May Sutton (later Bundy):

“Well, May Sutton and I, we were the two top ones, and I didn’t win often from her, let me see, she usually beat me. She beat me three or four times before I had a chance to win from her. She was very hard for me to play against because she was not ladylike – she was rude, she was unsportsmanlike – and it upset me.

“With May Sutton it’s awfully hard for me to criticize her at all, because she didn’t know any better. She was the youngest of four girls, and she beat them all. And she beat them because she could make them mad. It wasn’t necessary, because she could have outplayed them by using her head. She didn’t have the head – I’m not criticizing her, but she wouldn’t go to school. She no more could have analyzed a shot than a cow.

“It bothered me for quite a little while. She had a lovely figure, she had blond curly hair –I’d give anything to have curls – oh, she was a lovely-looking person… and the stamina of a horse. Strong. And determined. My game apparently was the kind that I needed a little extra practice to get warmed up, and when we’d start to rally, May wouldn’t give me a ball to hit.

“She hit them all out, you mean?

“She just didn’t give me a ball. If I picked the ball off the ground and knocked it to her –ordinary players knock it back and forth – she knocked it out of reach. She didn’t let me hit a ball. I don’t think she knew what she was doing. My idea of tennis was to give the other person a chance to practice, but as I got smarter and thought about it I realized it would be good for me to keep the ball away from her too. But I couldn’t do that. That’s not the way it should be. The umpire told her, ‘Miss Sutton, you are not supposed to delay the game.’ She said, ‘If you don’t like the way I play, I won’t play anymore.’ Imagine. Imagine!”

In 1912, this fascinating, albeit one-sided rivalry was effectively brought to an end when both Hazel Hotchkiss and May Sutton married. According to Herbert Warren Wind: “In her swing around the tournament circuit in the summer of 1911, Hazel Hotchkiss met George Wightman, a slim Bostonian who was entering his senior year at Harvard. Their engagement was announced during the visit he made to the Hotchkiss homestead in Berkeley the following winter, they were married in June [1912], and they settled in a yellow frame house situated three flat forehands from the S.S. Pierce store at Coolidge Corner [in Brookline, Massachusetts].

“While he was not the nationally known personality his wife was, Mr Wightman was a sportsman of more than passing attainments. As a boy he had achieved a certain prominence in yachting circles by out-sailing Charles Francis Adams in several races off the resort town of Hull, and for many years he was a contender for the national championship in court tennis, the intricate ancestor of lawn tennis. Mr Wightman’s skill as a lawn tennis player did not match his love of watching good tennis and being in the company of tennis players, but he was proficient enough to team up with Mrs Wightman and carry off the mixed doubles in the 1913 Longwood Bowl tournament. After serving the customary apprenticeship as a committee workhorse – treasurer, secretary and vice-president – Mr Wightman became president of the United States Lawn Tennis Association in 1924.”

George Wightman had been born in Beavers Falls, Pennsylvania, on December 17, 1890. Together, he and Hazel would have five children: George junior (b. 1912); Virigina (b. 1916); Hazel junior (b. 1917); Dorothy (b. 1922); and William (b. 1925).

Initially, Hazel Wightman stopped playing competitive tennis, but in 1915 she lost the final match at the United States Championships to the Norwegian-born Molla Bjurstedt, who also beat Hazel in the final of that year’s United States Clay Court Championships and in the last match of the Ladies’ Longwood Open in Boston. (Molla Bjurstedt, later Mallory, replaced May Sutton Bundy as Hazel’s bête noire.) Nevertheless, in 1915, Hazel was able to win the singles title at the Pacific Coast Championships for the second time. At the same tournament she teamed with Molla Bjurstedt to win the doubles and with her husband, George, to take the mixed doubles title.

In 1917, Hazel won the singles title at the Pacific Coast Championships for the third and last time, beating the talented west coast player Helen Baker 6-8, 6-0, 6-0 in the final. Because the United States had entered World War One, most tournaments held in the United States in 1917, including the Pacific Coast Championships, were designated “patriotic tournaments”. This meant that their status was somewhat different from full championship tournaments.

In 1919, after the birth of her third child, Hazel won the singles title at the United States Indoor Championships, beating Marion Zinderstein 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the final. Together, Hazel and Marion won the doubles title. In future years Hazel would enjoy a great deal of success at this particular tournament. However, the highlight of the year 1919 for Hazel in tennis terms came in late summer at the United States Championships where she won her fourth and last singles title at that particular tournament at the age of 32.

The Challenge Round was abolished in the women’s singles event at the US Championships in that same year of 1919, so Molla Mallory, the defending champion, had to play through, but she was upset in the semi-final by Marion Zinderstein, whom Hazel then beat in the last match, 6-1, 6-2. Hazel’s most difficult match had come in the third round against Eleanor Goss, a gifted singles and doubles player, whom Hazel beat 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.

With her singles win at the 1919 US Championships Hazel Wightman became the first mother to take that title, though not the first mother to win a major singles title. That distinction belongs to the Englishwoman Blanche Hillyard (née Bingley), who won the Wimbledon singles title as a mother in 1894.

Hazel Wightman continued to enjoy success in singles, double and mixed events in the following years. By the time she and Helen Wills teamed up for the first time, at the 1923 Pacific Coast Championships, Hazel’s idea of an international competition for women – an equivalent to the Davis Cup for men – was almost a reality. However, it appears that the actual staging of the first Wightman Cup event, at Forest Hills in 1923, almost took her by surprise. In an article she wrote some time afterwards, Hazel described the events leading to these inaugural matches for the International Ladies’ Trophy, as it was initially known, and the genesis of the competition itself. The following extracts are taken from that article:

“What prompted me to offer an international tennis trophy for women’s matches is a question which I have often been asked. Naturally enough, I followed with keen interest the work of the Californians in Davis Cup play – Maurice McLoughlin, Melville Long and Billy Johnston, in particular – and soon after the [First] World War the outstanding accomplishments of Suzanne Lenglen at Wimbledon and elsewhere increased the general appeal of women’s tennis to a higher degree than ever before. The agile and gifted French girl fired the imagination of English players by her phenomenal skill, and it struck me that women’s play along the lines of the Davis Cup competition would provide a new and definite objective for girls who found tennis to their liking.

“Kathleen McKane had become the leading woman of the English courts, and Helen Wills was just beginning to show signs of the power and genius which were to make her the outstanding player of two continents. The thought struck me that ably-handled meetings which brought together the chief exponents of the game in France, England and the United States would add new zest to women’s tennis. As I recall it, the trophy was offered about 1920, but there was a lack of sympathy with the idea. Some conservatives felt that such matches would arouse only casual interest; the English tennis association was not enthusiastic. When the subject was broached, the cool attitude towards the introduction of a new international trophy was made clear, but in 1923 affairs took a different turn, and that year England decided to send an official team for women’s matches.

“My first inkling of the British action came in the form of a telegram asking me if I would be able to represent the United States in matches at New York in August 1923. I was visiting my parents in Berkeley, California, at the time and rearranged my plans to come in time for the matches. The information had been forwarded that Mr Anthony Sabelli would captain the English team, which would include Miss McKane, Geraldine Beamish, Mabel Clayton and Phyllis Covell. En route to home, I discovered from a newspaper dispatch that I had been honoured with the captaincy of the first American team and that my team-mates would be Molla Mallory, Helen Wills and Eleanor Goss.


“The original idea of including France did not materialize, and perhaps the competition will continue indefinitely between the players of the two English-speaking nations, but regardless of what the future holds for the event, it is my conviction that the good fellowship and friendly rivalry engendered by these women’s matches have made them distinctly worthwhile.

“When the trophy was offered, there was no thought of using a name to designate the donor. In fact the trophy, officially, is the International Ladies’ Trophy, but it has become known as the Wightman Cup event, and I don’t suppose anything can be done about that. I do know that it is the ambition of all our American girls to win a blazer that goes to players selected to represent the United States against England, and this proves that the competition provides an incentive to our leading players.”

Excluding the war years 1940-45, the Wightman Cup competition was held every year from 1923 to 1989, alternately in the United States and Great Britain, initially on grass at Forest Hills and Wimbledon, though later at other venues in both countries (including Wales), and not just outdoors or on grass. Due to the greater quality of its players, and the greater number of them, the United States almost always won the tie and had a 51-10 lead when the competition was abolished in 1989 due to lack of public interest and the one-sided nature of the results, not to mention the existence of the Federation Cup (now the Fed Cup), established in 1963 as an international team competition for women players from any country, not just the United States and Great Britain.

In 1923, in its first year, the Wightman Cup was won by the United States; the score was 5-2. As Hazel Wightman states in the piece quoted from above, the first ever teams consisted of Molla Mallory, Helen Wills, Eleanor Goss and Hazel Wightman, with Hazel the playing captain for the United States. The British team was made up of Kathleen McKane, Geraldine Beamish, Phyllis Covell and Mabel Clayton. According to the format, the top two players would play each other once, while the number three players would play one match against each other; there would also be two doubles matches.

One of the key matches in the first tie was that between Helen Wills and Kathleen McKane. In this match Helen Wills won the first set 6-2, but Kathleen McKane had a lead of 5-2, 40-15 in the second set before Helen fought back to win it 7-5. Helen Wills always considered this match to be a key one in her early career because of the confidence it gave her; it showed her that she could fight back against another top player when she found herself in a very difficult position. Just a few weeks later Helen Wills won her first major singles title on the same court at Forest Hills, beating the defending champion Molla Mallory in the final, 6-2, 6-1.

In this first Wightman Cup tie, Hazel Wightman played doubles with Eleanor Goss, while Helen Wills teamed up with Molla Mallory. The 1924 edition of the Wightman Cup was held at Wimbledon just before that tournament got under way. It was during this second edition of the competition that Hazel Wightman and Helen Wills teamed up for the second time (after playing together at the 1923 Pacific Coast Championships).

In 1924, the British won the competition for the first time, easily defeating the United States, by six matches to one. On her debut in England, Helen Wills lost not only to Kathleen McKane, a player close to her class (the score was 6-2, 6-2 in the Englishwoman’s favour), but also to Phyllis Covell, a player not in Helen’s class (the score was 6-2, 6-4). It is clear that Helen Wills had not “found her feet” by the time the Wightman Cup competition began (neither she nor Hazel Wightman had ever played competitive tennis in Europe). However, when Hazel and Helen against Evelyn Colyer and Kathleen McKane, the former pair won easily, 6-0, 6-3.

According to the correspondent of the London, “Times”, probably Eustratius Emmanuel Mavrogordato, whose report was published in that newspaper on June 20, 1924: “The American victory was Mrs Wightman’s doing; she was always in the right place. She gave away fewer points from balls to which she got her racket than any of the other three; she was – as far as results go – as severe in her strokes as any of them, and she has the gift of hitting to the awkward place, while exposing herself to the minimum of risk.

“Her stroke is her own – made with a peculiar push of the wrist, which keeps the racket on the line of the ball, and with it she can trust herself to hit across its direction, so that it goes sharply to the sidelines. Taking her strokes and generalship together, she played the best lawn tennis seen on the two days, and it was evident that none of the spectators grudged the American captain the credit of stopping the sequence of English victories.”

At their first Wimbledon a few days later, the debutantes Helen and Hazel had mixed success. In the singles event, Hazel lost in the third round of the singles event to Suzanne Lenglen, 6-0, 6-0. This score speaks for itself, although Suzanne would retire from the tournament after nearly losing her next match, to Elizabeth Ryan in the quarter-finals.

Helen Wills fared better – it is clear that she “found her feet” between the end of the Wightman Cup and the beginning of the Wimbledon tournament. She roared through the draw, dropping only ten games in five matches on her way to the final (it must be said that her main rivals – Elizabeth Ryan, Kathleen McKane and Suzanne Lenglen – were all in the other half of the draw). Her opponent in the final, Kathleen McKane, had received a walkover in the semi-final from the ill Suzanne Lenglen, but proved that she deserved to be a finalist nevertheless.

In a fascinating encounter Helen Wills led 6-4, 4-1 and had four opportunities to lead 5-1 in the second set. However, Kathleen McKane, playing an attacking, offensive game managed to win the sixth game of the second set, as well as the next four to take that set 6-4. The momentum had changed and in the final set the Englishwoman kept pressing and took this set, too, by the score of 6-4, for a memorable 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory.

Kathleen McKane would be the only player to beat Helen Wills (later Moody) in a singles match at Wimbledon and, along with Molla Mallory, only one of two players to defeat Helen in a completed singles match at a major tournament, although Helen Wills Moody would default to Helen Jacobs in the final of the 1933 US Championships.

There was consolation for both Helen Wills and Hazel Wightman at the 1924 Wimbledon tournament. Playing together in a major tournament for the first time, they won the doubles title, beating Kathleen McKane and Phyllis Covell in the final, 6-4, 6-4. Luck was on the Americans’ side during this tournament because they had been due to play Suzanne Lenglen and Elizabeth Ryan, the defending champions, in the quarter-finals before Suzanne retired ill. The Lenglen/Ryan team had won the Wimbledon doubles title for the previous five years and are still the only women’s doubles team ever to do so. It is likely that Suzanne and Elizabeth would have beaten Hazel and Helen if they had played in the quarter-finals.

On July 7, 1924, the following report on the Wimbledon doubles final between Hazel and Helen and Kathleen McKane and Phyllis Covell appeared in the London “Times”:

“English expectations – well-grounded or not – were disappointed in the final of the ladies’ doubles, for Miss Wills and Miss Wightman of America beat Miss McKane and Mrs Covell without the loss of a set, and on their form of the day the losers were not ill-rewarded with their eight games.

“But no one who has seen them in their earlier matches would regard their form of the day as the best to which they can rise. It would have been inhuman to expect that best from Miss McKane after her miraculous deliverance of Friday. Unless she had been a machine she would not have turned out her best strokes in succession; and no player of her standing is less of a machine. She would not now be [singles] Champion if nine-tenths of what preoccupies the casual player were not automatic with her; but by comparison with those whom she meets and beats she appears to improvise her stroke according to the ball hit her.

“It is her strength; her well-wishers never abandon hope when she is chasing the ball that, one way or another, she will have it back. It is also her weakness; she misses the easy ball more often than the machine player. With her of all players it must be essential that she should want to play to develop the necessary concentration, and it is inconceivable that she would have wanted to play on Saturday, even with the ‘triple crown’ to be had, as many of us thought, for the taking. She did, however, play well enough to have been on the winning side if Mrs Covell had been playing her best game.

“But a dreadful thing happened to Mrs Covell; it fell upon her in the second game of the match from out of the blue. She is not new to the Centre Court. Most memories of the meeting of 1921 are dim; but there remains a clear picture of Miss Howkins standing up to Mr Tilden in ‘mixed’ and putting the ball back deftly and demurely out of the great man’s reach. She had the less reason to be nervous that in the opening game of the match – the winning of which was mainly her doing – she had shown the most delicate touch in returning the service sharply to the sideline across the forehand of the advancing server. The first two points of the second game went to the American ladies through lobs of perfect length. After that the lobs went just out, and Mrs Covell found herself serving at 40-30.

“Then the thing happened. She could not serve; it would not have mattered if the American ladies had also not been ‘off’. In after years, when Mrs Wightman’s cunning has become legendary, we shall say, when speaking of the wise ones: ‘Ah, but did you see Mrs Wightman lose that game in 1924?’ What we shall go on to say shall not be true, for the Americans did their best to win the game, but could not; they lost it – but not until Mrs Covell had made six double faults. She was obviously unhappy whenever it was her turn to serve. Afterwards, and with the knowledge that the packed stands were henceforward primarily interested in watching for the fault, the prospect of serving must have been a nightmare to her.

“Henceforward, much of the English play in the rallies was like a speech that begins with a stammer and is hurried for fear of a repetition of it. Nevertheless the home pair led 4-2. They got no more games in the set. The decisive game was probably the fifth in the next set, with the score two-all. Mrs Wightman reach 40-15; the score was brought to deuce; an English pull-up which one had been waiting for ended with Miss McKane’s missing an easy smash.

“One had been expecting that pull-up; for in the rallies the American pair were apt to fail at wide strokes which one saw without surprise returned by their opponents. Perhaps Mrs Wightman expected it, too, for she hit out to win the match before the recovery began. She had enough failures for the score to be 4-all; but then her strokes came off and the game was over. She was the least likely of the four to reach and return the more difficult strokes, but she was the most cool and drastic with the others – as cool as Miss Wills, who played imperturbably throughout.

“Miss Wills wielded the best racket of the four. Her capacity for returning the ball compensated for some lack of that knowledge of where the ball will be hit, which comes of experience in doubles. Her defence was most sound; she served hard and accurately, and she was quick to the net to kill the return to a good service.”

Much later, in “The Unforgettable Mrs Wightie”, an article she co-wrote for the “Reader’s Digest” after Hazel Wightman’s death, Helen Wills said of this 1924 Wimbledon doubles final and the coaching she had previously received from Hazel Wightman: “Blessed with a thumping ‘natural’ forehand, I learned from her to use it with greater finesse, and to anticipate an opponent’s shot by her position on the court and the position of her body [...] She taught me to rivet my attention – ‘See only the ball’ – and to stifle anger or elation as useless distractions. Much of my tennis education – and so much pure fun – came in teaming with Mrs. Wightman, a superb doubles player. After I lost my first Wimbledon singles final in 1924, she all but carried me to a share of the doubles prize. Each time I got caught out of position, because of inexperience at doubles, Mrs Wightie covered my mistake, sensing where the ball would go or spurring me on with calls that startled and delighted the crowd: ‘Up now!’ and ‘Cross over!’ and ‘Run, Helen, run!’”

After Wimbledon Hazel Wightman, Helen Wills and the rest of the American team travelled to Paris to compete in the tennis events at that year’s Olympic Games, which were held from July 13-20. The tennis events were held in Colombes, a less than ideal venue on the outskirts of Paris. The conditions and preparations were less than ideal, too. In her autobiography “Fifteen-Thirty” (first published in 1937), Helen Wills Moody, as she then was, describes as follows the venue and the scene that greeted the players on their arrival:

“On the outskirts of Paris, Colombes was a dusty manufacturing district dotted with dirty cafés and grimy buildings. What greeted the team when they first arrived and viewed the court site was a Fellini-like surrealism. In the background, where the roaring crescendos of approval would soon erupt, was a large stadium in a barren field overgrown with dry woods and stickers. Close to it, anxious for a moment in the spotlight, brawny wrestlers practised on a platform, and on a frame of rods and bars, chiselled gymnasts polished their daring feats of precision. In the foreground was the shocking sight of pyramid piles of red clay and sand – the tennis courts. [...]

“The courts were laid in time, however. It seems to be the French way to work to the last minute, and a little after, if necessary. The stands were completed, too, finally. The dressing room for the women players was a large shed with a tin roof and had a shower in it that worked on only one needle. There was much complaint about the poor arrangements. […] The courts were very good, and as the weather was hot, they became extremely fast by the end of the week. This suited my game, as I was used to the hard courts in California. I had more fun in the Olympic tournament than in any other.

“It was hard to keep your mind on the game. The gymnasts would get into extraordinary positions on the bars and stay there. When you looked up again after the end of a rally they would still be there, immobile. The tumultuous shouting of the vast crowds in the big stadium would burst out just as you were waiting to hit an overhead. [...] Everyone appeared to be in a violent state of mind. No one seemed pleased when a face was won, and pistols were being fired all the time. [...] The ball boys at the Olympic tennis were very small, and spent most of their time under the grandstands eating lemons. There was a delapidated-looking woman vendor who went through the stands crying, ‘Oranges, bananes, glaces!’ until [Richard] Norris Williams had to ask her to stop. Jean Borotra objected to her, too.”

Despite all of the distractions, Helen Wills managed to win the gold medal in the singles event relatively easily, defeating Molla Mallory on her way to the final, where she beat the Frenchwoman Diddie Vlasto 6-2, 6-2. In the doubles event, Helen and Hazel Wightman, who was captain of the women’s team, reached the final, though not without some difficulty in their penultimate match (they had had a bye and two walkovers in the previous rounds). In the semi-finals they dropped a set to the English pairing of Evelyn Colyer and Dorothy Shepherd-Barron. The final score was 6-3, 1-6, 7-5. The following report on this match appeared in the “New York Times” on July 19, 1924:

“Miss Wills and Miss Wightman lost the first three games in the final set of their match with Mrs Shepherd-Barron and Miss Colyer, and then made a fine uphill fight until they led 4-3 in games. Then the British pair, whom the Americans had been unable to drive back from the net during the second set, again resumed their sharp volleying to lead 5-4. Mrs Wightman then won her service, she and Miss Wills afterward breaking through Miss Colyer’s service. In the final game Miss Wills served with fierce speed and won a love game, sending over a hot service ace for the last point of the match.

“The American pair set the pace in the first set, but the British took the offensive and held it all through the second, banging the ball crisply away from the net. The Americans tried everything to force the Englishwomen back, but fell into errors in doing so.

“Half way in the match Miss Wills played sluggishly as she had done against Germaine Golding, but when the position became desperate toward the end it was her brilliance, added to Mrs Wightman’s steadiness, that pulled the match away from the Britons.”

Their final opponents were Kathleen McKane and Phyllis Covell. This was the third meeting between this pairing in little over a month, and once again the American pair won, though not after their closest encounter yet, 7-5, 8-6. Arthur Wallis Myers wrote the following report for “The Field” sports gazette, which was reproduced in the 1925 edition of “Ayres’ Almanack”:

“A British umpire was appointed for the ladies’ doubles final, and there was a full, if not quite a competent, staff of linesmen. But the plan of employing a loud-speaker instead of a silent scoring board, to announce the progress of the matches to the crowd was a concession to modernity which did not contribute to the serenity of the players. It reminded one of a court of justice in which the agony of prisoners is increased while the interpreter repeats in another language the observations of the judge. But this was a mild inconvenience after what competitors went through earlier in the week!

“America scored the first success of the tournament by winning the ladies’ doubles through the agency of Mrs Wightman and Miss Wills. As at Wimbledon, they met Miss McKane and Mrs Covell in the final, and here, as there, they won in two sets. But the Olympic match was much closer, and the play of a higher standard, although there was too much lobbing and too much tentative smashing to make the rallies really drastic.

“The English pair had the mortification of losing both sets after enjoying the commanding lead of 5-2 in each. It must be confessed that on each occasion they contributed to the American recovery by serious lapses, of which the most conspicuous was weak service.

“If Miss McKane was not free from double-faulting in the first set, it was Mrs Covell whose service, formerly such a valuable asset, let her side down. She lost the fourth game of the second set through two double faults and served another at a more critical stage in the eighth game in which her side was within a stroke of the set. Even when her second delivery (which was made underhand on the principle of ‘safety first’) was valid it was quite devoid of guile, and permitted both the Americans to place their returns exactly where they wanted.

“Miss Wills would make a full-blooded forehand drive at the feet of the incoming volleyer, and Mrs Wightman would use her insidious chop. Yet, despite this handicap, which proved to be serious, the English couple might have won the match if they had employed the centre of the court more judiciously.

“It seemed to me (observed ‘The Field’ correspondent) that they paid Mrs Wightman a higher compliment than, with all her great skill, she deserved. They concentrated on Miss Wills, who was not only wonderfully steady in defence, but possessed the forcing drives (which Mrs Wightman did not) to secure, at the propitious moment, an attacking position at the net. Subtle in defence as Mrs Wightman was, especially in the use of the lob, she was, after all, in a backward position, and if Mrs Covell and her partner had driven speedily in her direction, selecting the inside rather than the outside of the court, they must have drawn enough replies to make a combined volleying attack effective.

“For this error of judgment they paid the penalty, which was perhaps in excess of true justice; yet it must be remembered that this was the third occasion within a month in which they had faced the American combination. When Mrs Covell and Miss McKane defeated Mrs Wightman and Miss [Eleanor] Goss in the final of the American doubles championship at New York in 1923, the absence of a forcing drive from Mrs Wightman’s equipment had proved a decisive handicap. It is true she was in better lobbing form today than then; on the other hand, Miss Goss was volleying more decisively in America than Miss Wills in Paris.”

The Americans made a clean sweep of the tennis events at the 1924 Olympic Games, Vincent Richards winning the gold medal in the men’s singles event and, with Francis T. Hunter, the men’s doubles. The gold medal in the mixed doubles event was won by Hazel Wightman in partnership with Richard Norris Williams. In the final they beat Richards and Marian Jessup (formerly Zinderstein), 6-2, 6-3. Norris Williams, who was suffering from an Achilles tendon injury, had considered defaulting from the mixed doubles event but, characteristically, Hazel Wightman refused to give up.

According to one report, “Williams, who usually played two feet inside the baseline and hit hard and flat, couldn’t move at all [...] Williams had to stand in one spot, at the net or in the backcourt, hitting only balls he could reach in one step. He couldn’t push off. Of course at the net he was a sitting duck for lobs. Never mind, Hazel anticipating them, would pick up her skirts and dash back to cover anything over his head. […]

“Even the small, pencil-thin ball boys, who usually spent their spare time beneath the bleachers eating lemons, came out to watch the sight. And a peregrinating knot of UC Berkeley students and athletes showed up to add the school favourite ‘Oski-wow-wow’ cheer of encouragement, which must have mystified the rude audience which booed every close call. ‘All Dick could do was return the serve and then hobble to the net,’ Hazel said in a 1972 taped interview, ‘And I would take his lobs and the short chops hit to him. I don’t know how I did, but I did.’”

Years later, Norris Williams said of Hazel and the tennis events at the 1924 Olympic Games: “Most people think Hazel owes her record to her brilliant footwork and sense of anticipation. [...] But if you ask me, the greatest thing about her is the way that woman can concentrate. [...] What’s more, the officiating was the poorest I’ve ever seen. Several times, only the umpire showed up for work and line judges had to be recruited from the crowd. I was on edge the whole time, but nothing bothered Hazel – nothing at all. I don’t even think she even heard them selling those bananas.”

At the 1924 United States Championships, held in mid-August, Hazel and Helen teamed up once again and were once again invincible as a pair. They won six matches without the loss of a set, only once being taken beyond 6-4 in a set. In the final they beat the excellent combination of Eleanor Goss and Marion Jessup, 6-4, 6-3. The runners-up had won the same title together in 1918, 1919 and 1920.

Hazel Wightman and Helen Wills next teamed up at the 1927 Essex Invitational tournament, held in Manchester, Massachusetts, from July 25- 29. Between the 1924 United States Championships and the tournament in Manchester, Hazel had in 1925 given birth to her fifth and last child, a boy named William. After suffering ill health and undergoing an operation for appendicitis in 1926, Helen Wills had returned to (re)conquer the tennis world in 1927 (Suzanne Lenglen had retired from amateur play at the previous year’s Wimbledon).

Helen Wills won her first Wimbledon singles title in 1927, and would not lose another singles match for six years. Hazel won a second and last United States Indoor Championships singles title in March 1927, beating Margaret Blake 6-0, 6-4 in the final (she also won the doubles, with Marion Jessup, and the mixed with Glenn Gardner). Hazel had turned 40 the previous December.

It is not quite clear why Hazel and Helen decided to team up at the Essex Invitational tournament in the summer of 1927. Perhaps they wanted some match practice together before playing together in the Wightman Cup at Forest Hills a month or so later. They did not play together in the US Championships in 1927. Manchester, Massachusetts, was located close to Brookline, where Hazel lived, so she would not have had far to travel. They won the doubles event there easily, defeating Doris Corbiere and a Mrs W. Endicott in the final, 6-2, 6-3. In the singles final Helen Wills easily beat Helen Jacobs.

A month later, at Forest Hills, Hazel and Helen beat Kathleen Godfree (formerly McKane) and Ermyntrude Harvey in their Wightman Cup doubles match, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. Hazel once again had the role of playing captain. The United States, the defending champions, won the tie 5-2. The following short report on the aforementioned doubles match, written by Bryan Field, appeared in the “New York Times” on August 14, 1927:

“In the doubles Mrs Godfree did much better and played sensationally at the net. Mrs Wightman outdid herself and Miss Wills played well. However, Mrs Godfree was applauded more than any other of the players, as most of the spectators seemed to sense that she wanted some crumb of victory after defeats at the hands of Mrs Mallory and Miss Wills.

“When the English won the second set it looked like a repetition of the doubles on the first day when the visitors came from behind to win. However, the Americans had more in reserve in the third set and the English did not appear to be as keen for points as they might have been with the cup at stake.”

Hazel Wightman and Helen Wills teamed up for what was probably the last time at the 1928 US Championships at Forest Hills. Although Hazel was nearly 42 at this time, she was still as competitive and skillful a doubles player as ever. After a bye in the first round, she and Helen Wills won four matches for the loss of just 10 ten games, 4 of them in the final, where they beat the team of Edith Cross and Anna Harper (formerly McCune), 6-2, 6-2.

Given that her powers as a doubles player were still relatively undiminished, it is somewhat unusual that Hazel and Helen never again played competitive tennis together after the 1928 US Championships. Perhaps she wanted Helen Wills, who played quite a lot of doubles and mixed doubles, to play with someone closer to Helen’s age. Certainly, Hazel Wightman continued to play doubles competitively for many years. She won the doubles event at the United States Indoor Championships with various partners in the years 1927-31, 1933 and, for the last time, ten years later, in 1943.

This last victory in the doubles event at the US Indoor Championships came with Pauline Betz, the top singles player of the time, and at a time when a world war was raging in other parts of the world (many tennis tournaments continued in the United States throughout World War II, although after the US joined the war, the quality of the men’s events in particular were affected by the absence of players serving in the armed forces). When Hazel Wightman won that last doubles title at the 1943 US Indoor Championships with Pauline Betz, Hazel was 56 years old.

As previously mentioned, the Wightman Cup was halted by Great Britain’s entry into World War Two. Hazel Wightman took the role of playing captain a total of five times (in 1923, 1923, 1927, 1929 and 1931); in addition, she had the role of captain eight other time, lastly in 1948. Naturally, she continued to follow closely the progress of the competition and lived to see the fiftieth anniversary of the first tie, in 1973.

This fiftieth anniversary tie was held, appropriately enough, in Brookline, Massachusetts, not quite on Hazel Wightman’s doorstep. Many American and British players from previous competitions were present, including the 77-year-old Kathleen Godfree. To coincide with the 1973 edition of the Wightman Cup, Hazel was presented with an honorary CBE, making her an honorary Commander of the British Empire; the ceremony took place in Washington, D.C. The American team, whose star player was the 18-year-old Chris Evert, won the tie in 1973 by five matches to two.

The top American player of the previous ten years or so, Billie Jean King, did not play in the 1973 edition of the Wightman Cup, but Hazel Wightman knew Billie Jean well, although Hazel, like Elizabeth Ryan, did not really agree with Billie Jean’s campaign for equal pay for women tennis players. In the interview she gave to Barbara Klaw in 1974, Hazel said:

“Well, I don’t think Billie Jean can do any different. Because Billie Jean has come a long way that way. I knew her when she couldn’t hit a ball. I knew her when she got beaten every time she stepped on the court, and I also saw her when she swore. I didn’t like it, and I kept telling her. I said, ‘Billie Jean, please don’t do it, don’t swear when you miss a point.’ I said, ‘Men swear, but women don’t swear.’ I said, ‘If you miss a ball, who’s to blame?’ I never could make her realize the difference between a lady out in front of four or five hundred – a thousand – people, swearing, and a man swearing.

“What about her insistence that women players get paid as much as men?

“Well, I’m all for her, and she has the right motive, although myself, I don’t believe any woman should be paid as much to play tennis as any man.

“Why is that? Do you think men are just better players?

“Well, they are stronger. They’ve got longer legs.

“In terms of the spectators, do you think people enjoy watching women’s tennis as much as they do men’s?

“People enjoy watching women’s tennis more than men’s.

“Why is that?

“Because they can understand it better. Women have naturally more grace, more rhythm, and they don’t hit the ball so hard. Therefore it isn’t so quick, so hard to watch. People can learn more from watching women play.

“But in spite of that you don’t think they should be paid as much as men?

“I’ve felt that women don’t spend as much energy, they don’t have to work as hard as men; and, well, I just have always felt that no woman is capable of earning as much money as a man tennis player. I guess maybe I haven’t thought enough about it.

“As for yourself, have you ever made any money out of tennis in any way?

“Oh, no, no, I couldn’t. But I give these women today credit for coming along. And I think Billie Jean has done a mighty good job to keep at it the way she has.”

In the same interview, Hazel was asked about what she used to wear when she first started playing tennis:

“My mother made me dimity dresses—you don’t remember dimity; dimity was a thin material—my mother sewed dresses for me with short sleeves, and they were nice-looking dresses.

“Tennis dresses?

“They were what I played in. They had a round neck or something. It was a full dress, a feminine dress. It would have looked much better on somebody who was more feminine-looking. Here I was, square like a horse, see.

“How long were the dresses?

“They had to be four inches from the floor.

“What did you wear with those dresses?

“I think I wore corsets. I can’t imagine. But I think I wore corsets, because how else would I have kept my stockings up? I wouldn’t have known any better. And we wore high shoes, high sneakers. Hideous-looking things!

“Did you wear a hat?

“Well, on an awfully hot day I think somebody put a hat on me. I don’t remember playing in a hat very often. Of course, I had a little longer head of hair then—though I always had poor hair—but I wore a bun, and in order to keep the bun from sliding down my neck I tied a ribbon around it. And if I was wearing a ribbon, I thought I better put a bow on it, so I’d put a bow on it. Silly; looked horrible.

“What did you play in later when it became proper to wear the skirts a little shorter?

“Well, later I played in anything I could find that would fit me, because I wasn’t a regular size. It wasn’t as if I wore a 16 or 18 or something like that. I was either nursing a baby or I’d just had a baby, so my figure was never what I’d call a nice little ladylike kind of figure. I remember I had sort of a two-piece thing one time, say in Helen Wills’s time, but I was never a fashion plate. Helen Wills wore a middy blouse, and the reason she wore a middy blouse was because of the sun on her back. She roasted if she had to stay out playing tennis for two hours, so she found a middy blouse with the collar was a great help and very respectable.

“And the skirt?

“It had a full skirt, always a little below her knees. There was no showing the waistband when you served. It was a very satisfactory dress for her, but to me I was an old married lady then, and I didn’t want to wear middy blouses. Now most of the women when I played in the East, all played in the middy blouse or some blouse with long sleeves to keep the sun off their arms. But I needed a short sleeve because the sleeve bothered me for overheads. Isn’t it strange? And yet if it hadn’t been for the fact that I had the freedom of the arm, I never would have perfected the volley.

“Did you ever wear your tennis skirts really short?

“I did get them a little shorter, but, oh, I wouldn’t wear them the way they are today. I’m almost embarrassed when I see a girl’s pants.

“Why is that? Does it seem immodest?

“To me your pants are your own. And you only wear pants just because it’s your own business, see? And a woman’s behind isn’t very pretty anyway. Of course, people don’t wear petticoats any more. But there is something about, when these people serve nowadays, seeing their pants or seeing their waistbands – it’s hideous.

“Even for tennis? Even for an active sport?

“The only time I countenance it is for skating. Skating is a different story, but in tennis it just isn’t decent. I get so mad at it!”

Hazel was also asked about what she thought of modern women players in general, and replied as follows:

“Oh, I’ve got great admiration for them all; they’re all wonderful players. So long as they’re feminine – that’s the only thing that bothers me. I think you can be a great player and still be feminine. When tennis began to get so professionalized, I will admit I had a few qualms. I have a few qualms now, and when things happen that I don’t think are too ladylike, I think, ‘Why do it? Why sink so low?’

“Such as what, Mrs. Wightman? What kind of thing has happened that you feel is unfeminine?

“I don’t want to put my finger on anything special, see, but I have been pleased that it’s avoided going low. I’m a long way from tennis now except my one foot in a tennis group here, but anything that goes on out there touches me. And I think that’s why I’ve had so much pleasure, and also why sometimes I’ve suffered.”

It is not clear what Hazel Wightman would have made of a player like Martina Navaratilova, though it is easy to imagine that she would have admired Martina’s great skill on the court. In some ways, Hazel was a woman of her era; after all, she was born in 1886. Then again, her tennis career spanned so many decades that it would be wrong to fix her in just one particular era.

Although she came from a relatively privileged background, Hazel had to make her way it was still essentially a man’s world, and she managed to succeed in a way that many people, even people who did not know her personally, admired. Clearly, she was no Billie Jean King, but, consciously or not, players like Hazel had helped pave the way for players like Billie Jean.

In later years, Hazel Wightman played senior tennis, winning several national titles in that division. She also continued to run tournaments and coach players of all ages (often doing the latter in her converted garage). Throughout the years she also housed many players in her home in Boston. In her interview with Barbara Klaw, Hazel said:

“…I’ve been running tournaments here [in Brookline] since 1923. I know practically everybody who hits a tennis ball in Massachusetts. And then the National Championships were played here in Boston – which is why I got so many titles; the only tournaments I played in [after coming to live in the East] were the Nationals, so if I happened to win them, I got the title – so I got the idea of putting up tennis players who travelled. I could remember that when I was young and travelling, I had to have some friend’s house to stay in.

“You mean in the early days the tournament committees didn’t necessarily find housing for the players?

“Oh, they had never heard of it. Well, I was using my house for players, and there were getting to be more players, so I happened to find this house. It’s bigger, and it’s just four minutes’ walk from Longwood, and that gave me the idea.

“What’s the greatest number of players you’ve ever had staying here?

"Fourteen; fourteen extra girls. I didn’t often have men, because at that time my husband and I were not living together, and I didn’t want to worry about extra men in the house. They cramped my style. [The Wightmans were divorced in 1940.] And when the pros got into it, I said I wouldn’t take any pros into my house during the tournaments. For instance, I told Maureen Connolly’s pro, I remember saying to her, ‘I’ve asked Maureen and her chaperone to stay at my house, but I can’t ask you because I don’t have any pros staying here.’ I wasn’t going to have her do something I didn’t like. I said, ‘You can come for lunch, you can come for dinner any day, but you’re not spending the night.’ That’s just me.”

In the early 1970’s, Hazel injured herself in a fall and was thereafter restricted in her movements. She died in Brookline, Massachusetts, on December 1974, fifteen days before what would have been her eighty-eighth birthday.

Last edited by newmark401; Nov 23rd, 2011 at 09:32 PM.
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Re: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan and Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills

Part IV: Doubles titles and other matches won by Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills [Incomplete]


Circa June 26-July 1, Pacific Coast Championships, Berkeley, California, USA (Hard)

Early rounds [?]

DF: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills d. Mrs J. Cushing/Carmen Tarilton 6-2, 6-2


June 18-19, Wightman Cup, Wimbledon, London, England (Grass)

United States 6, Great Britain 1

Second doubles: Hazel Wightman (USA)/Helen Wills (USA) d. Evelyn Colyer/Kathleen McKane 6-0, 6-3

June 23-July 5, Wimbledon, London, England (Grass)

FR: Hazel Wightman (USA)/Helen Wills (USA), a bye

SR: Hazel Wightman (USA)/Helen Wills (USA) d. Doris Craddock/Mabel Parton 6-4, 6-0

TR: Hazel Wightman (USA)/Helen Wills (USA) d. Joan Austin/Evelyn Colyer 6-2, 6-4

QF: Hazel Wightman (USA)/Helen Wills (USA) d. Suzanne Lenglen (FRA)/Elizabeth Ryan (USA), walkover

SF: Hazel Wightman (USA)/Helen Wills (USA) d. Eleanor Goss (USA)/Marion Jessup (USA) 8-6, 6-4

DF: Hazel Wightman (USA)/Helen Wills (USA) d. Phyllis Covell/Kathleen McKane 6-4, 6-4

July 13-20, Olympic Games Tennis Events, Colombes, Paris, France (Clay)

FR: Hazel Wightman (USA)/Helen Wills (USA), a bye

SR: Hazel Wightman (USA)/Helen Wills (USA) d. Caro Dahl (NOR)/Molla Mallory (NOR/USA), walkover

QF: Hazel Wightman (USA)/Helen Wills (USA) d. Medy Krenecsy (HUN)/Ilona Peteri (HUN), walkover

SF: Hazel Wightman (USA)/Helen Wills (USA) d. Evelyn Colyer (GBR)/Dorothy Shepherd-Barron (GBR) 6-3, 1-6, 7-5

DF: Hazel Wightman (USA)/Helen Wills (USA) d. Phyllis Covell (GBR)/Kathleen McKane (GBR) 7-5, 8-6

August 11-15, United States Championships, Forest Hills, New York, USA (Grass)

FR: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills d. Mrs B. Stenz/Caroma Winn 6-4, 6-1

SR: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills d. Muriel Binzen/Mrs G. Stanwix 6-0, 6-2

TR: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills d. Florence Ballin/Mrs C. Hutchins 6-2, 6-3

QF: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills d. Edna Hauselt-Roeser/Mrs S. Waring 6-3, 6-2

SF: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills d. Mary K. Browne/Mrs S. Dudley 9-7, 6-1

DF: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills d. Eleanor Goss/Marion Jessup 6-4, 6-3


July 25-29, Essex Invitational, Manchester, Massachusetts, USA (Grass)

FR: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills, a bye

SR: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills d. Miss Colkot/Miss Elliott [score?]

QF: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills d. Mrs C. Welch/Mrs H. Yerxa 6-1, 6-0

SF: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills d. Elizabeth Bright/Louise Inselin 6-3, 6-1

DF: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills d. Doris Corbiere/Mrs W. Endicott 6-2, 6-3

August 12-13, Wightman Cup, Forest Hills, New York, USA (Grass)

United States 5, Great Britain 2

Second doubles: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills d. Kathleen Godfree (GBR)/Ermyntrude Harvey (GBR) 6-4, 4-6, 6-3


August 20-27, United States Championships, Forest Hills, New York, USA (Grass)

FR: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills, a bye

SR: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills d. Mrs C. Muhl/Edith Tough 6-1, 6-0

QF: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills d. Evelyn Parsons/Virginia Parsons 6-3, 6-0

SF: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills d. Penelope Anderson/Charlotte Hosmer 6-0, 6-2

DF: Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills d. Edith Cross/Anna Harper 6-2, 6-2

Last edited by newmark401; Apr 21st, 2011 at 04:58 PM.
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post #5 of 13 (permalink) Old Apr 9th, 2011, 08:51 AM
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Re: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan and Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills

Hi Mark,

Thanks again for this excellent article.
However, you state Ryan has won the 1906 Pacific Northwest Championships in Tacoma.
According to my source, she lost in the final to Hazel Hotchkiss 7-5 6-4
Can you give any details about this final?
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post #6 of 13 (permalink) Old Apr 9th, 2011, 04:35 PM
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Re: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan and Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills

Hi Mark,

Thanks again for this excellent article.
However, you state Ryan has won the 1906 Pacific Northwest Championships in Tacoma.
According to my source, she lost in the final to Hazel Hotchkiss 7-5 6-4
Can you give any details about this final?
Hi Elegos,

I believe the Wright and Ditson annual for 1907 will confirm that Ryan won the Northwest. It will also confirm that, despite Elizabeth's statement that she had never played a grass court before Surbiton, she had in fact played on grass in those early Pacific Northwest tournaments.

Ryan once told Ted Tinling that she first took up volleying when her sister Alice kept hitting to "a bad patch" on purpose. Elizabeth took the then novel approach of hitting the ball in the air as often as possible.

Here is the link to the annual:

*The Pacific Northwest report is on pages 145-146. Page 296 mentions grass courts at an event the Ryans entered and won.

Last edited by Rollo; Apr 9th, 2011 at 04:45 PM.
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post #7 of 13 (permalink) Old Jun 11th, 2011, 11:51 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan and Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills

I used the above four-part article to focus mainly on the lives and careers of Elizabeth Ryan and Hazel Wightman, who had somewhat less illustrious careers than Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills Moody. It might therefore be worth archiving this article under "R" or "W".
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post #8 of 13 (permalink) Old Jun 11th, 2011, 02:43 PM
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Re: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan and Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills

Wonderful reads! Thanks Newmark for posting these. I find the Lenglen era always fascinating. Chambers, Lenglen, Ryan & Wills were all such wonderful players and I would have loved to have seen some of the duels featuring these stars and others of the time. Tinling was a lucky man to have lived through so many incredible generations of tennis.

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post #9 of 13 (permalink) Old Jun 11th, 2011, 08:19 PM
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Re: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan and Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills

i remember reading in the classic but hard to find book ( thank god i have it) the goddess and the american girl about the lenglen and wills that ryan when asked who was the better player, ryan quickly replied " suzanne of course, she had every stroke in the book and was a genius" and i'm paraphrasing here, but she more or less said about will is that all she had and/or all she knew how to do was power and hit the ball hard which would of course work against everyone except lenglen....

i guess in some ways, sounds like a federer vs andy roddick scenario, roddick's serve and forehand powerful and enough to dispatch everyone else but federer ( in his prime that is) had the variety and the technical and mind genius to diffuse roddicks' power and control the match....

lastly though critics and tennis historians at least in this book the majority it seems thinks that if wills and lenglen had played more than just their 1 time on clay in lenglens' backyard practically in france and had played as the years went by in america or at wimbledon and a variety of surfaces, that wills would have eventually overtook lenglen as she matured and grew into using her own tactics and variety coupled with years more of experience and yes her power game?
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post #10 of 13 (permalink) Old Jun 12th, 2011, 02:28 AM
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Re: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan and Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills

Originally Posted by laschutz View Post
i remember reading in the classic but hard to find book ( thank god i have it) the goddess and the american girl about the lenglen and wills that ryan when asked who was the better player, ryan quickly replied " suzanne of course, she had every stroke in the book and was a genius" and i'm paraphrasing here, but she more or less said about will is that all she had and/or all she knew how to do was power and hit the ball hard which would of course work against everyone except lenglen....

i guess in some ways, sounds like a federer vs andy roddick scenario, roddick's serve and forehand powerful and enough to dispatch everyone else but federer ( in his prime that is) had the variety and the technical and mind genius to diffuse roddicks' power and control the match....

lastly though critics and tennis historians at least in this book the majority it seems thinks that if wills and lenglen had played more than just their 1 time on clay in lenglens' backyard practically in france and had played as the years went by in america or at wimbledon and a variety of surfaces, that wills would have eventually overtook lenglen as she matured and grew into using her own tactics and variety coupled with years more of experience and yes her power game?
Yes that is also one of my most treasured books!

And I agree that power can often thwart the greatest artists - I actually look at Roger and Nadal to demonstrate this. Nadal has power and spin and is like a brick wall. These things combined have managed, for the most part, to render Rogers magic as almost ineffective. I too think Wills could have blunted much of the magic of Lenglen over time, but we shall never know for certain. I take Ryans assessment with more authority than anyone else's - she played them both. And Lengln is one of my all time faves who thrills me just to read about. I would much rather watch an artist in action than a power player. Same with Roger.

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post #11 of 13 (permalink) Old Jun 12th, 2011, 08:32 PM
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Re: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan and Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills

good comment tennisvideos. i still believe that federer at his best is better than's just that for whatever reason federer because a basketcase, mentally when he plays nadal... i hate it when people always, always brings up the head to head rivalry to make a case for nadal being better than federer.... what no one, that means commentators and former players who are so called "experts' now and the rest of the media never ever bring out or make mention is that more than half of their matches have been played on clay, where nadal is already the best of all time on that surface or at least a co-best of all time with borg, in fact, if you took away their matches on clay,....

federer still has the head to head edge over nadal, but no one ever makes mention of this i wonder why?

lastly, i can't stand nadal, not just his personalty and his gamesmanship and his "nervous tic" with his hand and his seat of his pants but more importantly the way he plays....

he is a total product of the technology of rackets' today! if he gripped a racket and tried to swing a forehand with a wood racket or heck even a graphite racket from 10 years ago, there is no way he could play the way he does, the ball would never ever land in the court!.... it's almost not even tennis anymore to me, the way he swings the ball and the "trampoline" super excessive spin that can be put on the ball by the way rackets are now and the way he plays....

federer and all the others could still play with wood rackets or any rackets because their strokes for the most part are still "classic" tennis strokes....

anyway as far as wills vs lenglen, it's has to be said that wills was still young and inexperienced and of course would and did improve where as lenglen was at the height of her powers when they played, add in the fact they played in france on a very slow clay court and wills should have won the second set,... poor suzanne if they had to play a 3rd set, because wills could run all day, slowly albeit.
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post #12 of 13 (permalink) Old Jun 18th, 2011, 05:28 AM
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Re: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan and Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills

Originally Posted by laschutz View Post
he is a total product of the technology of rackets' today! if he gripped a racket and tried to swing a forehand with a wood racket or heck even a graphite racket from 10 years ago, there is no way he could play the way he does, the ball would never ever land in the court!.... it's almost not even tennis anymore to me, the way he swings the ball and the "trampoline" super excessive spin that can be put on the ball by the way rackets are now and the way he plays....

federer and all the others could still play with wood rackets or any rackets because their strokes for the most part are still "classic" tennis strokes....
It's more for another thread but overall I agree. I've played with wood and modern racquets and the game is completely different. I think even players like Federer will have to make adjustments to play with wood so whilst I think they will adapt, it will change their style. With wood, Nadal will be able to compete but his competitive edge will be gone.

I like him. But I think it's a bit sad that the modern game of tennis so different to the one when it was born - even though it's only been about 150 years.

I've never been interested in the doubles careers of Lenglen/Wills but this was a nice read. Thanks.

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post #13 of 13 (permalink) Old Jun 23rd, 2011, 03:11 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Suzanne Lenglen/Elizabeth Ryan and Hazel Wightman/Helen Wills

Thanks. If you liked the above article, you'll probably like these two:

The early May Sutton-Hazel Hotchkiss head-to-head (1908-11)

Helen Wills Moody and Helen Jacobs - An overview of their rivalry, careers and lives
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