Little Mo. Big Al and 50s tennis
The 1950s started out with total American domination as the old guard of Brough, dupont, and Hart held firm. But in 1951 a tiny dynamo named Mo Connolly came along and like a shooting star lit up the game for 4 short seasons before a tragic accident took her out of the game.
With Mo gone titles were split, with the old guard winning their last slams and Shirley Fry finally getting her due. Most attention from 1956 to 58 though centered on Althea Gibson, who first made news for breaking the color barrier in tennis in 1950 with the help of Alice Marble. In becoming world champion in 1957 Althea finally saw her dreams fulfilled.
The decade ended with American domination finally over. British gals once again were set to challenge for slams, the Aussies were about to experience a women's tennis revolution, and Latin sensation Maria Bueno became the first undisputed female #1 from South America in 1959. At last the women's game had gone truly global.
Link to a good bio of Mo. The tactic of being aloof from other players still survives today in Venus and Serena!
Connolly's foundation still does massive charity work in the Dallas area. For years her foundation sponsored the Women's tour event in Dallas. Her's the link to her foundation:
This is a great site. It even has brief film footage of Mo, her coach "Teach"(who also took Marble to the top) and Connolly's Wimbledon wins of 1953 and 1954:)
There was also a TV movie about her (the mother from the "Waltons" plays "Teach")
Finally, I can really recommend her daughter's book, which deals with Mo's later years after tennis and offers insight into what made her such a special person.
After winning the US nationals in 1951 Mo lost only 4 times in 3 years, once to Brough(52), once to Hart (Rome 53) and also to Beverly Baker and Shirley Fry.
In March of 1951, before she became famous. In her junior days the tennis community touted cute Laura Lou Jahn as a rival to Mo (some things NEVER change:rolleyes: ) based more on Laura's looks than talent.
Althea Gibson winning the 1957 Wimbledon final over Darlene Hard. Althea's inspirational autobiography is titled "I Always Wanted to Be Somebody". She was given a huge ticker-tape parade in New York after her first Wimbledon title.
She was quite a net rusher. "Al" was so keen to get to net that in her early days she footfaulted repeatedly. In one picture I've seen she was charching the net so fast that she slipped and went UNDER the net, getting tangled up on the other side! :eek:
Another Wimbledon shot-57 semi vs. Christine Truman:
On Center Court
This pic is on Court 1 at Wimbledon
Holding up her US Nationals Trophy
"Al" answered some online questions in an ABC interview. I love how she says she would beat all of today's women!:)
What gave you the will to do all you accomplished, and did you expect to do so much in just one year? I think that you are great and have a lot of heart.
Blair Clarke, St. John's, Newfoundland
Ms. Gibson: I worked hard and was encouraged by my coach and friends to keep winning and playing to the best of my abilities and remember what I had already accomplished. It gave me strength and a greater determination. Besides, I already knew that I was the best player out there.
What inspired you to play tennis and who taught you the game?
Pat Lee, Chicago
Ms. Gibson: Buddy Walker gave me my initial insight into playing tennis from playing paddle ball. I began to internalize that I was good.
Could you describe the social environment and pressure you felt during your Wimbledon and U.S. Open championship tournaments?
Austin Bell, Centreville, Va.
Ms. Gibson: Truthfully, I did not pay attention to anything around me too much, so I didn't really know pressure from outside of myself.
Which player today reminds you the most of yourself, in terms of playing style and competitiveness?
Sey Young, Bentonville, Alaska
Ms. Gibson: Venus Williams, from the standpoint of competitiveness. I was a serve and volley player, and charged the net. Venus is a baseline player, as are most of today's players. If you were to put me in today's grouping of female athletes, I would beat all the players on tour. Don't forget , I was the best player, No. 1 in the world. That means that I would be the best now as well. This is based on putting things in their proper places. I'd beat 'em all. Once I figured out the style of my opponent, look out.
For someone whose impact upon the tennis world has been so substantial, what factors have caused you to maintain a "reclusive life"?
Meade Thayer, Seattle
Ms. Gibson: I want the public to remember me as they knew me. Strong, athletic, smart and healthy. Right now, I don't remember everything I did, or when or how. I dominated in '56 and '57, and people are not kind if you forget things. I don't want people feeling sorry for me because of the way I look. "Oh, look at her she is so thin," and other things like that. No. Remember me strong and tough and quick, fleet of foot and tenacious.
How did you help change the attitude of Americans towards the participation of African-Americans in professional sports?
Jamyse Williams, New York
Ms. Gibson: I did not change anybody. I played good tennis. Being a good athlete has nothing to do with race. I played hard, didn't fight the calls, I just tried my best to beat the opponent. If I got a bad call I couldn't let that bother me. I had to keep on playing. Remember, this was in the '50s. I didn't expect much. I was my own worst enemy if I didn't pay attention to the game and got lost in the distractions.
Do you believe that many young African-American women are discouraged from pursuing professional sports careers because society only accepts these athletes in only a handful of sports?
Sanford Brown Jr., Queens, N.Y.
Ms. Gibson: No. Sponsorship is the problem not always attitude. Today's youth are afforded more. Some of what the Althea Gibson Foundation will do when the level of finances are able to carry the weight, will be sponsoring talented athletes.
Of everything you've accomplished, what stands out the most?
Curtis McAfee Jr., Brandon, Mich.
Ms. Gibson: I have traveled the world, represented the United States, worked for the State of New Jersey, and much more. But the greatest thing that I can do now is help the children along. I was discovered playing on the streets of Harlem, educated and helped by affluent members of my community, and now I have the opportunity to sponsor children. This is probably the best thing that I will ever do. I have co-founded the Althea Gibson Foundation so that inner city youths, just like me, can have a chance to avoid delinquency and get an education. This is what my last deeds will be.
Can you talk about your relationship with writer Alice Marble, and how she helped get your career started?
Miranda Chattam, Atlanta
Ms. Gibson: Alice Marble was a great, kind and gracious lady, and the one person that stood up for me in the tennis world, really the world at large. She was the voice that caused the doors of racial divide to be parted. Once the doors were opened, it was up to me so I beat down everything else with my tennis racquet.
Do you think you've left a greater legacy on the sport of tennis, or on society?
Kiara Decastro, Beale, Calif.
Ms. Gibson: My legacy is that I played hard and fair. I got my education. I finished high school at 21 with honors and completed Florida A&M as a B+ student. My legacy is that I was a good citizen who gave back to children so that they could have a chance, too.
I wish they would show that movie on tv here
She has her own site and foundation:)
Besides tennis she sang (releasing an album in 1959), did some bit acting (the Horsesoldiers the same year) and later played the LPGA tour with limited success.
Gibson won a little known women's pro tournament in 1960 in Cleveland. She beat Betz 7-5 in the 3rd set of the final. This was the only women's tournament until 1968. Before 1968 there were two women tours (Gibson did one with Sexpot Karol Fageros touring with the Harlem Globetroters) but no actual tournaments except in Cleveland. I wish I knew the date, how many played, etc!
Playing a sax given to her by supporter Sugar Ray Robinson.
Winning the 1956 French title. Gibson missed a chance to add to her slam totals by skipping the French in 1957 and 1958. Wimbledon was her first priority and it fell too near to the French.
singing at the 57 Wimbledon ball
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