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Helen Wills Moody and Helen Jacobs - An overview of their rivalry, careers and lives
Helen Wills Moody and Helen Jacobs - An overview of their rivalry, careers and lives
By Mark Ryan
In chapter eleven of her autobiography “Fifteen-Thirty: The Story of a Tennis Player” (published in 1937), Helen Wills Moody, in relation to her encounter with Helen Jacobs in the singles final at the 1928 United States Championships at Forest Hills, stated: “I should think we had met in at least fifteen matches as counting those in California, Paris, Wimbledon and Forest Hills. I played against her more often in tournaments than any other player.” This statement is incorrect because in reality the “two Helens” did not meet very often in singles play. For the purpose of this article it has been possible to find only twelve meetings between them in the fourteen years extending from 1925 to 1938, inclusive.
Appropriately enough, their first meeting in open singles competition took place on the hard courts of California, in June 1925, in the semi-finals of the Pacific Coast Championships tournament. This match set the pattern for their subsequent meetings, in the sense that it was won easily and in straight sets (6-3, 6-1) by Helen Wills.
At this point in time Helen Wills was 19 years old and already twice singles champion of the United States. However, she had not quite acquired the utter invincibility in singles play which she would enjoy in later years. It would be wrong to call Helen Jacobs her understudy because they were never close, indeed they could not have been called friends, but it was part of Jacobs’s destiny to follow in the footsteps of the older Helen, and to be often compared to her, with Helen Jacobs cast as the inferior player, whether Jacobs liked it or not. A “feud”, always denied by both of them, would allegedly grow between them because of perceived differences, especially in personality. This article will not focus on the alleged “feud”.
Helen Newington Wills was born in Centreville, California, on October 6, 1905, to Dr Clarence Wills, a native of California, and Catherine Wills, nee Anderson, who had been born in Iowa. Mrs Wills was a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, where she had majored in social science. She also trained as a teacher, but did not enter that profession. The young Helen Wills was home-schooled until the age of eight; she had no siblings. In later years Catherine Wills would accompany her daughter to virtually every tournament she took part in, both in the United States and abroad. This arrangement continued right up until Helen Wills’s first marriage in December 1929. Helen Wills had an excellent rapport with her mother, who was a silent but supportive spectator at her daughter’s matches.
Clarence Wills had bought his daughter her first tennis racket when she was eight years of age and attempted to teach her the fundamentals of the game. In 1919, Dr Wills bought Helen a junior membership of the Berkeley Tennis Club as an early fourteenth birthday present. By this time Helen Wills had started to receive some tennis lessons from the well-known coach William Fuller. It was more than likely in 1920 that she began to compete in open tennis tournaments for the first time, both in junior and “senior” events, initially in the Bay Area of California. At this point in time the Wills family were Berkeley residents.
Much is known about the life and career of both Helen Wills and Helen Jacobs, but the fact that Wills overshadowed Jacobs perhaps more than any other of her contemporaries, and because Jacobs did not enjoy nearly as much success as Wills, little is known about Helen Jacobs’s life, especially her early years. This is a pity because her early life in particular was arguably more fascinating than that of Helen Wills, and is therefore worth a close look.
Helen Hull Jacobs was born in Globe, Arizona, on August 6, 1908. In those days Globe was a small town with an economy booming due to the abundance of mainly copper ore, the source of which were the hills and mountains in the surrounding area. Helen’s father, Roland Jacobs, was a mining engineer by profession and had, it appears, moved his family to Globe with the aim of making a fortune. Unfortunately, the mining boom did not last very long.
The town of Globe, with its open spaces, its Indians and Mexicans, and its warm climate, inspired a love of adventurousness, the outdoors and the possibilities of the unknown in the young Helen Jacobs which she was never to lose. As a child, much to the worry of her mother, Eula Hull, and her black nursemaid, Hattie, Helen frequently wandered from the safety of her family to explore the town, including the mines.
The young Helen was very disappointed when, just before World War One, Roland Jacobs took the family to live in San Francisco (Helen Jacobs had at least one sibling, a younger sister, Jean, born 1914). The boom in copper ore mining had come to an end, and Mr Jacobs had decided to try his hand at newspaper advertising. Perhaps this interest in printed matter inspired a love of words in the young Helen who, from an early age, liked to read and write fiction. Another spark for her young imagination might have been the stories her mother told her of her own youth in her native state of Missouri. There was also the fact that the Jacobs family was of Dutch ancestry.
At first, Helen Jacobs did not like San Francisco. She missed the open spaces of Globe, where she felt freer. Sometimes she had run-ins with the children of Italian and Irish immigrants from surrounding neighbourhoods; she considered these children rough and uncivilized. However, in later years, when she began to travel and see something of the world, she lost the early prejudice they brought out in her. Certainly she could stand her ground against any of the rough girls – and boys – she might have encountered in the locality and, like the tomboy she was, was even ready to fight with them.
Roland Jacobs’s health began to decline around 1920. By this time tennis was one of the few sports he was still able to play. Having two rackets, he gave one to Helen, whom he taught the rudiments of the sport on the courts at Lafayette Square in San Francisco. At this point in time Helen, still not yet a teenager, had little more than a forehand, but compensated for this fact by her enthusiasm and stamina. This is not to say that she enjoyed particularly robust health as a child or in later years. In fact, the opposite is true. Nevertheless, she had the desire and the ability to make herself excel at tennis.
Like Helen Wills before her, Helen Jacobs soon came under the wing of the tennis coach William Fuller. “Pop” Fuller, as he was familiarly known, was not himself a very good tennis player, but instead a keen observer of the sport with the additional ability of being able to impart his knowledge of it in such a way that his charges were able to benefit from it to the greatest possible extent. Again like Helen Wills, Helen Jacobs progressed from playing in public park tournaments to taking part in senior competitions, first in California, then in the East. The “East” meant mythical tournaments such as Seabright (New Jersey), the Longwood Invitational (Boston) and the tournament up to which these tournaments led, the United States Championships, held mainly at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, New York.
Circa 1924, the Jacobs family moved to Berkeley, California, where Helen was able to join the Berkeley Tennis Club. This move was partly to facilitate the development of the young Helen Jacobs’s tennis career. The Jacobs’ first house in Berkeley had just been vacated by Dr Clarence Wills and his family.
1924 was the most significant year so far in the burgeoning tennis career of Helen Jacobs, who turned 16 in August of that year. Having developed a sound serve and backhand under the tutelage of “Pop” Fuller, and enjoyed some success in state tournaments in California, where she inherited Helen Wills’s crown as the best junior, Helen Jacobs made her first trip East in 1924.
The main reason for this first trip East was so that Jacobs could play in the junior singles event at United States Championships (Helen Wills had won this junior event in 1921 and 1922). However, the young Helen Jacobs also took part in some senior events, winning the singles title at the Narangansett Pier tournament, in Rhode Island, in mid-August of 1924, just after her sixteenth birthday. The previous week, at the Longwood tournament, she had finished runner-up (6-3, 6-2) to the much more experienced Eleanor Goss. Helen Jacobs won the junior singles title at the US Championships with great ease, beating Alice Francis 6-2, 6-1 in the final.
Helen Jacobs was very aware that she was following in the footsteps of Helen Wills, whose first victory in the junior singles event at the US Championships, in 1921, had made headlines in California. At some point William “Pop” Fuller arranged a “friendly” match between the two young Helens. The exact date of this match is unclear but it was probably sometime in 1922 or 1923, on hard courts, possibly at the Berkeley Tennis Club, where Helen Wills was still also a member. In her autobiography “Beyond The Game”, published in 1936, Helen Jacobs wrote that when Helen Wills appeared to play this first match, “She looked very solemn and efficient in her white visor.” The first set went to Helen Wills, 6-0. Helen Jacobs was particularly impressed by the power and pace the other Helen was able to generate on her backhand. Helen Jacobs was expecting to play a second set, but the other Helen left the court after the first set, apparently because she had to study.
In 1926, Helen Jacobs entered the University of California at Berkeley. In this respect she was once again following in the footsteps of Helen Wills, who had matriculated there in 1923. Helen Jacobs appears to have majored in (English) literature, while Helen Wills’s ultimate focus was on art. Wills would become a gifted artist and exhibit her illustrations and paintings at numerous galleries both in the United States and abroad. Like Helen Jacbos, she would in later years also write some journalism for both American and foreign publications.
Despite what Helen Wills Moody was to write in her autobiography, the next meeting between the two Helens was more than likely their first in open singles play, the aforementioned encounter at the semi-final stage of the 1925 edition of the Pacific Coast Championships. Their second meeting occurred almost two years later, in July 1927, on grass, in the final of the Essex Women’s Championships, held in Manchester, Massachusetts (they would never face each other again on Californian soil). This time Helen Jacobs got one game less in a 6-1, 6-2 battering by Helen Wills, who earlier in the month had won the Wimbledon singles title for the first time. By then Helen Jacobs had, in 1926, won the singles title at both the California State and Pacific Coast Championships tournaments, thus duplicating the older Helen’s feat, for those same two tournaments had been the first significant singles titles she had acquired, in 1921 and 1922.
The third meeting in their growing rivalry, if it can be called that, took place the following month, in August 1927, at the United States Championships, then held on grass and mainly at Forest Hills in New York. In their last meeting in a semi-final and their first in a major, Helen Wills had her most one-sided victory so far, winning by a score of 6-0, 6-2.
Their fourth meeting took place the following year, in August 1928, during the Women’s Maidstone Invitational, held on Long Island, New York, on grass. This was their second meeting in a final and Helen Jacobs was again unable to make any sort of impression on Helen Wills, who earlier that year had won the singles title at the French Championships for the first time before going on to retain her Wimbledon singles title. The score in the final of the Women’s Maidstone Invitational was 6-2, 6-1.
Thus far, in four meetings, Helen Jacobs had won 12 games in 8 sets, proof not so much of her inferiority, because she was improving all the time, but of Helen Wills’s vast superiority. This superiority was shown again during their next meeting, their fifth, which occurred just two weeks later in the final of the United States Championships. This match marked Helen Jacobs’s first appearance in the final of a major tournament, while Helen Wills was, of course, the defending champion and had won the singles title in the years 1923-25. The following report of the match, written by Allison Danzig and carried in the New York Times on August 28, 1928, illustrates clearly the aforementioned superiority at this point in time of Helen Wills over not only Helen Jacobs, but also over all other players:
“Miss Wills retains national net crown
“Conquers Miss Jacobs 6-2, 6-1, and wins championship for the fifth time
“Ends brilliant campaign
“Champion triumphed at Auteuil, Wimbledon and Forest Hills without loss of a set
“By Allison Danzig
“The most devastating power ever applied to a tennis ball by a woman, the power that was described as revolutionizing at Wimbledon, carried Miss Helen Wills, twenty-three-year-old Berkeley (Cal.) girl, to her fifth national championship yesterday, bringing to a close the campaign that had seen her win the premier laurels of tennis at Auteuil, Wimbledon and Forest Hills without the loss of a set in three months of play.
“In the final round of the forty-first annual championship tournament, before a gallery of 4,000 spectators in the stadium of the West Side Tennis Club, Miss Wills defeated Miss Helen Jacobs of Santa Barbara, Cal., in thirty-three minutes at 6-2, 6-1, thereby taking her place as the only woman with the exception of Mrs Mallory of New York to win the title five times.
“Mrs Mallory captured the crown seven times and, in addition, won the patriotic tournament in 1917, which amounted to a championship, although it was not so officially designated. Mrs Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman and Miss Elizabeth Moore come next to Miss Wills with four victories each.
“Second leg on trophy
“Miss Wills’s triumph yesterday, which was made a double one when she and Mrs Wightman defeated Miss Edith Cross and Mrs Lawrence [Anna] Harper of California for the doubles championship, 6-2, 6-2, gave her a second leg on the singles challenge trophy. The present trophy was offered in competition in 1926, after the California girl had retired the previous one the year before.
“Mrs Mallory, whose reign was brought to an end in 1923 by Miss Wills, scored the first leg on the new cup in 1926. That year Miss Wills was unable to defend her title owing to her weakened condition following her operation for appendicitis. Miss Wills scored her first leg on the cup last year.
“In addition to establishing a second claim on the challenge cup, Miss Wills also added a mammoth silver vase to her collection of prizes with yesterday’s victory. Walter Merrill Hall, President of the West Side Tennis Club, presented her with the trophy, filled with American beauty roses, while a score of cameras, talking motion picture machines and regular motion picture machines registered the scene, with a radio furnishing music from an airplane invisible behind a cloud.
“The airplane, talking movies and other cameras were representative of the modern era of mechanical progress and in Miss Wills was personified the no less remarkable development of women’s tennis. Here, before the eyes of the multitude, was the player whose annihilating speed has held the capitals of the game aghast and has more closely approximated the destructiveness of the masculine players’ strokes than that of any other woman in the history of tennis.
“Ablest players repulsed
“The ablest players of the world have gone up against that speed in the French, English and American championships, the Wightman Cup matches and in invitation tournaments. The best that any of them could do against it was to win three games in a set and five in a match, until Miss Wills met Mrs Charlotte Hosmer Chapin of Springfield, Massachusetts, in the fourth round of the play at Forest Hills.
“Mrs Chapin won six games from the champion and came within a point of reaching 5-all in the second set, the nearest that any player has come to putting a serious complexion on any of Miss Wills’s matches since she dropped the opening set of her first engagement at Wimbledon 1927 to Miss Gwynneth Sterry of England.
“For just a few minutes in yesterday’s match the gauntlet was thrown down in a manner to excite the gallery to a pitch of almost frenzied applause and to arouse the hope that here, in the attractive nineteen-year-old Miss Jacobs, her invincible namesake had at last found an adversary capable of putting her mettle to the supreme test.
“This was in the third and fourth games of the opening set, when Miss Jacobs, producing a forehand drive incomparably superior in its pace and the cleanness of contact between ball and racket to anything that she had shown in the past, scored one magnificent placement after another to take two games in a row and tie the score at 2-all.
“Tastes her own medicine
“One may well imagine the sensations of the spectators upon seeing Miss Wills, accustomed to burying her opponents under an avalanche of drives, tasting a sample of her own medicine. The reaction was all the more startling because of the fact that the champion had started out on her usual procession, taking the first two games in hardly sixty seconds with the loss of only one point.
“It was with the score at 15-40 against her in the third game that Miss Jacobs suddenly came out of the coma that habitually seizes upon Miss Wills’s opponents and galvanized the silent gallery into a cheering, sympathizing, rooting section that found itself looking down upon a stirring battle instead of a slaughter.
“Hitting a blistering forehand drive straight down the line to Miss Wills’s backhand corner and judiciously varying to a short cross-court stroke that the champion could not even approach, Miss Jacobs had the gathering wild as she took four points in a row to win the game, the last point coming on a masterly short chop stroke that trapped her opponent at the baseline.
“The cheers that greeted Miss Jacobs as she changed court were mild compared to the ovation the young challenger received when she pulled out of the very same hole, 15-40, to win the fourth.
“Errors aid Miss Jacobs
“Miss Wills’s errors in returning service had contributed to her loss of the third game. It was entirely Miss Jacobs’s shot-making that won the next game. She produced four stunning drives, three of them making the chalk fly along the sideline and the other, a cross-court return of service, costing Miss Wills her own game.
“With the score at 2-all Miss Jacobs continued to outplay the champion to 30-15 in the fifth game, and the air was electric with excitement. If Miss Wills was worried she succeeded in masking her feelings, but from the way in which she bent over her racquet, tensely awaiting service and concentrated on her task, the champion must have had as clear an understanding of the serious possibilities of the situation as did the gallery.
“But those possibilities never materialized. At this nerve-wracking juncture Miss Jacobs suddenly cracked, lost all control, and the play reverted to almost the one-sided character it had assumed in the first two games. Miss Wills won twelve points in a row, all of them save one on her opponent’s errors, took four games in a row with the loss of only three points, including the two that Miss Jacobs held at 30-15, and increased her string of games to nine before her opponent got another, the sixth of the second set.
“Miss Jacobs made a better fight in the second set than the score indicates, losing three games after deuce had been called, including the last, which Miss Wills won from 15-40. But in spite of the fact that she was hitting aggressively and making Miss Wills do plenty of running after volleys and drives of alternating length, all doubt as to the outcome ended with that first set. The challenger could not control the ball, and her 49 errors, as contrasted with Miss Wills’s 19, tell the story.
“It was Miss Jacobs’s backhand that was most grievously at fault – her backhand which is ordinarily her best stroke and big point winner. It was her forehand which served her best yesterday, although in the second set it betrayed her no less than did her backhand, as she persistently put the ball yards beyond the lines.
“A partial explanation for these errors of Miss Jacobs is to be found in the relentless pressure of Miss Wills’s attack. The champion was not hitting with quite the same drastic speed that she had used in her previous matches, particularly on her forehand, but she was applying an even, almost invariable amount of power with each successive stroke, and the cumulative effect was to wear down her opponent and destroy her timing and accuracy.
“Miss Jacobs was driven unmercifully from one side of the court to another to hold off those inexorable forcing shots to the far corners, and she used up additional energy in going to the net, where she performed brilliantly at times but finally broke down badly and missed one set-up volley after another.
“Miss Wills did not go to the net a single time. She can volley as well as Miss Jacobs, if not better, but she put her sole reliance in those battering ground strokes which have spelled the doom of the best players in the world, and they were sufficient.
“Chooses lesser evil
“It was her backhand which did the most damaging work. Miss Jacobs wisely refrained from putting the ball on the champion’s forehand, but it was merely a case of choosing the lesser evil. Miss Wills’s backhand, if not the greatest in the women’s ranks, is good enough to beat any forehand, and from the fifth game of the first set on to the end her backhand driving was something to marvel at in the pacefulness of the shot and the perfection of her control, regardless of the level from which it was made.
“Miss Jacobs’s backhand at its best was equally to be admired, but it did not stand up under pounding as did the champion’s. Perhaps had the challenger remained as daring as she had been in the first set, she would have achieved some additional measure of success, but instead of hitting for the lines she became more cautious and played the ball through the centre of the court, with the result that Miss Wills did not have to scramble as widely to make her strokes as did the other.
“The stroke analysis shows a remarkable similarity for the two sets. Miss Wills made six placements [winners] in each chapter and seven outs in each, while Miss Jacobs made seven placements in each and nineteen outs in the first and eighteen in the second…”
It is clear from the above report that Helen Wills had by this time perfected her game to such an extent that no other player was capable of taking a set from her. Commentators were thus reduced to noting the number of games she lost in each match to see whether anyone might be able to push her to a “‘vantage set”, i.e. to at least 5-all (as mentioned in the above report, Charlotte Chapin almost achieved this feat in the tournament in question).
The margin by which Helen Wills was now winning her matches recalls the vast superiority of another great player, namely Suzanne Lenglen, who was arguably even better than Wills. One of the differences between them was that Lenglen, who was more of a “touch” player, did not hit with the power and pace of Wills. It is not surprising that some commentators compared Helen Wills’s game to that of a man because no woman had quite hit the ball as hard as her in the history of the game, though a player such as her fellow Californian May Sutton could generate great pace off the forehand side.
What set Helen Wills apart from most of her contemporaries was that she also had an excellent backhand, as good, according to Danzig, as many players’ forehands. Although not noted for her speed of foot, Wills did not need to be as fast as her opponents because she was able to generate such awesome pace and swing her opponents from one side of the court to the other as they chased the ball in a vain attempt to prolong the inevitable. This is what she did to Helen Jacobs in the final of the 1928 US Championships.
Despite a plucky start, Helen Jacobs had little chance of taking more than a few games in this match and it is clear that her early exertions exhausted her. Not even the encouragement of the gallery could spur her on even though most of the spectators were on her side, as they always were when she faced Helen Wills. The reason for this was not just that she was the underdog, but also because Helen Wills was perceived as being not only a ruthless player, but also a cold person (the American sportswriter Grantland Rice once called her “Little Miss Poker Face” and this nickname, if that is what it was, stuck. Decades later, because of her manner on court, Chris Evert would find herself similarly labeled, as the “Ice Maiden” of tennis, a title she was always uncomfortable with because she felt it did not describe the real her.)
Eight years later, in her autobiography “Beyond The Game”, Helen Jacobs would write of this 1928 US Championships singles final as follows: “This final match marked the climax of the first half of my tennis career. It had a prodding effect on me which served me well four years later. In the meantime I underwent a series of mental struggles.”
The next two meetings between the two Helens, the sixth and seventh respectively, took place in Europe, in the final of the 1929 Wimbledon (Wills won 6-1, 6-2) and at the same stage of the 1930 French Championships, their only meeting on clay. In December 1929, Helen Wills had married her compatriot Frederick Moody, a stockbroker, so by the time the two Helens met at the 1930 French Championships, the older Helen was Mrs Moody, or Mrs Wills Moody. The change in her name had no effect on her game – in the final at the Stade Roland Garros, Wills Moody beat Jacobs 6-2, 6-1, thereby becoming the first player to win the French singles title in three consecutive years (prior to 1925 this tournament had been open only to French players and foreign players who were members of a French tennis club).
In addition to being the first player to win the singles title at the French, Wimbledon and US Championships in the same year (1928), Helen Wills was also the first player to retain those same three titles in consecutive years (1928-29), and the first player to win the singles title at Wimbledon and the US Championships in three consecutive years (1927-29). She did not defend her US Championships singles title in 1930. She was also the first player to win the French Championships and Wimbledon back-to-back in three consecutive years (1928-30) No other woman has ever repeated the latter two feats.
The eighth meeting between Helen Wills Moody and Helen Jacobs took place on grass in the late summer of 1931, at the Seabright Invitational tournament in New Jersey. This match proved to be the most one-sided encounter in their head-to-head, Helen Wills Moody winning 6-0, 6-0. Having already played the other Helen seven times, Helen Jacobs might have been hoping to make some impression in this particular match but, as the score indicates, failed completely to do so. Such a loss might have discouraged a lesser player, but Helen Jacobs kept competing and trying to improve her game. This says a lot about her character.
Jacob’s ninth meeting with Wills Moody occurred in the final of the 1932 Wimbledon Championships. The final score, 6-3, 6-1, indicates that virtually nothing had changed in respect of their rivalry, or non-rivalry. At this point in time Eustratius Emmanuel Mavorgordato, a distant cousin of the tennis player Theodore Mavrogordato, reported on tennis and some other sports for the London “Times” as well as reviewing books for the same newspaper. The following report, carried in the London “Times” on July 2, 1932, was more than likely written by E.E. Mavorgordato:
“Helen Wills Moody, of the United States, won the ladies’ singles championship on the courts of the All England Club at Wimbledon yesterday, when she beat her compatriot, Miss Helen Jacobs, who is also a Californian (6-3, 6-1). It was the second time the two had met in the final round at Wimbledon, and Mrs Moody was just as much superior to Miss Jacobs as she was two years ago.
“The progress of the competition has shown as clearly as ever that there is no lady player who can at the present time even get within reasonable distance of victory against Mrs Moody. She has not lost a set in her matches, and has never been within sight of doing so. It is many years since she lost a set, and it seems that there may be some more before she will do so.
“Mrs Moody beat Miss Helen Jacobs 6-3, 6-1. Perhaps the only comfort to the English ladies is that Mrs Moody receives no more opposition from her own compatriots or the ladies of other nations than from the English players. Miss Jacobs managed to keep her on the court longer than anyone else and secured a game more from her than any of the others did. The match lasted 46 minutes instead of the usual half hour. Miss Jacobs, as well as Mrs Moody, had not lost a set during the Championships, and only had 24 games scored against her in six rounds.
“Mrs Moody frequently allows her opponents to start off well and lulls them into a sense of false security, and then when she starts there is no one else in the picture. Miss Jacobs at the beginning put up a great fight. The stands were not full at the start, but filled up before the end, and there was an intermittent breeze which bothered Miss Jacobs a bit. She varied her strokes well, driving and chopping in turn with several strong shots at the net. Her shots hung in the air, and at times it looked as if Mrs Moody would never reach them in time, but she generally got them in her quiet manner.
“The match started with a game of three deuces, won by Mrs Moody. Miss Jacobs took her first game, serving two aces at the start, and though she dropped a point for 30-15, she won the next with a judicious lob, and finally came to the net. This encouraged her and she found her most winning stroke in luring Mrs Moody to the net, and driving down the sideline. There were some excellent rallies, not as prolonged as in Miss Jacobs’s previous match.
“Mrs Moody led at 2-1, but lost the lead at 3-2. That roused her, and she won the next seven games. Miss Jacobs seemed to be worn out at 3-all. Instead of showing the agility she had thus far, she had difficulty in reaching the ball until well on in the second set, when she seemed to get her second wind. Most of her mistakes occurred when she put the ball out. In fact that was nearly always the cause of her downfall. They reached deuce before she took the game with a net stroke for 3-all. Miss Jacobs lost on her service to love for Mrs Moody’s fifth game. The last game of the set took Mrs Moody four set points to win after deuce.
“Miss Jacobs’s service seemed to suit Mrs Moody as she again won it to love. This time it was the first game of the second set. In the third game, when at 30-40, Miss Jacobs left a lob which she thought would fall out, but it hit the line, and instead of deuce and a chance for 1-2, she was three games down, and never looked like drawing up again.
“She managed to put a short stop to Mrs Moody’s victorious career in the next game, which she won. One of the great secrets of Mrs Moody’s success is her gift of making other people make the mistakes. This, added to her wonderful judgment, accounts for much of her success. She has no weaknesses, though it is doubtful if she has ever attained the same heights of brilliance as Mlle Suzanne Lenglen, who was present for a time yesterday, did at her best.”
As in one or two of their previous matches, Helen Jacobs began well, but was simply unable to keep playing as well as she needed in order to create a real challenge against such a great opponent. The effort required to make the score 3-all appears to have exhausted Jacobs. However, despite the one-sided nature of the score, in retrospect it can be seen that this match signaled the end of an important stage in each of the two finalists’ careers.
On the one hand, Helen Jacobs won her first major singles later that same summer of 1932, at the United States Championships at Forest Hills (she had turned 24 just a couple of weeks earlier). In the final Jacobs beat her compatriot Carolyn Babcock 6-2, 6-2. One of the distinguishing features of this particular tournament was the absence of several of the top overseas players and, more significantly, the absence of Helen Wills Moody who, from this point onwards, would take part in fewer and fewer tournaments.
In 1932, Wills Moody had won her fourth and last French Championships singles title earlier in the season (her Wimbledon singles title of that year was her fifth). She would never again take part in the French Championships and would participate in the United States Championships only once more, the following year, 1933, when she would again face Helen Jacobs, in what would turn out to be one of the most controversial matches in tennis history.
In the run-up to the 1933 Wimbledon tournament Helen Wills Moody entered two tournaments, the Kent Championships in Beckenham, where she played only doubles (she and Elizabeth Ryan were beaten 6-4, 6-4 in the final by the English pairing of Mary Heeley and Dorothy Round). The other tournament she took part in was the London Championships, held at the Queen’s Club, where Wills Moody had to share the title with the Englishwoman Elsie Pittman because rain on the Saturday prevented any of the finals from being played.
At Wimbledon, Wills Moody was once again seeded number one and strode to the final with her usual ease, although the German-born Dane Hilde Sperling managed to push her to 6-4, 6-3 in the semi-final. In the final, where her opponent was Dorothy Round, the almost unthinkable happened when Wills Moody lost a set, the first set she had lost in six years, when she had beaten Gwen Sterry 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in the first round of the same tournament.
Although the 1933 Wimbledon final match was very close and exciting, it was marred by an incident near the end of the set, when Dorothy Round, who had lost the first set 6-4, was leading 7-6, but 30-40 on her own service. At this point she hit a ball which almost everyone, the players and the umpire included, thought was out, although the linesman called it good. The umpire accepted this decision and Dorothy Round went on to take the second set 8-6, but her concentration was ruined and Helen Wills Moody won the third and final set 6-3.
It is clear that Dorothy Round’s game posed uncommon problems for Helen Wills Moody in this match. The Englishwoman’s ability to draw the American up the court, away from her favourite position on the baseline, and then to pass her at the net or lob her, combined with Round’s own willingness to shorten rallies by going to the net to hit winning volleys, was just the type of game to upset Wills Moody’s machine-like rhythm from the baseline.
Helen Jacobs, who lost to Dorothy Round in the semi-finals of the 1933 Wimbledon, knew this to be the case too. In her book “Gallery of Champions”, published in 1949, Jacobs would write:
“I had watched Helen often in practice against men in Berkeley [California]. Most of them were able to defeat her without much trouble when they took to the net against her, played the drop shot and drew her to the net, where she was not naturally agile, very imaginative, or subtle with the volley. That, I knew, was the only game that could win from her; all the women players with skillful volleys and overhead knew this to be true. The difficulty was in making the opening to get to the net, for, aware of her limitations in that position, Helen had perfected a defense against the volleyer that required on the part of her opponent a baseline game as sound as the net game.”
Perhaps Helen Jacobs had watched the 1933 Wimbledon final between Dorothy Round and Helen Wills Moody, and become even more convinced that she had the game needed to beat her because it was exactly the type of game she would play the next time they met, at the 1933 US Championships, held six weeks or so after the end of Wimbledon. Between both of these major tournaments Helen Wills Moody did not play any competitive tennis due to a back injury. (Helen Jacobs was suffering, too, with an inflamed gall bladder.)
Nevertheless, both of them entered the US Championships, and both of them advanced to their tenth meeting and what would be a very controversial final where, with Jacobs leading 8-6, 3-6, 3-0, Wills Moody defaulted. This turn of events unleashed a flood of headlines, many of them tabloid in nature. The New York Times report filed by Allison Danzing and carried in that newspaper on August 27, 1933, was one of the more objective ones and is reprinted here:
“Miss Jacobs wins when Mrs Moody defaults in 3d set
“8,000 at final of U.S. Tennis see ‘Queen of Court’ come to end of long reign
“Says pain weakened her
“First defeat in 7 years
By Allison Danzig
“Mrs Helen Wills Moody no longer rules the courts. The reign of the world’s preeminent woman tennis player, the most absolute in the annals of the game, came to an end yesterday at Forest Hills under dramatic circumstances that have been paralleled only once in the forty-six-year history of the national championship.
“With the score standing at 3-0 against her in the third set of her punishing final-round match with Miss Helen Jacobs, the defending titleholder, Mrs Moody walked over to the umpire’s chair and informed him that she was unable to play any longer.
“The crowd of 8,000 spectators, thrilled by the magnificent play of Miss Jacobs, and tingling with the expectancy of seeing Mrs Moody beaten for the first time on any court since 1926, had little inkling of the nature of Mrs Moody’s remarks.
“Incident in 1921 recalled
“It was until the celebrated Californian took up her blue sweater and Miss Jacobs rushed to her to plead that she continue, that the gallery sensed the significance of her action.
“Mrs Moody defaulted under physical distress, just as Mlle Suzanne Lenglen had defaulted to Mrs Molla Mallory in the second set of their second-round championship match at Forest Hills in 1921.
“Exhausted by the terrific struggle that had been waged in a fourteen-game first set and feeling that she was on the point of fainting from the pain in her injured back, Mrs Moody retired from the court, and Miss Jacobs, amid the wild acclaim of the spectators, was declared the winner by 8-6, 3-6, 3-0 and default.
“Mrs Moody’s statement
“The following statement was given out by Mrs Moody following the match: ‘In the third set of my singles match I felt as if I were going to faint because of pain in my back and hip and a complete numbness of my right leg. The match was long and by defaulting I do not wish to detract from the excellence of Miss Jacob’s play. I feel that I have spoiled the finish of the national championship, and wish that I had followed the advice of my doctor and returned to California. I still feel that I did write in withdrawing because I felt that I was on the verge of a collapse on the court.’
“Retains her title
“Thus came to a conclusion the most exciting women’s tournament in years, with Mrs Moody beaten for the first time in the championship since 1922 and Miss Jacobs established the titleholder for the second successive year.
“It was a day such as will not be soon be forgotten by those who sat in the stadium of the West Side Tennis Club. The officials of the club and of the United States Lawn Tennis Association, harried by the record-breaking postponements brought on by rain, almost sighed with relief to have the tournament finally over with, a week later than scheduled.
“When Mrs Moody lost a set last Sunday to Betty Nuthall, the first she has yielded in this country since 1926, there was enough excitement to have made the tournament stand out indelibly.
“But it was nothing compared to the stir created yesterday by the defeat of the player who had stood invincibly against the best of the world since 1927. It was likened to the defeat of William Tilden in the men’s championship at Forest Hills by Henri Cochet of France in 1926.
“In spite of the fact that it was known Mrs Moody was not in the condition to show the full strength of her hand, it was difficult to believe that the player who had held such absolute sway could have met her master.
“Miss Jacobs had never been able to make the slightest headway against her, and even the defending champion’s victory over Dorothy Round in the semi-finals on Friday failed to shake the faith in Mrs Moody’s capacity to come through to the title.
“Indeed, the general feeling was that Mrs Moody’s chances of victory in the final were improved by the elimination of Miss Round by Miss Jacobs. That furnishes an indication of how little it was the former champion had to fear from her Californian rival.
“Mrs Moody not at best
“The stunning reversal that came about is to be explained on two scores. First, it would be a misrepresentation to say that Mrs Moody was at her best. To anyone who has watched the great Californian in action in the past it was obvious from the outset that she was not hitting with anything like her accustomed severity. The speed that had subdued her opponents and left them with a feeling of hopelessness even before they went on the court simply was not at Mrs Moody’s command yesterday.
“There was plenty of length to her shots and for the first two sets herself unstintingly to the desperate work of plugging up the gaps in the court before Miss Jacob’s inexorable shots. But so far as her offence was concerned, Mrs Moody was not be recognised as the player of former years. In the final set her defence, too, folded up as she came to the end of her physical resources.
“Having made allowances form the shortcomings in Mrs Moody’s preparedness for so strenuous an ordeal, it is not to be set down that these shortcomings were accentuated by the brilliance of Miss Jacob’s play.
“More dangerous foe
“The Berkeley girl whom Mrs Moody faced yesterday was a far more dangerous opponent than she had been in any of their previous encounters. Uncertain with her forehand, erratic at the net and lacking in confidence all through the season, Miss Jacobs was almost ignored from the start of the championship.
“There was some question, too, of whether she had the stamina to undergo the rigours of championship match play, for at Seabright she had fainted at her hotel and had been on the verge of a collapse after being defeated by Sarah Palfrey in the final. But against Mrs Moody, Miss Jacobs was a great player, fighting with the heart of a champion. If she was in distress from her exertions, she never showed it until the second set, when Mrs Moody’s use of the drop-shot compelled her to do a tremendous amount of running.
“Against Miss Round, it was Miss Jacobs’s forehand chop that carried the day. Yesterday that chop was again tremendously important, remarkable for its uniform deep length and its accuracy. But the Berkeley girl had other telling weapons also. Her service was a big help, pulling her out of holes repeatedly in the bitterly fought first set, and her volleying and overhead smashing were the most vivid seen in the tournament.
“Mrs Moody’s lack of length on her lobs was partly responsible for the deadliness of Miss Jacobs’s overhead hitting. But even on the deeper tosses, the champion handled the difficult shots well and her volley was seldom to be denied.
“Hard battle forecast
“At the very start of the match it was apparent that Mrs Moody had a battle on her hands. Miss Jacobs was hardly missing a thing from the back of the court and she was playing the ball so deep and changing direction with such fine judgment that Mrs Moody seldom given the chance to get set for her stroke.
“Under pressure at the baseline and forced to scramble for almost every ball that came over, Mrs Moody had no alternative but to throw herself into the struggle without regard for weakened back. Almost every rally was prolonged and the fur fairly flew without a let-up in that prolonged opening set.
“Miss Jacobs was not only getting fully as good length on her chop and her backhand as was her opponent but she was hitting the more crisply of the two. The lack of her usual drastic pace was notable in Mrs Moody’s drives, and Miss Jacobs, instead of being hurried, had the time to get into position and time her shots with precision.
“Not only was the defending champion holding her own from the back of the court but the depth of her drives opened the way for safe advances to the net. There she was seldom to be denied, for Mrs Moody’s lobs were too short and Miss Jacobs hammered them down into the corners time and again.
“The struggle was so event in this set that it was impossible to foretell the winner, though it was obvious enough that Mrs Moody’s lasting powers were to be tested to the limit. Miss Jacobs went into a 3-1 lead and Mrs Moody got back on even terms at 3-all.
“Games follow service
“From that point on games followed service until Miss Jacobs, after being denied at set point in the tenth game, broke through in the fourteenth. In three games in this set Mrs Moody had a commanding lead only to dissipate them or rather to yield to the power of Miss Jacob’s service. In the opening game Mrs Moody was ahead at 40-15. In the ninth game she held a 40-0 advantage, and Miss Jacobs also pulled out the eleventh after being down 0-30. The regularity with which Miss Jacobs extricated herself from difficulties must have had a disturbing effect on her opponent.
“Miss Jacobs was rising to brilliant heights in making these pull-ups, but Mrs Moody’s inability to lunge for services that she might have returned also ruined her opportunities. When the former finally weakened and yielded the last two game of the set on errors, it was thought that she had done her best for the day and that she would be at the mercy of her opponent in the second set. But in this chapter Mrs Moody, far from being resigned to defeat, changed her tactics and the tide turned.
“Instead of hitting for length as she had been doing in the first set, Mrs Moody resorted to drop-shots, alternately playing the ball short and deep. Miss Jacobs was now put on the defensive and was kept on the run between her baseline and the net in pursuit of trap shots and lobs. The strain told on the champion, particularly after the tremendous amount of energy she had used up in the first chapter, and Mrs Moody quickly went ahead at 3-0. It was thought that Miss Jacobs would allow the set to go, having dropped her service twice. But the champion got her second wind and came back to the tie the score at 3-all.
“Mrs Moody was resorting to drop-shots perhaps too frequently now and Miss Jacobs, on the watch for them, was not caught out of position behind the baseline. But after drawing level, Miss Jacobs was sorely fatigued and was able to offer little opposition, even against her tiring opponent. Mrs Moody took the next three games to square the match and when the players left the court for a ten-minute intermission it appeared to be either’s match.
“End soon in sight
“But the first game of the final set was all that was needed to reveal that Mrs Moody’s chances of carrying the day were remote. Two double faults from her racket gave the gallery an inkling of her weakened condition, and when Miss Jacobs, hitting with confidence and great severity, took the second game from 0-30, the end was in sight. On the last point of this game Mrs Moody had an easy shot on her forehand and when she feebly put the ball into the bottom of the net there was not slightest doubt of her helplessness.
“In the third game she made two weak efforts to get to the net, but each time Miss Jacobs passed her magnificently, once from the forehand and once from the backhand, and the last shot of the match was a forehand drive by Mrs Moody that overreached the line. Trailing at 0-3 on two service breaks, Mrs Moody’s defeat was now seen to be a matter of only a few more minutes. It came sooner than anyone expected, for the former champion defaulted at this point.
“It was unfortunate that Miss Jacobs had to be denied the satisfaction of winning the match in the only manner that a player finds satisfactory, and there can be no question that she would have won it with her racquet had the play gone on to its logical conclusion.
“Views are varying
“There were some who thought that Mrs Moody might have continued, if only to go through the motions of playing, but on the other hand the fact must be faced that Mrs Moody was running the risk of injuring herself permanently by going on in the weakened condition and with her back injury.
“Perhaps it would have been for the best if she had followed her doctor’s orders during the Wightman Cup matches and given up tennis for the year. At any rate, she had the courage to undertake to play through the tournament, and as keen is the regret that the match had to come to such an ending, it was tempered by the thought of what might have been the consequences had Mrs Moody seen the third set through to its end.
“After rushing out through one of the rear portals of the stadium, Miss Jacobs came back on the court to receive the championship trophy. The tumultuous cheering with which she was greeted testified to the gallery’s appreciation of her superb performance and must have wiped out any disappointment she felt over the untimely end of the match.
“Miss Jacobs had received Mrs Moody’s decision with sympathy and the finest sportsmanship and her manner of conducting herself added to the popularity of her victory. Holcombe Ward, vice-president of the United States Lawn Tennis Association, acting on behalf of Harry S. Knox, the president, who lives on the Pacific Coast, presented the yearly trophy to Miss Jacobs and also the perpetual trophy, filled with American beauty roses.
“Mrs Moody will not go to Brookline for the national mixed doubles. She probably will leave for California shortly.
“Unbeaten in event since 1922
“Not since the first year in which she competed for the women’s title had Mrs Moody met defeat in the championship. That was 1922, when she was runner-up to Mrs Mallory. In 1923, Mrs Moody, then Helen Wills, wrestled the title from the latter, retained it in 1924 and 1925, and allowed it to go undefended in 1926, after undergoing an operation for appendicitis in Europe.
“In 1927, Mrs Moody came back to regain the crown and she won it every year since, with the exception of 1930 and 1932, when she did not participate in the championship. With seven victories to her credit, she was expected to equal the record of eight triumphs set by Mrs Mallory. The player whom Miss Jacobs frustrated yesterday had not lost a set here or abroad from 1927 until Miss Round took the second chapter from her at Wimbledon this year.
“She had not lost a set in our championship since the 1925 final, when she was carried to three sets by Miss Kathleen McKane and the last time she had been defeated was at Rye in August, 1926. Mrs Mallory that year vanquished her in three sets in the semi-finals of the New York State Championship at the Westchester-Biltmore Country Club, a week after Miss Ryan had defeated her in the final at Seabright in two sets.
“In all those six years of Mrs Moody’s invincibility from 1927 on, Miss Jacobs had never succeeded in taking a set from her...”
Allison Danzig’s report is factually accurate (mostly), although there is no way that he could have heard what Helen Jacobs said to Helen Wills Moody when the two players met at the side of the court after the latter had decided to default. (It would have been out of character for Helen Jacobs to beg any player to continue a match until the end.)
Danzig also contradicts himself when he states that the 8-6 set Wills Moody lost to Jacobs in this title match was the first set Wills Moody had lost in the US Championships since the 1925 final, when her opponent had been Kathleen McKane. Earlier in his report Danzig had mentioned the set Wills Moody lost in the semi-final of this same tournament to Betty Nuthall, whom she beat 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Danzig is generally fair to Helen Jacobs when he states that she was playing superbly, using the aforementioned tactics of shortening the rallies by drawing her opponent forward and taking the net position herself, lobbing, volleying and smashing as well as she ever had. Whether she would have established such a lead against an uninjured Wills Moody is a moot point, but the next time they met neither player was injured and Jacobs would actually reach match point.
Remaining with the 1933 US Championships singles final, it is worth reproducing Helen Jacobs’s account of this match, which she included in the “Gallery of Champions”. It is as objective an account of the events of that day as could be expected from one of the two protagonists:
“The gallery was not a particularly large one the day we played – a midweek match, and uncertain weather, in addition to my tournament record against Helen Wills, were undoubtedly responsible. The day brought perfect tennis weather – no wind, not too hot – a day for exploiting all the shots Suzanne Lenglen had advocated: shots requiring accurate touch and little deflection by the wind. It was also the ideal day for the volleyer who disliked more than anything else the drive that cannot be truly gauged or the lob that is pulled down toward the player by a sudden gust of wind.
“I had determined that in this match I would go to the net at every opportunity. There was little sense standing in the backcourt swapping drives with anyone as superlative as Helen in that department. Of course, a net game was not enough of itself, but I had more confidence in my forehand than I had felt in years and was certain that it would stand up against the pounding I could anticipate from her, and also help to make the desired openings that would pave the way to the net. My backhand drive had seldom let me down.
“It appeared, from the opening of the first set, that Helen was going to play me as she had done in every one of our meetings – playing chiefly to my forehand and, at the first evidence of my being off balance, using the short crosscourt drive to the opposite side. It was, at its best, a devastating placement, which I was determined to prevent. To do this I put everything I could into the force and placement of my service with the intention of drawing Helen out of court for the drive to the opposite corner.
“The first three games went with service. In the fourth I broke Helen’s service, for a 3-1 lead. This lead seemed to inspire her to a stonewall driving defence in which she employed her familiar accuracy of corner placements, coupled with speed and pace. Games went to 3-3 as she broke my service. Then [we both] again held service to 6-6. For a while, during this stage of the first set, Helen was also playing for the net position, and it became a question of who would get there first. My backhand drive, particularly down the line, and my volley and overhead were serving me well enough to come within one point of the set at 5-4, but the fine variety of Helen’s shots and her punishing steadiness saved the game for her. She was forcing me to hit lobs of difficult depth. Anticipating them, I had practiced smashing on an outside court for some time before the match began, and the practice was certainly justified. Helen Wills’s lob can be a formidable weapon.
“Breaking her service at 7-6 by the use of sliced drives to the corners and volley, I ran out the set at 8-6. I had created a record for myself, winning my first set against Helen. It startled the press into wild activity. Typewriters and telegraphic instruments clacked furiously from the marquee. The set encouraged me, proving the wisdom of the net attack, which was certainly my chief weapon, and increasing my confidence in my forehand drive and slice as either aggressive or defensive shots on this day.
“But one set was not the match. I had no illusions about the roughness of the road ahead of me. Helen was a fighter; she was a master of the drive and the lob. Her service required constant alertness and careful timing for the return. If I was to win, I must maintain my game at the same level for two more sets, if necessary, and hope that fatigue would impair neither my coordination nor my timing. I did not agree with those who claimed that a woman player could not attack at the net for three sets. In fact, I found it less tiring to go to the net, volley and smash, than to remain in the backcourt covering twice the ground in pursuit of Helen’s magnificent drives.
“But I had to continue to go the net, and as the second set opened, it was apparent how difficult the task might become. Winning my service in the opening game, Helen lashed out with blistering drives, varied by deftly placed soft shots that gave her a quick 3-0 lead. With desperate risks, I went to the net on anything close to her backline and was lucky to smash lobs for winners until I drew level at 3-3. Two obviously erroneous decisions against each of us in the next game caused an uproar from the gallery. Right or wrong, they were so patently miscalled at such an important stage in the match that neither of us could resist throwing a point in an attempt to even matters.
“A series of drives overreaching the baseline, forced by Helen’s deep and peaceful drives and her sudden crosscourt shots, gave her three games running and the set at 6-3.
“I was glad of the respite that came at the end of the second set, as I am sure Helen must have been. But she remained on the court, sitting on a chair at the umpire’s stand, while I went to the dressing room to refresh myself. When I returned to the court after the ten-minute intermission, Helen opened the third set with service, going to 30-15 in spite of a double-fault before I won the game. On my service two unretrievable drives by Helen forced errors from me and she led 0-30. Then, in turn, She overdrove twice, evening the score. A winning volley took me to 40-30, and a netted drive by Helen brought me to 2-0. Helen won the first point of the third game, on a forcing service, but forehand and backhand passing shots, successful for me, and a forehand drive beyond the line by Helen gave me the lead at 3-0.
“I turned to the ball-boy for the balls, speaking to him once and then again, before I realized that his eyes were fixed on the opposite court. I repeated my request before I turned to see that Helen had walked to the umpire’s stand and was reaching for her sweater. It was a confusing moment. I hurried to the stand as Ben Dwight, the venerable umpire, announced that I had won by default. As Helen put on her sweater I went to her.
“‘My leg is bothering me, I can’t go on,” she said.
“‘Would you like to rest for a while?” I asked.
“‘No, I can’t go on,’ she answered.
“Officials, press and photographers rushed onto the court. It seemed unnecessary to subject her to this post-match ordeal. ‘If you’re in pain there’s no sense in continuing,’ I told her. ‘Why don’t you leave before the photographers descend on us?’ I suggested. Helen left then, escorted from the court by one of the tournament officials.
“I went back to the dressing room, where Molla Mallory was waiting for me. A radio commentator had asked her immediately after the match to broadcast a statement on the default in view of her experience with Suzanne Lenglen. She did, in biting terms, and was still full of it when we met.
“There is no doubt that Helen, for her own sake, would have been wiser if she had remained on the court for the twelve points necessary for me to end the match in the third set. But what does under the stress of emotion and pain cannot be calculated in the cold-blooded terms of the spectator. Helen’s temperament had always been her most valuable asset. On this day it was her greatest liability.
“Before I had finished dressing, Elizabeth Ryan came into the locker room in as sate of wild excitement. Helen, her partner in the ladies’ doubles, had announced that she would play the doubles final. Knowing the probable reaction of the gallery if she did, Elizabeth was determined to default. Fortunately, one of the officials, who had long been a friend of Helen’s, persuaded her that she simply couldn’t return to the court after the default.
“As far as I was concerned, Forest Hills was real bedlam that day. A stream of reporters was in and out of my apartment until late in the evening; the phone never seemed to stop ringing. ‘Would I make a statement?’ was a question that fell on ears like a phonograph record stuck in a groove. There was nothing I could say. Of course, I was disappointed that the match had ended as it did – who wouldn’t have been? But that was water over the dam. I had retained my championship and was happy about that. But how could I, how could anyone for that matter, dispute with Helen her statement that she felt on the verge of fainting when she defaulted. The fact that she walked back to her apartment in the Forest Hills Inn and later wanted to played the doubles final did not make her lot any easier with the reporters who knew of it, but I still did not feel that anything except the winning of my match concerned me.
“There were repercussions of the match for months to come. The story of its ending was greatly distorted by many reporters, in most instances by those who obviously had not seen it. What I said to Helen was garbled by journalists whose hearing couldn’t have extended to the umpire’s chair. Some had it that I begged her to go on, the last request it would have occurred me to make. Some wrote that she refused to shake hands and others that we shook hands, were photographed, and that she was then helped from the court. The truth of the matter is that, although we did not shake hands, Helen did not refuse to do so, nor was she assisted from the court. She left it, as soon as she had donned her sweater, under her own power.”
It is worth noting that, according to Jacobs, Wills Moody said that her leg, not her back was bothering her, and that, as Jacobs reports, Elizabeth Ryan said that Wills Moody was willing to return to the court the same day for the doubles final. In her autobiography “Fifteen-Thirty”, published three years after this 1933 US Championships singles final, Helen Wills Moody would write that during the match in question she experienced a “blinding” pain, increasing in intensity as the match went on, whenever she tried to run or bend for a ball. She also wrote that, in the third set, the court began to “spin around” and she felt she absolutely had to default.
Years later, in a telephone interview with the journalist Stan Isaacs, Helen Wills, as she was once more, said, “My back is kind of funny. The vertebra between the fourth and fifth disk is thin. When the disk slips around it’s intolerable. It rained the whole week before the final match. I lay in bed, and that was bad because it stiffened worse. I just couldn’t play any longer, but I didn’t say anything because it would look like an excuse. […] I lay in traction for a month. I did exercises and swam under water, supervised by my father, who was a surgeon. After a year the muscles were made stronger and I could play again.”
Ultimately, Helen Jacobs had retained her US singles title. She would do so again in 1934 and 1935, thereby winning the event for four consecutive years, a feat only Chris Evert, who won the same title in years 1975-78, has achieved in the intervening years. (Molla Mallory won it in the years 1915-18, but the challenge round, abolished in 1919, was still in force in the women’s singles event, and the 1917 tournament was a special “patriotic” tournament, which Mallory played through. Helen Wills/Moody’s seven US Championship singles titles came in the years 1923-25, 1927-29 and 1931; she did not take part in the tournament in 1926 and 1930.)
A default by one player means a win for the opponent in question, bittersweet as it no doubt is for the latter. Helen Wills Moody’s default to Helen Jacobs in the final of the 1933 US Championships meant that their head-to-head was now 9-1 in Wills Moody’s favour.
They next played each other in the final of the 1935 Wimbledon Championships, their eleventh meeting. In the run-up to this tournament Helen Jacobs enjoyed some rather rare success on clay, winning the singles title at the Egyptian Championships in March, over the Austrian player Lisl Herbst, 6-1, 6-2 (in 1934, Jacobs had won the singles title at the international Italian Championships, first held in 1930, and not as prestigious as they would later become). Jacobs was less lucky at the 1935 French Championships a couple of months after her victory in Cairo, losing in the semi-finals to the eventual champion, the German-born Dane Hilde Sperling, 7-5, 6-3.
Helen Wills Moody did not play any competitive tennis between the 1933 US Championships and the 1935 Saint George’s Hill tournament, held in early June, in Weybridge, Surrey, England. In this, one of two tournaments she entered in the run-up to Wimbledon, she reached the final, where she beat Elsie Pittman 6-0, 6-4. In the quarter-finals of this tournament the Englishwoman Mary Hardwick had come within two points of beating Wills Moody. Hardwick served for the match with the score at 6-4, 5-4, but nerves got the better of her, while Helen Wills Moody’s great steadiness and greater experience carried her to victory.
Wills Moody’s next tournament was the Kent Championships at Beckenham, held the week after the Saint George’s Hill tournament, where she reached the semi-final before losing to Kay Stammers of England, 6-0, 6-4. In some ways, this was a historic win (or loss, depending on the observer’s viewpoint). It was the first time Helen Wills Moody had lost a completed match since August 1926, when Molla Mallory beat her 6-8, 6-4, 6-2 in the semifinals of the Southern New York State Championship tournament, held in Rye in that state. It was one of the very few occasions during her career when another player had taken a love set off Wills Moody in a singles match (again, Molla Mallory had been the last player to do so, winning the final of the 1923 New York State Championships by a score of 4-6, 6-0, 6-1). Kay Stammers became only the third British player to defeat Helen Wills Moody in a singles match, following on from Phyllis Covell and Kathleen McKane, both of whom beat Helen Wills (as she then was) during the 1924 Wightman Cup (6-2, 6-4, and 6-2, 6-2 respectively). McKane repeated the feat in the 1924 Wimbledon singles final, winning 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Kay Stammers used some clever tactics to defeat Helen Wills Moody at Beckenham in 1935. This is clear from the report filed by the correspondent of the London “Times” newspaper (probably the aforementioned E.E. Mavrogordato) and carried on June 15, 1935, an excerpt from which now follows:
“Miss Stammers always had the right stroke – a short shot that brought Mrs Moody scurrying up court too square to the net to attack the ball, a lovely volley or smash which always won the point, or that deadly, long sliced drive on the forehand, now down the line off a soft second service, now across the court deep in the backhand corner.”
This was just the type of game to unsettle Helen Wills Moody. Helen Jacobs had used a similar one in the final of the 1933 US Championships, when Helen Wills Moody’s default had deprived her of a completed victory.
At the 1935 Wimbledon, Helen Wills Moody was seeded a (for her) lowly fourth (Helen Jacobs was seeded one place ahead of her). Jacobs had some difficult matches in the early stages of this tournament, but nevertheless reached the final without dropping a set. In the semi-finals she reversed her loss at the same stage of the same year’s French Championships, beating Hilde Sperling 6-3, 6-0. The German-born Dane was as inexorable on grass as she was on clay, but less effective on the former surface.
Helen Wills Moody had three easy wins in her first three matches, but then almost lost her next match, in the round of sixteen against the unheralded Czech player Emma Cepkova. This match took place on the old Court One at Wimbledon, and Wills Moody eventually won it, though not before her opponent had built a winning lead. In his book “100 Years of Wimbledon” (published in 1977), Lance Tingay, the British journalist, described the match as follows (he calls the Czech player Slecna Cepkova):
“She played Mrs Moody on Court One and the American was, by her own former standards, incredibly loose and bad. Little Miss Cepkova, with nothing to lose, played the sort of ‘blinder’ often seen in such circumstances and, hitting winners all round, roared happily along to lead 6-3, 4-1. At that point she obviously had only to continue her uninhibited flair to win.
“At the changeover she looked at the scoreboard and, as she did so, it became clear that until then she had had no idea what the situation was. She almost froze as she prepared to serve. From that stage, she, who had hardly hit a ball wrong, hardly hit a ball right. Mrs Moody won eleven out of the next thirteen games. Never in her career can the American so nearly have lost to a player so much below her standards.”
Wills Moody had easy wins in her next two matches before facing Helen Jacobs in a Wimbledon singles final for the third time. Despite her default in the final of the 1933 US Championships, most experts picked the older Helen to win, given her superior record in major tournaments and against Helen Jacobs. And, indeed, the older Helen did win, but only by a score of 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, and after saving a match point in the final set. The following report of this match, written by one Ferdinand Kuhn, Jr., was carried in the “New York Times” on July 7, 1935:
“Mrs Moody vanquishes Miss Jacobs, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, by staging great rally
“Duel thrills 19,000
“Victor sweeps through 5 games in a row to end final at Wimbledon
“Title is her seventh
“By Ferdinand Kuhn, Jr.
“Mrs Helen Wills Moody’s dream of winning another Wimbledon championship came true on the Centre Court today, but only after such a dramatic uphill struggle as she has not had to fight in many years. Mrs Moody just managed to defeat her old rival, Miss Helen Jacobs, after winning the first set, losing the second and trailing, 2 games to 5, in the third. Once Miss Jacobs reached match point and before that Mrs Moody had thrown up her hands as if everything were over and she could do no more.
“Suddenly, to the utter amazement of the crowd of 19,000, she summoned up all the power and all the courage of her greatest days as champion. She put more sting into her strokes, she began to run for points, instead of playing wearily from the baseline, and before long she had reeled off five straight games and gained a great triumph. The score was 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.
“Still Queen of Courts
“Thus Mrs Moody became the Wimbledon champion for the seventh time – a record equalled only by Dorothea Lambert Chambers in the days before the war. She is not as great as she once was; she is not as quick getting to the ball and shows signs of tiring more easily. Yet Mrs Moody proved today that she is still queen of the courts, able to defeat the best challengers the world can send against her.
“As for Miss Jacobs, today’s defeat came as a bitter disappointment after so many years of trying. Four times she has reached the Wimbledon final and four times she has failed to crown her career with the championship, losing thrice to Mrs Moody. Never once has she beaten Mrs Moody in a match that went its full length. Today Miss Jacobs made the supreme effort of her life and the crowd was hoping that she would get her greatest wish at last. But Mrs Moody was still too good for her.
“Both players cheered
“A roar of cheers went up from the packed stands as Miss Jacobs hit out after the last long rally. They were cheers of sympathy for the girl who had had victory snatched from her grasp and cheers of admiration for Mrs Moody, so perfectly poised in every crisis. This time Mrs Moody’s poker face was one vast smile as she walked off the court. She was so excited that she kissed Sir Herbert Wilberforce [then aged 71], secretary [chairman] of the All England Tennis Club, who came on the court to greet her.
“What a match!” she said, “I never ought to have had it.”
“From the beginning it was clear Miss Jacobs was determined to get even with Mrs Moody for all the disappointments of the past six [ten] years. From start to finish there was a grim expression on her face as if she were thinking to herself: ‘I’m going to beat her this time.’ – as if she felt her hour had struck. She ran for every point as she has never run before. She puffed with the effort she was making, but she never let her weariness slow up her game. She showed it only in her backhand, which faltered as her endurance ebbed.
“Concentrates on strokes
“Mrs Moody, on the other hand, seemed determined to concentrate on every stroke and play it as well as she could. If she was thinking of her seventh championship or of proving her comeback to the whole world, after an absence from the courts of almost two years, she did not show it, even when things were going against her. She began as usual by standing calmly on the baseline, keeping Miss Jacobs on the run with a stream of perfect drives to one side of the court and then to the other.
“Miss Jacobs retaliated by keeping her fellow Californian on the run and moved up from 0-3 to 3-3. But Miss Jacobs could not keep the ball in the court at critical moments, whereas her opponent was accurate all the time and Mrs Moody won the next three games for the set. At the start of the second set Miss Jacobs got her backhand under control, while Mrs Moody was showing unmistakeable signs of weariness.
“Miss Jacobs was volleying, smashing and making winning points when they seemed impossible. In the ninth game, with Miss Jacobs leading at 5-3, Mrs Moody decided to come to the net, but it was too late. Miss Jacobs held her service and captured the set amid a roar of approval from the crowd that was backing her almost for the first time in her experience at Wimbledon.
“Leans on her racquet
“Things were not going well for Mrs Moody. Between every game she leaned on her racquet as if her back were troubling her again, and when she walked to her position the usual springiness of her step was gone. Miss Jacobs did not make matters easier by playing to her far backhand corner. From 2-all in the third set, Miss Jacobs began to forge ahead with superb volleys which left Mrs Moody helpless. She led by 3-2 and then by 4-2, finishing the sixth game with a ferocious serve that knocked the racquet from Mrs Moody’s hand.
“Now Mrs Moody had her back to the wall and drove harder and harder to force a surrender. The seventh game went to deuce four times until Mrs Moody lost it by missing an easy smash which should have been hers. With a smile on her face, she threw up her hands as if to tell the crowd that this was the end.
“Yet Mrs Moody held on grimly. After fierce exchanges and long rallies, Miss Jacobs got to match point in the ninth game with a fine smash, but missed the crucial point by putting an easy smash into the net. Then she volleyed out and Mrs Moody was saved. Miss Jacobs’s backhand now showed the effect of long strain, while Mrs Moody was putting all her strength and skill into her forehand drives and running and leaping for the ball. In desperation, Miss Jacobs made two brave volleys in the eleventh game, but hit out and this brought Mrs Moody into the lead for the first time in the set at 6-5.
“By now Miss Jacobs was so dazed she forgot she was serving and had to be reminded by the umpire. She started with two heroic services, but they were all she could do. After the twelfth game had swung to deuce three times, Miss Jacobs hit three successive shots out. The match was over after an hour and forty minutes of gruelling tennis.”
How the reporter could have known what Helen Wills Moody said to Herbert Wilberforce after she came off court, is not clear, and his smiling Mrs Moody, throwing up her hands when the end seemed nigh, is unrecognisable from the supremely cool “Miss Poker Face” familiar from many previous matches. It is also unlikely that the gallery was backing Helen Jacobs “for almost the first time in her experience at Wimbledon”, especially against the “other Helen”.
What is clear from the above report is that a battle royal took place between two fit players near the top of their form. It is arguable that Helen Jacobs was nearer the top of her form than Helen Wills Moody was to hers because Jacobs did everything in this match except win it. According to Lance Tingay, in “100 Years of Wimbledon”, a gust of wind diverted the ball just as Helen Jacobs went to smash it on match point, at 5-3, 40-30 on her own serve in the final set. Having lost that vital point, Jacobs appeared to play in a daze. But perhaps she had begun “choking” with victory still in sight. Here is how Jacobs recalled this match 14 years later, in her book “Gallery of Champions”:
“We met again, this time on an intensely hot afternoon with a slight breeze blowing. Both of us were playing well, but Helen went to a 3-0 lead in the first set before I could make much of an impression on the match. I believe she has always liked the fast Centre Court turf, and she was hitting with wonderful length and great speed. The next three games to me evened the score, then Helen took the set, 6-3. The second set began with a determined net attack by Helen, surprising to anyone who had played her so often. It was only the functioning of my passing shots that enabled me to win this set, 6-3.
“Up to this stage the match had not been as scintillating as our Forest Hills final of 1933. To defeat Helen once was to draw forth from her a more wary game; and having defeated her was to emphasize to the opponent the importance of taking chances at every opportunity, of playing boldly from backcourt and net, and yet of maintaining a sound defence and steadiness to match hers - a considerable challenge.
“I think there was, in the beginning of the third set (which started without the ten-minute intermission that is customary in this country), some restraint in our hitting. But with the advantage of service, I was able to go to 4-2 and then, as Helen missed an easy smash, to 5-2. Helen won my service for 5-3. It was in that game that I held match point. At 30-15 in my favour, on Helen's service, a questionable sideline decision caused some delay before we could resume play. I hit a drive along Helen's forehand sideline that appeared to be in. Evidently the umpire thought it was in, but the linesman called it out. The umpire questioned the linesman, who repeated his call, and the game went on. With the score at 30-30, I won the next point to move within one point of the match. After one of the longest rallies I can remember ever having survived, Helen, out of the court on her backhand side, put up a shallow lob. The lob appeared to be headed for mid-court. I moved in to hit it, but a gust of wind caught it, pulling it in toward the net. By the time I was able to judge where it could best be hit, it was a short lob, very close to the net. I was almost on my knees for the smash, the ball hit the edge of my racket frame and rolled along the net cord before it fell onto my court.
“That was really the end of the match. Though we were at 30-30 and deuce in the eleventh and twelfth games, Helen won the set at 7-5. She had made a magnificent comeback to win her seventh Wimbledon championship.
“Unfortunately, some widely read members of the press reported what had been an exciting sporting test in such a manner that the so-called feud between us was the highlight of the reports. I, the loser, was represented as accepting defeat with tears in my eyes; Helen was represented as far more jubilant victor than good taste was have dictated. These reports were so contrary to the facts as to make one wonder if it is not better not to report at all than to report inaccurately. Far from having tears in my eyes after this match with Helen Moody, I had enjoyed the match, for it had been a real test of skill and staying power, of tactics and strategy and nerve. Naturally, one regrets losing any big championship final, but it seems to me an unfair commentary on the behaviour of women in competitive sport that it should be necessary, in order to create reader interest, to report the loser in tears and the winner gloating.”
“That was really the end of the match”, writes Helen Jacobs, referring to the smash she missed on match point. Yet, the match was far from over at that stage; she still had a 5-3 lead in the final set, and had looked like the winner for most of that set. Then again, Helen Wills Moody had been given a reprieve and, like the champion she was, had taken it with both hands, piling on the pressure in the last five games until she had beaten her opponent.
This match was arguably the most telling match in the Wills Moody-Jacobs “rivalry” because in this match both players were relatively evenly matched (Wills Moody’s standard had dropped, Jacobs’s had risen), both were healthy and both were playing well enough to beat any other player in the world. Either player could have won the 1935 Wimbledon singles final but, in the end, Helen Wills Moody did so. It was her seventh singles title at the All-England Club, against none for Helen Jacobs.
After the 1935 Wimbledon, Helen Wills Moody did not play singles for the rest of the season. In fact, she did not play the singles event at any tournament again until 1938. Helen Jacobs won her fourth and last US Championships singles title in September 1935. She did so in straight sets, although against comparatively modest opposition. The following year, 1936, Jacobs won the Wimbledon singles title for the first and only time, beating Hilde Sperling 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in the final. This was the last of her five major singles wins. (By this time Jacobs had begun to wear shorts for all of her matches. In this respect, she was a trendsetter in the women’s game, although few other women followed the trend.)
Helen Jacobs was never quite able to win the singles titles at both Wimbledon and the US Championships in the same year. In 1936, Alice Marble beat her in the final at Forest Hills, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, thereby ending Jacobs’s’ four-year reign as singles champion. Marble would also beat Jacobs in the singles final at Forest Hills in 1939 and 1940.
After a very long absence, Helen Wills Moody returned to singles play during the second week of May 1938, at the Championships of North London tournament, played on clay in Highbury, London. At this tournament she won six matches for the loss of fifteen games, seven of them in the final against the English player Yvonne Law, whom she beat 6-2, 7-5.
Wills Moody played singles again the following week, at the Surrey Grass Court Championships, in Surbiton, for decades the opening grass court tournament on the British mainland. She won the singles title again, although Margaret “Peggy” Scriven had made her fight in their semi-final, which the American won 6-2, 5-7, 6-3. In the final, Wills Moody beat the Englishwoman Margot Lumb 6-3, 6-4.
After a break of a couple of weeks, Wills Moody entered the singles event at the Saint George’s Hills tournament in Weybridge, Surrey. After two easy wins, she faced the Englishwoman Mary Hardwick in the quarter-finals, the same player who had come within two points of beating her at the same stage of the same tournament in 1935. This time, despite a disastrous first set, Hardwick succeeded where she had previously failed, and won the match 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Between this loss and the next tournament she played, the London Championships at the Queen’s Club, Helen Wills Moody also played in the Wightman Cup, which in 1938 was held at Wimbledon. In the United States’ 5-2 victory over Great Britain, Wills Moody won both of her singles matching, beating Margaret “Peggy” Scriven 6-0, 7-5, and Kay Stammers 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. Wills Moody and Dorothy Bundy lost their doubles match against Evelyn Dearman and Joan Ingram 6-2, 7-5.
At the London Championships tournament in mid-June, Helen Wills Moody had easy victories in her first three matches but in her next match, in the semi-finals, lost to Hilde Sperling by a score of 8-6, 6-2. This was the first time since 1926 that Wills Moody had lost a singles match in consecutive open tournaments, having in August of that year lost (6-4, 6-1) to Elizabeth Ryan in the final of the Seabright tournament in New Jersey, tournament and then, as already mentioned, to Molla Mallory in the semi-finals of the Rye tournament in New York state.
Excluding her losses to Molla Mallory (nee Bjurstedt and Norwegian by birth, but American by marriage), this loss at the Queen’s Club to Hilde Sperling was also only the second time that Helen Wills Moody had lost a singles match to a player who was neither a fellow American nor British. The other occasion had been her famous match against the Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen, who beat her 6-3, 8-6 in the final of the tournament held at the Carlton Club in Cannes, France, in February 1926. (The Lenglen-Wills match also appears to be the only time Helen Wills lost a singles match on clay, certainly outside of the United States.)
At the 1938 Wimbledon tournament, Helen Wills Moody was seeded number one, while Helen Jacobs was unseeded, but in the opposite half of the draw to Wills Moody. Without losing a set, they both advanced towards what would be their twelfth and final meeting. On her way to the final Jacobs beat the number three seed, Jadwiga Jedrzejowska of Poland, in the quarter-finals, 6-2, 6-3 and, one round later, Alice Marble, 6-2, 6-4. Marble had been many observers’ pick for the title, but had not quite reached her top form (the following year she would enjoy an unbeaten season in singles play).
In the third round Helen Wills Moody was taken to 6-4, 7-5 by the Englishwoman Nancy Glover, while one round later Bobbie Heine-Miller of South Africa built up a 5-1, 30-30 lead in the first set before her game began to unravel against the greater steadiness of her opponent. In the semi-finals Wills Moody had another battle of attrition with her conqueror at Queen’s Club, Hilde Sperling. In the first set the American reached set point at 7-6, but Sperling saved this and had two of her own six games later at 10-9. Wills Moody must have been relieved to save both of these before going on to win the set 12-10 (this appears to be the longest set she played in singles in her senior career). The second set was somewhat easier for the American who won it 6-4.
In her autobiography “Fifteen-Thirty”, published two years earlier (in 1936), Wills Moody had written of Hilde Sperling: “She was tall and could get to everything without much effort, aided by a long stride and a long reach. She had a pleasant personality, and was agreeable to play against, but her game I found more difficult than any I had ever met except that of Mlle Lenglen. The ball always came back and not with much speed, so that I found it hard to keep up my drive as well as my interest.”
Despite its early promise and potential, the 1938 Wimbledon singles final was an anti-climax. This was because Helen Jacobs, who had sustained an ankle injury earlier in the tournament, aggravated it with the score standing 4-4 in the first set. Having recovered from 2-4, she had chances to lead 5-4 on her own serve in the ninth game, but the previous game had been the last one she would win in the match. The final score was 6-4, 6-0. The following balanced report on the match, probably written by E.E. Mavrogordato, was carried in the London “Times” on July 4, 1938:
“Helen Wills Moody won her eighth Championships at the All-England Club on Saturday, but the final match against Helen Jacobs had such an unhappy ending that a full house in the Centre Court, again graced by the presence of Queen Mary, were probably too disappointed to recognize an eminent achievement. A wrenched ankle crippled Miss Jacobs – has any player had more wretched luck over a long career? – just as the struggle become tense at 4-all in the first set; what followed was embarrassing to watch. Miss Jacobs, rather than retire, limped on and won three points in the final seven games; Mrs Moody, aloof in the fastness of concentration that is the secret of her success, gave no sign that anything was amiss.
“… Mrs Moody surpassed Dorothea Lambert Chambers’s record of seven championships and, like Donald Budge in the [men’s] singles, she did not lose a set in doing so for all her 22 games against Hilde Sperling.
“Straining for the lead
“The more the pity that such a magnificent feat as Mrs Moody’s should be clouded by the events of Saturday. Some people will always maintain that Miss Jacobs, left out of the seeding and as brave a fighter as stepped into a court, would have won but for her injury. This, the fourth Wimbledon final between the ‘two Helens’, was probably the last, and a good many people had stayed up all night to see a struggle to the death.
“It turned out to be grimmer than anything we expect in a game, though much of the comment it has aroused is probably beside the point. A personal opinion had always been that Mrs Moody would set the seal on a remarkable career simply because I could not imagine her being beaten in the Centre Court. It may be that Mrs Moody will not win again, for without she has lost speed of foot and stroke; even this year she was fortunate in having the adversaries best calculated to beat her – Jadwiga Jedrzejowska and Alice Marble – removed from her path, ironically enough, by Miss Jacobs.
“A cruel blow befell Miss Jacobs as she was straining every nerve for the vital 5-4 lead in the first set, but Mrs Moody rose at her with equal determination, it was a glorious match, and Mrs Moody deserves the credit for having won the championship again after a retirement of three years. Miss Jacobs might have been wiser to retire when the damage was done, as her captain, Hazel Wightman, came out and apparently urged upon her, rather than go through the painful experience of crashing the ball wildly out of court. This was the course Mrs Moody took at Forest Hills five years ago; a quixotic love set in five minutes was no whit more conclusive, except in the records, than a retirement would have been. After all, you cannot play on one leg.
“Miss Jacobs’s challenge
“In the circumstances little can usefully be recorded about the match. Gradually the first set had worked up to the intensity of that last stirring encounter between the two players of three years ago, when Miss Jacobs, at 40-30 for 5-4, stretching out wide on the forehand for a volley that just escaped her, strained a foot that had already been hurt in practice. The damage was immediately apparent, for Miss Jacobs had another game point, and she came in for the volleys more gallantly than ever.
“But Mrs Moody’s aim never faltered in the crisis; as Miss Jacobs increased the pace so Mrs Moody met it. The manner to which she held her length to within an inch or two of the line was comparable with the old days, and in the end there was a straight one up the forehand line that Miss Jacobs could not touch. Then Mrs Moody, serving extremely well, was out in a love game [for 6-4].
“Miss Jacobs, plucky to the end, was done for. At the beginning she had brought her familiar chop into play at once, though now and then we saw something of her plain drive, notably when she brought Mrs Moody in and sent the ball streaking past her. Her most shattering stroke was in the second game when she failed to kill a smash, and flashed across the net to pick up the return with a backhand half-volley. But Mrs Moody’s sound length, her widening angle on the backhand that opened the court for the forehand cross-shot, were bringing loose shots from Miss Jacobs, whose forehand often curled out, and Mrs Moody was ahead at four two after a stiff game of two deuces.
“Yet Miss Jacobs was steadily improving, running harder, and curbing her loose strokes. When she drew level the match was in the balance; whether or not the ascendancy had passed from Mrs Moody is a matter of opinion that cannot be argued, though I felt that Mrs Moody, in the fateful ninth game, was meeting the storm with undiminished serenity. Anyway, to have won eight championships in nine attempts is a grand record, and Mrs Moody could not have a more admirable challenger than Miss Jacobs.”
It appears that one or two of the officials had asked Hazel Wightman to go down onto the court to speak to Helen Jacobs after it became clear that her injury had been aggravated. Whether Mrs Wightman asked Jacobs to retire or suggested she loosen the bandage on her injured ankle is not clear. The latter act would probably not have affected the outcome of the match.
Afterwards a number of observers expressed the opinion that Jacobs might have won the match if she had not been injured, but this argument is not supported by the evidence from previous matches between the same two players, especially the 1935 Wimbledon singles final. In fact, it indicates that, in the crisis of a match, with neither player injured and both playing as well as they could, Helen Wills Moody would finish as the winner, as she did in eleven out of her twelve encounters with Helen Jacobs.
That Helen Jacobs despite her injury kept fighting, or at least played on as well as she could, until the end of the 1938 Wimbledon singles final, which she does not mention in her “Gallery of Champions” book, is to her credit. Any criticism of Helen Wills Moody for piling on the pressure once she saw her chance, seems superfluous. As previously stated, it is the sort of thing champions do, especially in major finals.
This was not only the last meeting between the “two Helens”, but also the last major tournament in which Helen Wills Moody, who was now 32 years old, competed. Of the twenty-three major tournaments in which she played in the singles event, she won nineteen. Her only losses in completed matches were to Molla Mallory in the final of the 1922 US Championships (the first time Helen Wills, as she then was, had entered a major tournament) and to Kathleen McKane in the 1924 Wimbledon final, during Wills’s first visit to England. Her other loss in the singles event of a major tournament was her default to Helen Jacobs in the final of the 1933 US Championships.
(After a very successful season on the French Riviera, Helen Wills also entered the 1926 French Championships, held at the Racing Club de France in Paris. Seeded number two behind Suzanne Lenglen, Wills beat Germaine Golding 6-3, 7-5 in the first round before withdrawing from the tournament with an attack of appendicitis necessitating an immediate appendectomy.)
Helen Jacobs played the singles event at thirty-four major tournaments. In addition to her loss to Helen Wills Moody in the final of the 1930 French Championships, she was runner-up in the singles event at the same tournament in 1934, losing to the Englishwoman Margaret “Peggy” Scriven. Those were Jacob’s two best showings at the French Championships. As already mentioned, she had her greatest success at the US Championships, winning the singles title there four times and reaching another four finals. In fifteen attempts, she failed to reach the semi-finals at her national tournament only three times, and was a semi-finalist there in 1941, aged 33, in her last appearance in a major tournament.
In twelve consecutive attempts at the Wimbledon singles title (1928-39), Jacobs reached the third round once (at her first attempt), the quarter-finals three times, the semi-finals twice and the final five times, her only win, as already mentioned, coming in 1936, at her ninth attempt.
In her first nine meetings with Helen Wills (Moody), Helen Jacobs won a total of twenty-five games, never winning more than three games in one set, regardless of the surface or the tournament. Their tenth meeting was the fateful 1933 US Championships singles final, where Jacobs won by default with the score at 8-6, 3-6, 3-0 in her favour. In this match alone Jacobs almost won more games (fourteen) against Wills Moody than she had in their first five encounters combined (fifteen). Their eleventh and second-last encounter was the 1935 Wimbledon singles final where, with victory in sight, Jacobs missed a tricky smash before losing five games in a row and the match. She was somewhat unlucky in their twelfth and final meeting three years later, at the same stage of the same tournament, when an injury hampered her play. But the overall head-to-head of 11-1 in favour of Helen Wills Moody speaks for itself.
After the 1938 Wimbledon Championships, Helen Wills Moody went to Dublin to play in the Irish Championships. She won the singles event there easily, beating the Englishwoman Rita Jarvis 6-4, 6-2 in the final. This was Wills Moody’s last tournament win in singles. Thereafter she played the mixed doubles event in only one or two tournaments, in her native California.
Helen Wills Moody and Frederick Moody divorced in 1938. She married for a second time the following year. Her second husband, Aidan Roark, was a native of County Carlow in Ireland, but had become a naturalized US citizen by the time he married Helen Wills. For Roark, too, it was a second marriage. He is variously described as a polo player and a Hollywood executive, or screenwriter; in later years he also appears to have tried his hand at acting, but with no real success.
Helen Wills Roark and her second husband lived in Los Angeles for a while, but moved to Carmel, California, in the 1950s. She continued to paint, but generally avoided the limelight. Helen Wills Roark and Aidan Roark divorced in the 1970s. She followed developments in the sport of tennis and, in interviews she gave in later years, stated that she admired Chris Evert, but not Jimmy Connors; some of the latter’s on-court behavior displeased her.
Helen Wills Moody, as she was known in later life despite her divorce from Frederick Moody, lived long enough to see Martina Navratilova break her record of eight Wimbledon singles titles in 1990. When asked how she felt about Navratilova breaking this particular record, Wills Moody said, “Well, you know, she pumps iron.”
Helen Wills Moody died in Carmel, California, on January 1, 1998; she was 92. In her will she bequeathed 10 million dollars to her alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley; this money went towards the founding of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at that university. She left no children.
Helen Jacobs continued to play tennis intermittently until 1947. During World War Two she served in the United States Navy, becoming one of only five women to reach the rank of Commander. She specialized in navy intelligence. In later life she continued to write, eventually completing nearly twenty books, both fiction and non-fiction; she also farmed and designed sportswear. Helen Jacobs died in Easthampton, New York, on June 2, 1997, at the age of 88. She was survived by her long-time partner, Virginia Gurnee.
Last edited by newmark401 : Mar 7th, 2011 at 04:53 PM.