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Old Jul 7th, 2009, 08:35 PM   #1
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Lenglen versus Wills

I was reading an old SI article that revisited the clash in Cannes between Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills, and the thing that interested me the most was a pair of quotes from Elizabeth Ryan and Kitty Godfree, both of whom were of the opinion that Lenglen was a better and more versatile player than Wills. Was this opinion shared by their other contemporaries? I'd love to read more about what the other players and tennis watchers of the time (the godawful Ted Tinling excluded) thought of the two players and their respective talents.
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Best left-right combination by a German (and that includes Max Schmeling): Steffi Graf. All she did in 1987 was knock Navratilova out of #1 and try to knock Evert out of the sport. (Mike Lupica in "The Best and Worst of Tennis in 1987", World Tennis)

"A couple of years ago, we nicknamed Steffi Graf's forehand 'Jaws'. And that music would go perfectly when she starts running in to the net, swarming on that little ball." (JoAnne Russell, during the 1988 Wimbledon final between Graf and Navratilova)
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Old Jul 7th, 2009, 09:45 PM   #2
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Re: Lenglen versus Wills

Hi samm! you should try somewhere on the internet (ebay?) the big book that chronicles lenglen's and will's career as well as their 1 epic match called "the goddess and the american girl" a great and fascinating read! i used to have it somewhere, i'm afriad i might have accidentally threw it out.

anyway, yes ryan ( who was a frequent doubles partner of wills) and godfree both thought lenglen was a genius compared to harder hitting wills. kind of (don't know if this is a good comparison) but federer against roddick, in that federer (put lenglen here)could do it all and play from any part of the court and is infinite in his variety and also a great strategic mind, whereas roddick ( place wills here) has/had power both serve and groundstrokes, but nothing else, roddick/wills has/had no backup game if their serve and groundstrokes didn't bludgeon the opposition into submission. likewise roddick/wills game was enough against everyone else, but not against the game of a federer/lenglen. however....

in this book, mention is made that lenglen was at her peak, wills was not yet at her best, their one time match was on clay in the south of france lenglen's backyard, the clay watered down (on purpose?) to nullify wills' powerful groundstrokes, etcetera.

if you read this book, alot of critics actually thought that if the two played regularly in the next few years that wills would eventually overtake lenglen in head to head battles especially if they played on californian hard courts and perhaps even on grass. that wills had infinitely more endurance and strength and if she could take lenglen to a final third set lenglen's would wilt. critics made mentioned that lenglen's style of play of gentle perfect placements and strategy would soon become outdated (martina hingis?) and overcome by the power of an in her prime wills or perhaps alice marble?

lastly, in this book, little mentioned made at the time and throughout history is that wills played lenglen again later that day in doubles. wills once again lost with her partner in a very close contest, but the few who stayed around after the singles contest, were even more impressed by wills and supposedly in this match wills was undoubtedly lenglen's better, hitting winners all over the place, out hitting lenglen, and that lenglen and her better partner won by doing everything they could to hit to will's weaker partner.
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Old Jul 8th, 2009, 06:18 AM   #3
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Re: Lenglen versus Wills

Hmm, "The Goddess and the American Girl", eh? Sounds like the title of a book about Evonne Goolagong and Chris Evert. I'll see if any of the libraries I'm a member of has a copy of this book. Thanks for the tip!

Your comparison of Lenglen and Wills to Federer and Roddick respectively made me smile because in their match on Sunday, much to my surprise, I thought that Roddick was the one who looked like the more versatile player willing to take chances, rallying more steadily from the baseline, and using the court better. Federer, on the other hand, seemed to have regressed into what Roddick used to be like, and mostly won the final set by blasting big serves (what was it, 50 aces in the whole match?) and waiting for Roddick to play a couple of loose points, which is what the latter eventually did!
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"A couple of years ago, we nicknamed Steffi Graf's forehand 'Jaws'. And that music would go perfectly when she starts running in to the net, swarming on that little ball." (JoAnne Russell, during the 1988 Wimbledon final between Graf and Navratilova)
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Old Jul 8th, 2009, 10:09 AM   #4
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Re: Lenglen versus Wills

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Originally Posted by samn View Post
I was reading an old SI article that revisited the clash in Cannes between Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills, and the thing that interested me the most was a pair of quotes from Elizabeth Ryan and Kitty Godfree, both of whom were of the opinion that Lenglen was a better and more versatile player than Wills. Was this opinion shared by their other contemporaries? I'd love to read more about what the other players and tennis watchers of the time (the godawful Ted Tinling excluded) thought of the two players and their respective talents.
I have to say that I thought that Tinling was a laugh- camp as Christmas although he did have lots of insightful things to say. He was biased though with his favourites. I have been reading a lot about this period recently and it seems that the consensus was that Lenglen was the greater player. Wills herself said on the death of Lenglen that she was the greatest player of all time. From what I can gather it was 1. Lenglen 2. Wills 3. Marble for that era in the game.
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Old Jul 8th, 2009, 10:13 AM   #5
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Re: Lenglen versus Wills

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Originally Posted by laschutz View Post
Hi samm! you should try somewhere on the internet (ebay?) the big book that chronicles lenglen's and will's career as well as their 1 epic match called "the goddess and the american girl" a great and fascinating read! i used to have it somewhere, i'm afriad i might have accidentally threw it out.

anyway, yes ryan ( who was a frequent doubles partner of wills) and godfree both thought lenglen was a genius compared to harder hitting wills. kind of (don't know if this is a good comparison) but federer against roddick, in that federer (put lenglen here)could do it all and play from any part of the court and is infinite in his variety and also a great strategic mind, whereas roddick ( place wills here) has/had power both serve and groundstrokes, but nothing else, roddick/wills has/had no backup game if their serve and groundstrokes didn't bludgeon the opposition into submission. likewise roddick/wills game was enough against everyone else, but not against the game of a federer/lenglen. however....

in this book, mention is made that lenglen was at her peak, wills was not yet at her best, their one time match was on clay in the south of france lenglen's backyard, the clay watered down (on purpose?) to nullify wills' powerful groundstrokes, etcetera.

if you read this book, alot of critics actually thought that if the two played regularly in the next few years that wills would eventually overtake lenglen in head to head battles especially if they played on californian hard courts and perhaps even on grass. that wills had infinitely more endurance and strength and if she could take lenglen to a final third set lenglen's would wilt. critics made mentioned that lenglen's style of play of gentle perfect placements and strategy would soon become outdated (martina hingis?) and overcome by the power of an in her prime wills or perhaps alice marble?

lastly, in this book, little mentioned made at the time and throughout history is that wills played lenglen again later that day in doubles. wills once again lost with her partner in a very close contest, but the few who stayed around after the singles contest, were even more impressed by wills and supposedly in this match wills was undoubtedly lenglen's better, hitting winners all over the place, out hitting lenglen, and that lenglen and her better partner won by doing everything they could to hit to will's weaker partner.
Very interesting post. Wills must have had some groundstrokes. Even the supposedly chauvinist Kramer stated she had the most fabulous ground strokes he had ever seen. Praise indeed.
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Old Jul 8th, 2009, 10:16 AM   #6
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Re: Lenglen versus Wills

[quote=samn;16034788]Hmm, "The Goddess and the American Girl", eh? Sounds like the title of a book about Evonne Goolagong and Chris Evert. I'll see if any of the libraries I'm a member of has a copy of this book. Thanks for the tip!

Your comparison of Lenglen and Wills to Federer and Roddick respectively made me smile because in their match on Sunday, much to my surprise, I thought that Roddick was the one who looked like the more versatile player willing to take chances, rallying more steadily from the baseline, and using the court better. Federer, on the other hand, seemed to have regressed into what Roddick used to be like, and mostly won the final set by blasting big serves (what was it, 50 aces in the whole match?) and waiting for Roddick to play a couple of loose points, which is what the latter eventually did

I agree to an extent re the Wimbledon final- it was like an odd reversal of the usual matches they play. As far as Lenglen was concerned her mental health was a little brittle and it is likely that she would have turned professional anyway the nearer that Wills came to being a threat to her. Her performance against Molla Mallory in the US of ? 1921 showed that. Mind you Wills was not immune to insecurity as her rivalry with Helen Jacobs showed. Happy birthday by the way.
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Old Jul 8th, 2009, 09:09 PM   #7
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Re: Lenglen versus Wills

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Happy birthday by the way.
Oh, it isn't my birthday, it's Sammm's birthday! Mine is in December - in fact I can flaunt my BFTP credentials by mentioning that I share a birthday with Yvonne Vermaak, Lori McNeil, and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

(BTW Happy Birthday, Sammm! )
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"A couple of years ago, we nicknamed Steffi Graf's forehand 'Jaws'. And that music would go perfectly when she starts running in to the net, swarming on that little ball." (JoAnne Russell, during the 1988 Wimbledon final between Graf and Navratilova)
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Old Jul 9th, 2009, 01:06 PM   #8
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Re: Lenglen versus Wills

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Oh, it isn't my birthday, it's Sammm's birthday! Mine is in December - in fact I can flaunt my BFTP credentials by mentioning that I share a birthday with Yvonne Vermaak, Lori McNeil, and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

(BTW Happy Birthday, Sammm! )
Oh and here was me trying to be nice. Well I loved McNeil. admired the doggedness of Vermaak and thought that Sanchez Vicario was a great player so that is a neat birthday that you have.
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Old Jul 9th, 2009, 06:03 PM   #9
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Re: Lenglen versus Wills

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Oh and here was me trying to be nice. Well I loved McNeil. admired the doggedness of Vermaak and thought that Sanchez Vicario was a great player so that is a neat birthday that you have.
Oh, what was Vermaak like? I never saw her play and have wondered if she, like some of the other South African players, was a serve-and-volley player who favoured faster surfaces?

Rollo, please feel free to move this post to a separate thread for Yvonne, if you want.
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Best left-right combination by a German (and that includes Max Schmeling): Steffi Graf. All she did in 1987 was knock Navratilova out of #1 and try to knock Evert out of the sport. (Mike Lupica in "The Best and Worst of Tennis in 1987", World Tennis)

"A couple of years ago, we nicknamed Steffi Graf's forehand 'Jaws'. And that music would go perfectly when she starts running in to the net, swarming on that little ball." (JoAnne Russell, during the 1988 Wimbledon final between Graf and Navratilova)
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Old Jul 9th, 2009, 06:44 PM   #10
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Re: Lenglen versus Wills

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Rollo, please feel free to move this post to a separate thread for Yvonne, if you want.
Thanks Samm. We're ok unless we get lucky and dig up a TON on Vermaak info

To answer your question about Yvonne: I only saw her on TV a few times. She was about the tiniest thing you ever saw-perhaps ever shorter than Amanda Coetzer. My impression was she was a cagy all-court type of player who often won smaller events. Her career highlight was 1983 Wimbledon-she beat Virginia Wade in the quarters
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Old Jul 9th, 2009, 06:53 PM   #11
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Re: Lenglen versus Wills

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Very interesting post. Wills must have had some groundstrokes. Even the supposedly chauvinist Kramer stated she had the most fabulous ground strokes he had ever seen. Praise indeed.
She had the most penetrating shots off of both sides until Mo Connolly. Helen was a lot like Lindsey Davenport-a booming serve (Ryan used to say she had about 2 unreturnable serves per game in a match) and topspin off both the forehand and backhand. One weakness was her movement. She was often described as heavy footed and vulnerable to those who could take her attack and move her about. Usually she simply ran opponents ragged.

Helen has mucles too. When she did a screen test for the movies the studio thought her face was gorgeous. Her size (she was tall) and mucles were another story. Helen had guns!
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Old Jul 9th, 2009, 07:06 PM   #12
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Re: Lenglen versus Wills

I was looking up "The Goddess and the American Girl" on the Internet last night and the NYT review (I think) mentioned a comment by Wills that she'd have held her own against Evert and Navratilova. Did she issue a statement when Navratilova got her ninth Wimbledon?

Useless trivia item of the day: Helen Wills might be the only tennis player who's been mentioned in a song from a Broadway musical.
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"A couple of years ago, we nicknamed Steffi Graf's forehand 'Jaws'. And that music would go perfectly when she starts running in to the net, swarming on that little ball." (JoAnne Russell, during the 1988 Wimbledon final between Graf and Navratilova)
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Old Jul 9th, 2009, 08:31 PM   #13
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Re: Lenglen versus Wills

She was very complimentary towards Evert and Navratilova I think.
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Old Jul 10th, 2009, 05:17 AM   #14
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Re: Lenglen versus Wills

Bud Collins interviewed Helen via telephone right before Martina won her 9th Wimbledon title and Helen was very supportive of Martina breaking her record. She used to talk quite a bit (well for a semi-recluse) to the press about how she wished she could've "pumped iron" like Martina did. She sounded liked she aged into a delightful and gracious older woman, by most accounts she was a b&#$ on wheels during her playing days. It does seem that the general consensus was that Lenglen was the "genius" and Wills, while extraordinary, was not of quite the same caliber.

BTW, I love, love, loved "The Goddess and the American Girl" read it all the way through at least twice and have read bits and pieces of it at other times. In "the match" Lenglen took advantage of Wills less than stellar footwork by continually wrong footing her with a backhand up the line. She also hit a lot of short angle shots that Wills had a difficult time dealing with.
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Old Jul 10th, 2009, 10:17 AM   #15
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Re: Lenglen versus Wills

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Oh, what was Vermaak like? I never saw her play and have wondered if she, like some of the other South African players, was a serve-and-volley player who favoured faster surfaces?

Rollo, please feel free to move this post to a separate thread for Yvonne, if you want.
She was only about 5ft and therefore not really able to develop a serve and volley game. However she could chip and slice from all corners of the court and proved extremely difficult to all but the very best players. She was very brave on court.
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