Re: Suzanne Lenglen's first Wimbledon (1919)
A bump up for others.
This match remains as both a Wimbledon classic and the match that propelled Lenglen into super-stardom.
Suzanne Lenglen d. Dorothea Lambert Chambers 10-8, 4-6, 9-7; 1919 Wimbledon
This account of the 1919 Challenge Round singles match at Wimbledon between Suzanne Lenglen and Dorothea Lambert Chambers, is taken from the book "Memory's Parade" (1932), by Arthur Wallis Myers (in fact, he reproduced in this book the complete article he wrote for the Daily Telegraph, which had appeared in that newspaper on 7 July 1919):
"The greatest ladies' challenge round match in the history of lawn tennis! After twenty years' experience of the game in many countries and amid many vicissitudes, the historian has need for circumspection, but one may safely declare that the match between Mrs Lambert Chambers and Mlle Lenglen on the Centre Court today has never been equalled in the high quality of its play, the sustained uncertainty of its issue, and the tense excitement of its finish. The circumstances surrounding this contest were unique; so were the attendant attributes. On the one hand was a British player who had won the blue riband of the lawn on seven occasions, and had not been beaten at Wimbledon for eleven years - a lady who, if she had retained her title today, would have retired from singles with a record superior to that of Willie Renshaw on the men's side; on the other hand, a young French girl, born in the devastated province of Picardy, who had brought her racket across the Channel for the first time, and who was playing on a surface and before a crowd foreign to her nature, and perhaps inimical to her training.
"Small wonder that a contest between these two to decide the world's championship should have expressed the culminating interest in a championship meeting already remarkable for its popular appeal and its cosmopolitan competition; nor that the relative resources of the All England ground - almost a miniature arena beside the giant stadium at Forest Hills, New York - should have been strained to the uttermost; nor that, when the King and Queen, paying a surprise visit with their daughter, shared the intense enthusiasm of their subjects, the occasion was felt to be altogether unprecedented.
"The advent of the royal party had wisely, in view of the crowded ground, been kept a secret by the executive. His Majesty had let it be known to Commander [George] Hillyard, R.N. (with whom he served as 'middy' in the Britannia), that he desired no ceremony; that he came in a private capacity as a former president of the All England Club. It is well known, too, that Princess Mary is a player of considerable promise, and has witnessed matches at Queen's Club. Motoring down from London after the victory march of London troops, the distinguished visitors arrived shortly after three o'clock, during the progress of a double in which two Australians, a New Zealander and an Englishman were participating. Their appearance in the committee box (of which Lord Curzon, Admiral Beatty and Mr Hughes were also occupants during the afternoon) was met with a burst of cheering from nearly 10,000 throats, the match being 'held up' while the ovation lasted.
"The King, who was in civilian dress, raised his brown bowler hat repeatedly in response, while the Queen (wearing cornflower blue) and Princess Mary (in a white coat and skirt with a toque in blue) smiled their acknowledgements with obvious pleasure. No spectators in the vast throng watched the ladies' match with keener zest or closer attention. During its tense stages, when the issue hung on a single stroke, the King and Princess Mary by his side did not attempt to conceal their excitement. His Majesty, who had removed his hat, leaned eagerly forward in his seat, applauding heartily at the end of every long rally - impartially, it goes without saying. That he enjoyed the experience and was amazed at the skill and endurance of both ladies was evidenced not only by what he said afterwards, but by his exclamations during the contest.
"When they left, after a stay of over an hour and a half, the King, Queen and the Princess - escorted to their car by Mr H. Wilson Fox, M.P. (President of the Club), and Commander Hillyard - were given another popular reception. I may add that at the conclusion of this match His Majesty expressed a desire to congratulate both the winner and the loser on their splendid and courageous fight. A message was sent to the dressing room, to which the exhausted rivals had repaired, but it was understood neither was then in a condition to reappear - and after what both had gone through one is not in the least surprised.
"And now to the match itself! The technical conditions were about as good as they could be - no wind, the sun veiled by cloud, the temperature normal. It was a day for scientific accuracy and for exploiting the highest and most difficult arts of the game; and that is what we got - not for intermittent periods as so often happens, and has happened frequently in this first post-war championship, but all through, from the first ball to the last. Mlle Lenglen opened the service and lost the first game to love. If she had expected shorter-length returns, hit with less speed and confidence - such as some of her opponents in former rounds had given her - she instantly disillusioned, and the revelation shook her twenty-year mind a little. For this was Mrs Lambert Chambers at her very best, a best that she had not shown before this season, a best that would obviously require extraordinary skill and morale to combat.
"But Mlle Lenglen's timidity was only momentary. As she went boldly and serenely, smiling the while, to 3-1, she seemed to be saying to herself, 'Here is pace that I enjoy. Here is beautiful length against which I have practised on the Continent. Here is the greatest crowd to please.' In the fifth game she came up for the first time and closed a long rally of hot-paced drives with a fine smash. It was observed that Mrs Lambert Chambers, true to the best theory, which seeks to blunt the chief weapon by continuous pressure, was mainly attacking her forehand, while Mlle Lenglen, always scenting a volleying coup, was playing at her opponent's less forceful wing. The French girl had need to be aware of the holder's forehand cross drive! Mainly by using this stroke, obliquely to the far line, Mrs Lambert Chambers reduced a 4-1 lead to 4-3. Indeed, she won the seventh game to love, all points by fine service returns of this description. But her opponent, coming up now with more circumspection - her prevailing blemish throughout the match was to underestimate Mrs Lambert Chambers' passing skill - increased her lead to 5-3, and in the ninth game was within a point of the set.
"Here followed the first salving of the critical situations which, exhibited by both players in turn, made the struggle so intensely fascinating, so speculative, and, morally, so supreme a test. Two exquisitely judged drop shots, unretrievable even by a girl with a man's length of stride, saved the set for Mrs Lambert Chambers, and after a tenth game of stubborn length she drew level at 5-5 with a lob which even [Gerald] Patterson could not have smashed. Instinctively understanding that they were now to see a level match fought out to the finish by superlative play, the crowd cheered vociferously. The many who had backed Mlle Lenglen to win in two sets were obviously uncomfortable; the few (and I ventured to express this opinion in last Thursday's 'Daily Telegraph') who realized the unique strategic powers and driving vigour of Mrs Lambert Chambers, saw their expectation of a close match justified.
"And now, for the first time, Mlle Lenglen seemed doubtful about the wisest tactics. That she came up on a weak second service in the eleventh game and lost the game thereby was evidence of her indecision. She was passed easily, and Mrs Lambert Chambers led 6-5. Long and remarkably confident rests [rallies] (no male competitor in the championship placed so shrewdly) characterized the twelfth game. At last Mrs Lambert Chambers got to within an ace [point] of the set; the coolest person on the ground was Mlle Lenglen. Twice the French girl, taking the attacking risks, saved the game. Each was making shots which in any other match but this must have scored; the retrieving was really wonderful.
"But Mlle Lenglen held an advantage in service. She sometimes won clean aces with it; Mrs Lambert Chambers rarely did. Two fine deliveries placed the French girl ahead at 7-6. Her confidence was irresistible, but she exchanged a word with her mother in the stand in the next game, and the diversion was momentarily fatal - the holder won the game to love. Mlle Lenglen went to 8-7 with a love game on her own account - again her service was useful as a striking force. Mrs Lambert Chambers was always ready with a counter-effort, but in the eighteenth game the end came. A delightful incident, typical of the French girl's gaiety, marked this crisis. Mrs Lambert Chambers had served a ball in the corner, which beat Mlle Lenglen outright. A portion of the crowd disagreed with the umpire's verdict; they shouted 'fault'. When she tripped over to their side, Mlle Lenglen brought these unruly critics to instant silence by a gesture of disapproval and an announcement that the service was quite good. A moment later she won the set at 10-8 with a perfect drop-volley.
"Would the fierce pace of the protracted first set find its reflex in the second? Mrs Lambert Chambers quickly solved the problem by hitting just as hard and resolutely, her fine aim unimpaired. Mlle Lenglen at first did not respond. She was hitting as hard, but she made unsound excursions to the net, and when there her volleys were less sure. She also began to serve double faults. Mrs Lambert Chambers went to 4-1. Little Suzanne was obviously in distress for the first time, and she showed it by signalling to her distracted parents. Presumably they had the remedy at hand, for a tiny bottle was thrown to the court. I was told afterwards it contained sugar. Whatever the stimulant, its effect was quickly beneficial. Mlle Lenglen was soon volleying again with supreme confidence; she made a splendid bid for the squared set, and, after a prodigious eighth game, reached it at 4-4. But Mrs Lambert Chambers was not to be denied the fruits of her consistently sound baseline campaign, of which her backhand recoveries were the feature. She went out, to great cheering, at 6-4. One set-all.
"Level in score though the players now were, the odds seemed to favour the English defender. She appeared to be less distressed physically than her opponent - Mlle Lenglen had to send for brandy at the interval, and she asked a linesman to vacate his seat so that she might rest for a period rather beyond the normal - and the champion's game was so well under control and so free from lapse that English hopes were raised. These were dashed, however, when the challenger, drawing fresh vitality from some hidden springs, went to 4-1 in the final set. She had been a little lucky - a net-cord in the fourth in the fourth and a double fault in the fifth game - but the vigour and resourcefulness of her play were undeniable. Most of the games had gone to deuce.
"The sixth game, however, Mrs Lambert Chambers won to love her service gaining an unexpected speed. A spectator called out in the seventh game, Mlle Lenglen sacrificed a critical point, and 4-3 was called. Fine passing shots, pulled out on the run, brought the champion to 4-4; there was still nothing in the match. A love game to Mrs Lambert Chambers against her opponent's service looked to be a winning lead; the challenger, nothing daunted, replied with a love game. Five-all!
"The crowd was now worked up to a pitch of the tensest excitement, and the umpire had to call for silence during the rallies. You could almost have heard a pin drop on the turf while the ball was speeding backwards and forwards during the next rally, while 10,000 pairs of eyes were glued on the players. A long deuce game, and Mlle Lenglen drove out; 6-5 to Mrs Lambert Chambers. She went to forty-fifteen in the next game - twice within an ace of the match. It seemed morally certain she would be receiving the congratulations of her friends a moment later. Mlle Lenglen had come to the net on a deep drive; the champion's return from a cross volley appeared to be going out of reach. The French racket went out desperately, the ball hit the wood and went over - a lucky and misshapen stop volley. Another gruelling rally, won by the French girl, brought her to deuce; once more they were level. From that dread moment she moved forward steadily to victory. She was 7-6 from fifteen, and 8-7 from a service now inspired. The sixteenth game she took to love, and the long tension was over. The score was 10-8, 4-6, 9-7.
"As soon as she was sure of her championship, won under such desperate conditions, Mlle Lenglen swept off her soft white hat and rushed forward with streaming locks, to shake hands with her opponent. It was her great moment of triumph, and she may be pardoned exultation. Kissed on the court by one of her countrymen [Max Decugis], she was overwhelmed by her parents when she emerged, pressed on all sides, through the corridor. I have witnessed M. Lenglen's devotion for several years - it is sometimes embarrassing to tournament executives - but his joy on this occasion was ecstatic. The deliverance of France's lost provinces did not produce stronger emotion than the deliverance of Suzanne from what looked like certain defeat. I heard nothing but praise for Mrs Lambert Chambers' splendid and heroic defence. On the whole, I think she had a little the worst of the luck; but on a day when both ladies were so obviously at the top of their form luck must come in somewhere."
Last edited by Rollo; Jul 10th, 2015 at 07:28 PM.