Suzanne Lenglen's first Wimbledon (1919)
Suzanne Lenglen’s first Wimbledon (1919), by Mark Ryan
The end of the First World War must have come as a relief not just to Suzanne Lenglen, but also to all of the other players eager for the return to open tournament play. To say that, in Suzanne’s case, the war had interrupted a promising career sounds, with hindsight, like a gross understatement, but hindsight in this respect was unavailable in the early summer of 1914, when Suzanne’s reputation as a prodigy was rapidly growing.
Suzanne’s win in the 1914 World Hard Court Championships, held in Paris, had come a week or so after her fifteenth birthday at the end of May and given rise to much speculation concerning a possible first appearance at Wimbledon later in the summer. Again with hindsight, her father’s decision that Suzanne would not ultimately compete at the 1914 Wimbledon appears to have been a wise one. Suzanne was still improving her game at the time; she had no experience on grass, and an early loss at Wimbledon may have dented her still burgeoning confidence to a significant extent.
During the war years, Suzanne was able to continue to perfect her game in the relative comfort of the South of France, under the watchful eye of her father and coach, Charles. Suzanne practised with a number of male players and also competed in a small number of charity events during this period. By the time tournament play was resumed in 1919, she was more than ready for competition again.
In 1919, during the early part of the lawn tennis season, Suzanne played in five tournaments on the French Riviera, easily winning the singles event at each tournament. In Suzanne’s case, the adverb “easily” needs some qualification because she won her singles matches with overwhelming ease, dropping only ten games in sixteen matches. This scarcely seems possible, especially when the fact that she dropped three games in one match is taken into consideration, thus indicating that she dropped only seven games in the other fifteen matches. Yet it is true, and was to remain true throughout Suzanne’s career.
Although some of the draws were relatively small, and the quality of the opposition was not very high, the fact that Suzanne could play through a tournament without dropping a single game, as she did in her third tournament of 1919, at the South of France Championships held in Nice, is nevertheless as impressive as it is unique. Suzanne had begun to set a standard which has never been equalled, and probably never will be equalled. The one-sided nature of her singles matches, the number of victories by 6-0, 6-0 she racked up over the years, indicate just how superior she was to her opponents.
It is true that Suzanne played most of her competitive matches on clay, the surface on which she had learnt the game, but this fact is quite irrelevant. After all, she would have no trouble in adapting to the unfamiliar grass of Wimbledon, this despite her never competing in one of the tournaments held in the run-up to the Championships. After her arrival in London in 1919, Suzanne spent her time practising. Together with her father she also visited the London Championships, held at the Queen’s Club in West Kensington, to view the games of possible opponents. Perhaps Suzanne watched the final match, played between Dorothy Holman and Ethel Larcombe, the latter emerging the victor after a close two-set battle.
Suzanne would indeed play Ethel Larcombe (née Thomson), the 1912 Wimbledon champion, at the 1919 Wimbledon. It is not an exaggeration to state that Ethel Larcombe represented the “old guard” in women’s tennis, at least in the way she dressed (she had quite an attacking game, unusual amongst women of that era). Her ankle-length skirt, long-sleeved shirt and necktie were vestiges of the very early days of the game of tennis, when the sight of a woman on a sport’s field was rare and, in many eyes, a source of amusement, if not disproval. The fact that someone like Ethel Larcombe, from a privileged background like most of her contemporary sportswomen, had nevertheless decided to play tennis competitively, says a lot for her and their courage.
If Suzanne had watched the doubles final at the Queen’s Club in 1919, she would have seen Ethel Larcombe and Phyllis Satterthwaite lose to Dorothea Lambert Chambers and Elizabeth Ryan. With the exception of Elizabeth Ryan, this was an all-English final in a sport which the English, or the British (including, to a lesser extent, the Irish) had dominated since its inception several decades earlier, at least in the British Isles and at Wimbledon, where victories initially counted the most.
All of this was about to change, too, and once again Suzanne would be in the vanguard, together with Elizabeth Ryan, the American-born, but London-based player with whom she would win many doubles titles. Indeed, with Elizabeth Ryan, Suzanne was to be as invincible in doubles as Suzanne herself would be in singles.
Suzanne and Elizabeth Ryan would meet in the singles at Wimbledon in 1919, too. So would Suzanne and Dorothea Lambert Chambers, already seven-times a Wimbledon singles champion and the winner of many other singles and doubles titles. From this distance Dorothea Lambert Chambers does not seem such a fearsome figure, yet in her day she was considered a formidable player. What most interested parties assembling for the 1919 Wimbledon were probably unaware of was that Dorothea Lambert Chambers’ day, and the day of players like her, had passed. A new era was being ushered in and Suzanne Lenglen was to be the epitome of it.
The draw for the women’s singles event at the 1919 Wimbledon has several striking features, not including its modest size. Only forty-three players entered, but this was a significant increase on many previous draws, though less than the draw of fifty-two for the 1914 event, which had set a record (it would be ten years before as many as ninety-six women would enter, in 1929, and several decades before the draw was expanded to allow one hundred and twenty-eight women to participate).
One of the most striking features of the 1919 draw was the amount of married women participating and the general age of the participants. Close observers would have noticed the names of previous participants such as Aurea Edgington, Edith Greville, Gladys Colston, Winifred McNair, Madeline O’Neill, Peggy Dransfield, Ruth Winch, Doris Craddock, Gladys Lamplough and the aforementioned Ethel Larcombe and Dorothea Lambert Chambers who, along with Dora Geen, who was also taking part, were all three former champions and, like all of these women, married.
Charlotte Sterry was in the draw, too. She who, as Charlotte Cooper, had won her first women’s singles title at Wimbledon back in 1895 was now aged 48 and, like a number of her fellow competitors, a mother. (Charlotte Sterry had a bye in the first round, then won her second round match before losing a 43-game encounter to Aurea Edgington in the third round).
Another striking feature of the draw in 1919 was the number of byes – twenty-one. This meant, in fact, that almost every player had a bye into the second round (two players also benefited from walkovers). Interestingly, Suzanne Lenglen, the débutante, did not benefit from either a bye or a walkover. She was one of only five overseas players in the draw. In addition to Elizabeth Ryan from the United States, there was also Doris Wolfson, like Suzanne from France, a Mrs C.A. Beck from South Africa and Lily Addison, the first Australian woman to compete at Wimbledon. Both Doris Wolfson and Mrs C.A. Beck benefited from a bye in the first round before losing their second round match; Lily Addison won her first round match, against Agnes Tuckey, before losing to Winifred McNair in the next round.
Suzanne played her first singles match at Wimbledon on Tuesday 24 June, 1919. She and her opponent, the Englishwoman Mrs Annie Cobb (née Wix), were placed on Court no. 4. In retrospect, this sounds a curious choice for a match featuring a player who aroused as much interest among the public as Suzanne did. In reality, the tournament was still being held at the grounds in Worple Road, a venue it had outgrown, as that year’s tournament was to make abundantly clear. The total capacity of the Worple Road grounds was 10,000, with room for 3,500 on the recently expanded Centre Court. A stand had also recently been erected by Court no. 4, although its capacity is not known.
History has not been kind to Annie Cobb who, it appears, had arrived at the grounds earlier in the day without all of her “things”, thus causing the match to be delayed. When it eventually got underway she was able to win only one game, in the second set. The 6-0, 6-1 score in favour of Suzanne would have been familiar to anyone who had seen or read of her success on the Riviera earlier in the season. According to one report, Suzanne was able to show her complete mastery of every stroke when facing Annie Cobb even though this was Suzanne’s first competitive match on grass.
In the second round Suzanne met Ethel Larcombe who, as already mentioned, had won the Wimbledon singles title in 1912. Although the newspapers of the time would have not mentioned it, Ethel Larcombe had turned forty barely two weeks earlier. Of course, she had won the London Championships on the eve of Wimbledon, but to be fair to her, she had not played against anyone of the calibre of Suzanne at the Queen’s Club.
The match between Suzanne and Ethel Larcombe was played on Thursday, 26 June. The organisers put them on Centre Court, perhaps with expectations of a classic encounter. As it turned out, Suzanne won, 6-2, 6-1. The correspondent of the London ‘Times’ was present at this match and filed the following report:
“‘They order these things better in France’.
“In defeating her experienced adversary with the loss of but three games, Mlle Suzanne Lenglen achieved the feat of following Mr [Gerald] Patterson and appearing a hard-hitting, versatile player – player, it be understood, with no sex allowance. The Australian controlled the volley, the American smash, the French backhand and the English forehand drive.
“‘Take of these elements all that is fusible/Melt them all down in a pipkin or crucible’. Clothe them in Paris, put them on the Centre Court and an immense crowd will forget its national preference in its enjoyment. It was a sporting crowd. It remained mute when in the first game of the second set Mrs Larcombe – outplayed in the first – won a valuable point with a net cord stroke; and after the French lady had triumphed it expressed itself ecstatically over her grace and skill.
“It was stated that Mrs Larcombe was below her form, but this is apt to appear the case when a lady – or a man, for that matter – finding her good strokes countered by better, is forced to try something better still. To attack Mlle Lenglen’s forehand was futile – the drive was the foundation of her game; her backhand seemed even more reliable because a confident swing in the backhand is so rare. If there was one thing she liked better than hard-hit balls, which bounce so sharply from the racket, it was the soft ones which could be rammed into the corners; the lob – Mrs Larcombe specializes in lobs – was just a windfall to her smash; the drop, then, and make her run! (Mrs Larcombe’s drops are things connoisseurs rave about) – but the drop showed that if lawn tennis was this Atalanta’s recreation, running is her forte. The drop did make her run – if run is not too strenuous a word for her fluent motion – and there she was, where she wanted to be, at the net.
“Mrs Larcombe doggedly tried all her strokes – and she has plenty – and kept the rally going until her quicker-footed opponent had found the opening she had been working for. Working for! She was in no particular hurry and her accuracy was as remarkable as her power. Mlle Lenglen’s strokes were admitted beforehand, but it was expected that, being new to the centre court, she would have against her atmosphere, tactics, the crowd – but for all that, it is evident qu’elle se – those French words escape one – pas mal*.”
[* probably “qu’elle s’en fout pas mal” – “she does not give the slightest damn about such things”]
It is clear from this report that, despite her forty years, Ethel Larcombe was still a capable player. However, it is equally clear that Suzanne had an answer to all of the questions Ethel Larcombe put to her. Hard-hit shots, softer ones, drop shots, lobs, volleys – nothing was good enough to stop Suzanne from winning points. The ease with which Suzanne moved, her feeling equally comfortable on the baseline and at the net, her great forehand and – a rarity – her confidently hit and effective backhand were just some of the main elements which made her game so formidable overall.
Suzanne played her third round singles match the following day, Friday, 27 June, this time on Court no. 1. Her opponent was the unheralded English player Doris Craddock (née Covell) and Suzanne beat her 6-0, 6-1. The verb “to beat” seems inadequate in this case – “to overwhelm” would probably be more appropriate. No record of this match appears to be available but, as is the case with most of Suzanne’s matches, the score speaks for itself.
On Saturday, 28 June, Suzanne played a mixed doubles quarter-final match with her compatriot William Laurentz. They beat the English pair Noel Turnbull and Agnes Tuckey in a hard-fought contest, 7-5, 3-6, 6-1. On Monday 30 June, Suzanne encountered the promising English player, Kathleen McKane, on Centre Court in a quarter-final clash. If Suzanne can be said to have had rivals, then Kathleen McKane, later Mrs Godfree, was certainly one of them. She and Suzanne would face each other in singles several times over the next seven years or so, and each time Suzanne would emerge the winner. However, to her credit Kathleen McKane was capable of taking more than just a couple of games from Suzanne. In one of their matches Kathleen McKane would even hold two set points in the first set before losing it by the nevertheless impressive score of 8-10.
Although aged 23, and thus nearly three years older than Suzanne, at Wimbledon in 1919 Kathleen McKane could make no headway against her whatsoever and lost 6-0, 6-1. It could be argued that Suzanne, despite being younger, had more experience at the highest level of the game. The score does not do justice to the Englishwoman, herself a future Wimbledon champion.
In the semi-final of the All-Comers’ event, played on Centre Court on Tuesday, 1 July, Suzanne faced her doubles partner, Elizabeth Ryan. The latter was already a Wimbledon champion, having taken the doubles title with Agnes Morton in 1914, just before the First World War interrupted the progress of a number of promising players.
Elizabeth Ryan was to become a Wimbledon stalwart and for many years she would be its greatest champion in terms of titles won (a total of nineteen – twelve in the doubles and seven in the mixed, accumulated between 1914 and 1934). In singles, Suzanne and Elizabeth Ryan would play each other eighteen times and, except for the first occasion on which they met, Suzanne would emerge the victor each time. The first occasion was during the Monte Carlo (Condamine) meeting, held in the spring of 1914, when Suzanne was still fourteen and Elizabeth Ryan twenty-two. In the third round of this event Elizabeth Ryan had beaten Suzanne 6-3, 6-4. This was an impressive score, nevertheless, for a fourteen-year-old against a more experienced opponent.
The same two players met again at the Carlton Club in Cannes a few weeks later, in mid-April, and this time Suzanne triumphed, winning the final 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. It was a brilliant victory for the prodigy and promised much greater things. But the War would soon halt Suzanne’s progress, albeit only temporarily. It could be argued that Elizabeth Ryan started the favourite in her All-Comers’ semi-final against Suzanne at the 1919 Wimbledon. After all, the American was older, more experienced and more used to playing on grass. Being Suzanne’s regular doubles partner, she also knew her game better than probably any other player. In a hard-fought battle Elizabeth Ryan pushed Suzanne in both sets before Suzanne won 6-4, 7-5. The lawn tennis correspondent of the London ‘Times’ was on hand again and filed the following report:
“The fight made by Miss Elizabeth Ryan against Mlle Suzanne Lenglen before she went down, colours flying, 6-4, 7-5, will surely find a place in lawn tennis history. She proved that the new Divinity was mortal, and that without depriving her of a single one of her attributes.
“Called upon for a great effort, Miss Ryan made it. All of the good qualities in her dashing, hard-hitting game were intensified; and you never did see such a trier. And when she had run and chopped, and run and smashed, and done more than one thought she had it in her to do, there was Mlle Lenglen – unmoved – a set to the good, five games to two and 40-15. It is heart which makes lawn tennis a great game, and to see Miss Ryan throw in the guard then, was a stirring sight, an inspiring sight; a sight to convince headmasters that lawn tennis has an educational value. By strength of will and strength of limb, she brought the score to 5-all, 30-all – and then came a downpour.
“Mlle Lenglen has played the best men and, like Ulysses, she is first at all that she has met. Pedants say that she has acquired her strokes by practice, but we do not believe a word of it; they are nature’s response to the aspiration of a good stroke to meet a better. The more testing the ball, the more conspicuous the grace and ease of her execution. Where other players, like Mr Kipling’s Rutelianus, puff and pant when they fight well, her effort was hardly discernible, and her stroke preserved its rhythm unimpaired. She must have lost points, but one only noticed that Miss Ryan won them. One could not associate her with imperfection; if her balls went wrong, that was the perversity of the matter; the Goddess could not err.
“Strokes? There were strokes, all the strokes. A few years ago there would have been a deal of shimble shamble stuff in a match of this kind, each lady waiting for the distant opponent to give her an easier chance, but yesterday there was no letting ‘I dare not wait upon I would’. Miss Ryan saw to that; anything in the least short she rushed at and banged at a corner; and she looked as if she would have followed it there, but for the net. Irretrievable or not, it would come back with an easy swing – to be pounced on with a smash, if not hopelessly out of jumping range. Speed it up ever so little, and the lawn tennis might have come from first-class men. Both played strokes which until recently were exclusively masculine – Mlle Lenglen with her deliberate sweeping smash, Miss Ryan with her crushing backhand volley.
“The downpour came at the right moment. To associate Mlle Lenglen with defeat was blasphemous, while defeat for Miss Ryan was an outrage on human effort. The tension was less when the game was resumed. Mlle Lenglen serenely made the two points lacking to her sixth game – time does not exist for divinities. Miss Ryan was just as brave as before, but she ran not quite so fast and hit a little shorter. But she had made a deuce game of it before she hit a second service too hard.”
Elizabeth Ryan’s great fighting qualities are evident from this report. So too is Suzanne’s unflappable temperament at all times, particularly under pressure. Some observers were to write of Suzanne as being temperamental and apt to suffer from “nerves”, but if she was either, it was virtually never during matches, especially the most important ones. It is clear that, although Elizabeth Ryan’s net-rushing put Suzanne on the defensive, Suzanne’s ability to remain cool and hit an unhurried stroke was nevertheless unimpaired.
The lawn tennis correspondent of the London ‘Times’ writes of Elizabeth Ryan and Suzanne playing strokes “which until recently were exclusively masculine”. This is more evidence of both players’ willingness to forsake the relative safety of the baseline when the opportunity presented itself to finish the point at the net. Before the First World War women such as Charlotte Sterry and Ethel Larcombe had played a relatively offensive game, attacking the net whenever possible, but the serve-and-volley type of game was still more or less the exclusive domain of men. Women were known, and not greatly respected by connoisseurs of the game (such as the correspondent quoted above), for engaging in interminable baseline duels. However, players like Elizabeth Ryan and Suzanne would change this perception of the women’s game for good.
Poor Elizabeth Ryan! Few women or men in tennis history have won as many titles – singles, doubles and mixed – as her. However, other winners of many titles, like Margaret Court, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, also managed to win a significant number of singles titles at the four major tournaments, while Elizabeth Ryan, whose career path crossed that not only of Suzanne, but also Helen Wills, would never quite be able to add a major singles trophy to her impressive collection.
On Wednesday, 2 July, Suzanne faced Phyllis Satterthwaite of England in the final of the All-Comers’ event. Phyllis Satterthwaite (née Carr) was a capable player, but at thirty-three probably past her prime. There is no doubt that she provided further proof that virtually no other players were in Suzanne’s league. In an account of their semi-final clash in the All-Comers’ event at the 1919 Wimbledon, the correspondent of the London ‘Times’ called Phyllis Satterthwaite and Geraldine Beamish (the loser) “baselinesses enragées”. In other words, they both played the “old” game involving endless baseline rallies, with the odd drop shot thrown in to vary the monotony somewhat.
Phyllis Satterthwaite beat Geraldine Beamish 6-4, 10-8 playing that type of game, but Suzanne defeated Phyllis Satterthwaite 6-1, 6-1 playing a similar one. The lawn tennis correspondent of the London ‘Times’ filed the following brief but insightful report on the All-Comers’ final between Suzanne and Phyllis Satterthwaite:
“Mrs Phyllis Satterthwaite, who met Mlle Suzanne Lenglen in the All-Comers’ Final, had not the strokes to trouble the French lady; she reminded one of a slow bowler pegging away at Hobbs on a perfect wicket. Beginning nervously, she played pluckily to the end; indeed, in the last game she twice forced Mlle Lenglen out of position and then beat her from baseline to baseline.
“Only once before, if memory serves, did she score from a ball which her opponent failed to reach. It would not be fair to say that Mlle Lenglen overwhelmed her; her points came from rallies, but she always seemed to have something to end the rally with before Mrs Satterthwaite could have felt she had hooked the fish she likes playing.
“There would be, for instance, a deepish drive a little to the French lady’s backhand. Nothing much to be done with that, one thought; Mrs Satterthwaite would edge away towards the backhand and where the return was expected, and there would come a top-spinning drive into the forehand corner and six feet out of reach.”
It is clear from this report that if Phyllis Satterthwaite and Suzanne played a cat-and-mouse type of match, then Suzanne was the cat and Phyllis Satterthwaite the mouse, and there was only going to be the one winner.
On Thursday, 3 July, Suzanne and William Laurentz lost in the semi-final of the mixed doubles to Randoph Lycett of England and Elizabeth Ryan, the eventual champions. Suzanne’s Challenge Round singles match with the defending champion, Dorothea Lambert Chambers, was originally scheduled for Friday, 4 July (Dorothea Lambert Chambers had “stood out”, as was her right, until the All-Comers’ event was completed). However, at around 2.30 in the afternoon it began to rain and did not stop for the rest of the day. This meant that the Challenge Round match had to be postponed until the following day.
There was a big improvement in the weather overnight and Saturday, 5 July was a warm day with little wind – ideal conditions for tennis. The following account of this historic singles match, played that day, is taken from ‘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 Henry 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.”
The following is part of the report written by the tennis correspondent of the London ‘Times’ after the match and published on Monday 7 July 1919:
“Backhand and forehand, drive and volley, there is nothing to choose between Mlle Lenglen’s strokes – one is as perfect as the other – strokes of the goddess of lawn tennis. How, then, did Mrs Lambert Chambers press her so close? Admittedly she is not an all-round player. She is a forehand driver with a chop. Her sound backhand was made to look laboured by her challenger. She did little volleying, and that little helped her not at all. Courage and resolution? They could not be surpassed, but they were equalled by her opponent’s; with both of them it was uphill all the way, right to the very end. Mrs Lambert Chambers held her own with her own stroke – with the solid magnificence of her driving. Her driving was the longest compatible with accuracy; she did lose the match but she vindicated all the principles of lawn tennis.
“And Mlle Lenglen? How came she with her goddess’s strokes to be pressed so hard? She is not the goddess – nothing so icily regular and insipid; she is ardent; she makes perfect strokes often because she tries to make perfect strokes always. So hypnotic is her dainty strength that one is apt to brush aside any errors as if they were grammatical slips in a poem. She drives a few inches over the lines rather than sacrifice a foot or two of length; she will not seek so paltry a thing as safety with her second service; she wins points with her volleying but loses them too; it is not that her hand fails her, but in her eagerness she comes up when there are still too big openings for a passer like Mrs Lambert Chambers; she is not the goddess; ‘not the goddess, but one of her girls’.”
An appropriate title for the women’s single final at the 1919 Wimbledon would be The Turning Point. As already indicated, nothing would be quite the same ever again. Following Suzanne’s example, other female players would gradually shed the restrictive, unsuitable clothing they had worn on court for many years. Thanks to Suzanne, women’s tennis would eventually become equally as popular as the men’s game and be written of in much the same terms (these developments took several decades).
The women’s game would cease to be a mere sideshow, as it had been since women started playing tournament tennis. It also became a young player’s game, or at least a younger player’s game, with competitors over thirty years of age becoming something of a rarity. Less and less married women would feature in tournament play; only one mother – Evonne Cawley, in 1980 – has won the women’s singles title at Wimbledon since 1914.
Suzanne’s popularity – and that of Bill Tilden’s in the men’s game – made a move from the comparatively small Worple Road site in Wimbledon ever more urgent. The move to the present grounds on Church Road in Wimbledon took place in time for the 1922 meeting. By then, Suzanne had confirmed her invincibility in singles. During her whole adult career, no one would take two sets off her in a singles match. This was, and still is, an unparalleled standard of achievement in the game of tennis as a whole.
On Monday, 8 July 1919, Suzanne and her partner, Elizabeth Ryan, played and won both their quarter-final and semi-final matches in the women’s doubles event, delayed because of rain. The following day they played Dorothea Lambert Chambers and Ethel Larcombe in the final. The older pair – they had a combined age of eighty – won the first set and led 3-0 in the second before the Franco-American pair began to assert their authority. At one stage Suzanne and Elizabeth Ryan were within two points of defeat, but eventually won 4-6, 7-5, 6-3. The score is significant because the first set was one of only two sets Suzanne and Elizabeth would lose as a pair.
This was Suzanne’s – and France’s – third Wimbledon title. It was also a third title for Elizabeth Ryan, and a fifth one overall for the United States. Only one Briton, Randolph Lycett, Elizabeth Ryan’s mixed doubles partner, added his name to the list of Wimbledon champions in 1919, and even Lycett had learned how to play tennis in Australia. All of the other winners were overseas players – another sign of things to come as a new era of lawn tennis was beginning to dawn.
Last edited by newmark401; Jul 9th, 2019 at 06:52 PM.