MATHIEU, "SIMONE" (nee Simonne Passemard)
Born 31 January 1908 in Neuilly-sur-Seine
Died 07 January 1980 in Paris
Married René Mathieu (1900-1960) 14 October 1925 in Paris.
[Active 1924-1939, 1946-1947]
In her youth Passemard was compared to the legendary Suzanne Lenglen. While she never lived up to Lenglen's prowess the doughty Mathieu managed to win Roland Garros twice-something no other native born French woman achieved until Francoise Durr in 1967.
Married to René Mathieu when quite young, she was known throughout most of her career as simply Mme Mathieu. When she was junior champion of France in 1926 her baby lay in his pram courtside. A second son Maurice (born 10 June 1928) was a badminton player like his father. René was also a tennis official and writer, editing the French tennis magazine Smash
Neither birth stopped her for any length of time from her pursuit of tennis. From 1929 to 1939 she was the French #1, invariably starting each year on the French Riviera. Alan Little calculates that she won 138 Riviera titles: 52 in singles, 43 in doubles, and 43 in mixed (Little, p 357).
Helen Jacobs became a good friend of Mathieu from her visit to the Riviera in 1930, "and I came to know well the generous hearted Frenchwoman whose personality off the court belied the temperament she showed so often in competition" (Gallery p119). Simone's on court gestures and conversations to herself and those in the crowd were typically Gallic. Jacobs wrote, "Sometimes her burst of anger on the court were extremely upsetting to her opponent, and gave Simone an advantage that I believe she neither wished not planned." (p 120-21). At other times her emotions worked against her as winnable matches slipped away.
Simone's powerful forehand carried tremendous pace. The backhand, often produced with topspin, was a steadier but less spectacular stroke.
..there was one great drawback to Simone's game to which she was never able to overcome-or perhaps she did not think it necessary-the absence of any sort of effective volley or smash. This shortcoming did not prevent her from winning innumerable doubles championships, but it was a tremendous handicap in singles competition against players who had the tactical sense to draw her up to the net with short, low shots and then lob deeply. To win, she relied almost entirely on baseline duels, or upon drawing the opponent up, then making the passing shot or the lob, herself,
Helen Jacobs-from Gallery of Champions-page 119
Her weakness at the net made Wimbledon a mountain too high to climb-nonetheless Simone reached the semifinal 6 times and the quarterfinals 4 times. In two of those semifinals she extended the eventual champion to 3 sets. Simone lost to Cilly Aussem in 1931 by the score of 6-0 2-6 6-3. Dorothy Round needed 3 sets to overcome the stubborn Frenchwoman 6-4 5-7 6-2. In retrospect these were her best opportunities to break through at the Championships.
1932 saw her best world ranking of #3, just behind Helen Wills and Helen Jacobs. Mathieu lost the French final to Wills after besting Jacobs in the semifinals. The American reversed matters in a close contest at Wimbledon. After the defeat Mathieu stormed off the court without waiting for Jacobs to gather up her racquets.
She had remarkable success in doubles with Elizabeth Ryan. Ryan covered the net, while Simone "remained in the backcourt, driving with furious pace, retrieving at times almost impossible shots, lobbing with expert accuracy, finding openings which hardly seemed to exist" (p 125).
1935 and 1936 saw Simone go undefeated in singles on the Riviera-winning 16 titles in 1935 and 14 titles in 1936. Only after winning the first 6 titles of 1937 did she taste defeat, losing at Monte Carlo to Hilde Sperling, her personal bête noire.
Throughout the 1930s Hilde was her only superior on the slow European clay. Just as steady, with a more telling net game due to her long limbs, and even tempered-she proved to be Simone arch nemesis in winning Roland Garros. "Only once in a blue moon, would Simone have been capable of beating her [Hilde Sperling]" (Jacobs p. 128). Her lone win against Sperling came at Bealieu in 1937. For once it was the Dane who got tired and made errors first. After winning a two hour first set 7-5 Mathieu won the second in 45 minutes. It was her first win after 15 consecutive defeats against Hilde.
1938 at last saw the French #1 achieve her dream of winning at Roland Garros. Simone must have breathed a sigh of relief when Hilde Sperling was absent. In a mediocre field she romped to victory over Nelly Landry in a 6-0 6-3 final. She repeated as champion in 1939-with Sperling once again not entered.
Helen Jacobs ranked Mathieu at #6 in her book Gallery of Champions
. Appropriately enough #5 or #6 was her world ranking for most of the 1930s. The consistent and tenacious Madame was in the top ten 11 consecutive years from 1929 to 1939.
Simonne's husband René Mathieu was a badminton player too. And the birth date (10th of June, 1928) is perfectly consistent with this Maurice being their son. Where the documentary film mentions Maurice Mathieu as being the provider of the photographs, this is probably him.
(also watch the film, from 2'23" to the end).
All of the uses of "Simonne" are fairly recent-on or after 2010. The Hall of Fame and the French wiki both formerly used "Simone."
During the Second World War, Mathieu was head of the Corps Féminin Français, the women's branch of the Free French Forces (France Libre). Her devotion to the French Resistance was considered heroic. Separated from her family, she was condemned to death in abstentia by the Vichy government.
There is some confusion over her name. Contemporary sources are almost unanimous in using "Simone", the most common feminine form of Simon. Evidence from her family and others who knew her, such as Ted Tinling, make clear her name was the less common variant "Simonne."
At Roland Garros the trophy for the winners of the women's doubles is the "Coupe Simone Mathieu".
Grand Slam titles
French Singles 2 titles (1938-1939), Doubles (1933-34, 1936-1939) and Mixed (1937-1938)
Wimbledon Doubles in 1933 1934, and 1937.
Her 19 French finals in all 3 competitons are a record. Mathieu's 10 overall titles ar Roland Garros are 3rd behind Margaret Court (13) and Martina Navratilova (11).
World Top Rankings
(from 1929 to 1939 she was always in the top 10 for 11 consecutive years)
1935: #8 (ranked #4 by Ned Potter of American Lawn Tennis)
Simone (Simonne) Matheu: French Tennis Star of the 1930s
[International Hall of fame entry. She was inducted in 2006.]
[Documentary film footage and rare family photos]
Grasso, Joe. Historical Dictionary of Tennis
. Page 219
Jacobs, Helen. "Simone Mathieu",
chapter 6 of Gallery of Champions
, 1949. Pages 118-131.
Little, Alan. The Golden Days of Tennis on the French Riviera 1874-1938. 2014. Page 357.
[Thanks to Jimbo, Rollo and Vinkje83 for information on this player]