New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

Category Archives: Tennis

Helen Wills Moody


Helen Wills Moody (Tennis. Born, Centerville, CA, Oct. 6, 1905; died, Carmel, CA, Jan. 1, 1998.) By far the most impressive female sports personality of her time and a seven-time champion of the U.S. national singles at Forest Hills, Helen Newington Wills was the lone woman classed among the greats in the “Golden Age of Sports.” From 1923 to 1933, she won seven titles and could well have won 11. Wills missed three years in which she did not defend and then defaulted the 1933 final to Helen Jacobs for her first loss in the nationals since 1922. She made the final each of the nine years she played the tournament and lost only the first (1922) and the last. There is no doubt she could have gone on for more championships since she twice won at Wimbledon (1935 and 1938) after her final appearance at Forest Hills. In the U.S., Wills won in 1923, 1924, 1925 and then underwent an appendicitis operation in 1926, causing her to miss the tournament. She returned in 1927 and won three straight titles without the loss of a set. In 1930, Wills elected to remain in California and did not defend. After winning again in 1931, she stayed in Europe after winning Wimbledon in 1933 and did not defend once more. Then came the peculiar loss to Jacobs in which she retired in the third set, trailing 6-8, 6-3, 0-3. She never returned to Forest Hills. Her finals loss in 1922 was to Molla Bjurstedt Mallory, then the reigning queen of U.S. women’s tennis. At age 17, Wills defeated Mallory the following year in a 30-minute match. Wills (later Mrs. Moody and Mrs. Roarke) won eight times at Wimbledon (1927-30, 1932-33, 1935 and 1938) and four times in the French (1928-30, 1932) and picked up an assortment of other titles along the way including the Irish championship in 1938.

Martina Hingis


Martina Hingis (Tennis.  Born, Kosice, Czechoslovakia, Sept. 30, 1980.)  To many, Martina Hingis represents unfulfilled promise.  To others, it’s a matter of too much, too soon.  Yet Hingis’ record is fairly impressive, although her career was undone by injuries.  Born in what was then Czechslovakia and named for a tennis-playing countrywoman (Martina Navratilova), she was actually raised in Switzerland and, by 14, was a tennis phenom.  Hingis was the No. 1 seed five straight times at the U.S. Open (1997-2001) and won the women’s singles title in the first of those years.  He was 16 years, 11 months, and eight days old when she beat Venus Williams in the final, 6-0, 6-4.  That year, she was clearly the world’s best women’s player, winning three major championships and losing in the final at the French Open.  All told, she was ranked No. 1 in the world for 209 weeks.  Hingis was 40-7 in singles at the Open (1995-2002), but never won singles again.  She did win the 1998 doubles.  In 2005, Hingis played for the New York SporTimes of W.T.T. and then rejoined the circuit, reaching the quarterfinals of the 2006 Australian Open.  Hailed as a tactical genius on court for her ability to put points together cerebrally, Hingis found herself being overpowered by younger, stronger players who joined the tour shortly after the peak of her career.

Slew Hester


Slew Hester (Tennis.  Born, Hazlehurst, Mass, May 8, 1912; died, Jackson, Miss., Feb. 8, 1993.)  By the time he assumed the U.S. Tennis Association presidency in 1977, William Ewing Hester, Jr., had already set in motion events that were to have a profound effect on tennis around the world, but especially in New York.  Hester, a successful oil wildcatter from Jackson, Miss., had determined that the U.S. Open would not only remain in New York but that it would have a new, modern home.  He saw the decaying Singer Bowl, a leftover from the 1964-65 World’s Fair, in Flushing Meadow-Corona Park, while flying into the city.  Hester leased the facility from the cash-starved Beame administration and announced that the Open would be leaving the venerable West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills after the 1977 championships.  He then set about to make it possible by contracting the reconstruction and supervising the job.  Hester thus anchored the event in New York and paved the way for the ultimate development of the U.S.T.A. National Tennis Center.  An athlete who played football at Millsops Colllege in Jackson, Hester also won several age-group tennis titles before becoming a U.S.L.T.A. officer (national secretary) in 1969.

Doris Hart


Doris Hart (Tennis.  Born, St. Louis, MO, June 20, 1925.)  Among the dominant players in women’s tennis in the 1950s, Doris Hart was twice U.S. singles champion.  Hart was the second of the eight women to win all three other “grand slam” singles titles and won nine U.S. national doubles championships.  She won the U.S. singles in 1954 after being the losing finalist the previous two years, losing both times to Maureen Connolly.  Hart defeated A. Louise Brough, 6-8, 6-1, 8-6, in 1954 and Patricia Ward, 6-4, 6-2, the following year.  Hart was the champion in Australia in 1949 and at Wimbledon in 1951, and took the French title twice (1950, 1952).  As a doubles player, she won the women’s championship at Forest Hills four straight years (1951-54) with Shirley Fry and was on the winning mixed doubles pair five years running with Frank Sedgman (1951-52) and Vic Seixas from 1953-55.

Darlene Hard


Darlene Hard (Tennis.  Born, Los Angeles, CA, Jan. 6, 1936.)  As the national intercollegiate champion in 1958 from little-known Pomona (Calif.), Darlene R. Hard was marked as a rising star in U.S. tennis.  Hard fulfilled those expectations by attaining the U.S. No. 1 ranking four times (1960-63) while winning eight titles in the national championships.  She twice won the singles title at Forest Hills, outlasting Maria Bueno, 6-4, 10-12, 6-4, in 1960, and beating England’s Ann Haydon, 6-3, 6-4, a year later.  In doubles, Hard won five years in a row (1958-62), twice with Jeanne Arth (1958-59), twice with Bueno (1960, ’62), and once with Australian Lesley Turner.  She continued to appear at Forest Hills into the Open era and won a crowd-pleasing doubles title in 1969, teaming with Francoise Durr in a rare triumph for sentimental favorites.

Suzanne Lenglen


Suzanne Lenglen (Tennis. Born, Paris, France, May 24, 1899; died, Paris, France, July 4, 1938.) The prima donna assoluta of European women’s tennis after World War I, Suzanne Lenglen made only one trip to the U.S. nationals at Forest Hills. That was in 1921, when he lost to eventual champion Molla Bjurstedt Mallory. Lenglen dominated Wimbledon, both singles and doubles, winning both six times in seven years from 1919-25 and winning the French singles as well six times in seven years (1920-26). In 1925 and 1926, she won the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles in France. Lenglen was also the Olympic gold medalist in singles at Antwerp in 1920, losing just four games in 10 sets. She beat Briton Dorothy Holman, 6-3, 6-0, in the final. In 1926, Lenglen turned pro and toured the U.S. for promoter C.C. Pyle, playing mainly against aging American Mary K. Browne.

Ivan Lendl


Ivan Lendl (Tennis. Born, Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, Mar. 7, 1960.) A powerful, well-conditioned baseliner, Ivan Lendl never captured tennis fans’ imaginations’ the way many of his contemporaries, including John McEnroe, did, but his record ranks among the greatest in the sport’s history. Lendl, who was dogged early in his career by accusations of tanking matches, reached the final of the U.S. Open eight straight times (1982-89), a record matched only by Bill Tilden, and won three of them, all in a row (1985-87). In each of those three years, he lost only one set (to Jaime Yzaga in 1985, Henri Leconte in 1986, and Mats Wilander in 1987). Lendl won eight major championships (each except Wimbledon – which he never won – at least twice) in his 16-year career (1978-94) and was a runner-up 11 times. Overall, he reached 146 tournament finals and won 94 singles titles. When he retired, he had been ranked No. 1 in the world for 270 weeks (the equivalent of almost 5½ years), a record later broken by Pete Sampras. Lendl became a U.S. citizen July 7, 1992.

John McEnroe


John McEnroe (Tennis. Born, Wiesbaden, West Germany, Feb. 16, 1959.) John Patrick McEnroe, Jr., was often considered a tennis artist, using a deft touch and the possibilities afforded by the game’s geometry to craft court brilliance. And, like many artists, he was boorish, vulgar, and impatient with societal norms, his transgressions sometimes – though not always – forgiven for his talent. After growing up in Douglaston, N.Y., and attending Trinity H.S. in Manhattan, McEnroe became the first man since Bill Tilden (1920-25) to win the U.S. Open three years in a row (1979-81), beating Bjorn Borg in the 1980 and 1981 finals. He added a fourth U.S. Open singles title in 1984 (to go along with three Wimbledon singles crowns), topping Ivan Lendl in the final, and was the No. 1 ranked player in the world for four years. Then he abruptly stopped winning major championships. Considered for years to be the best doubles player in the world, he won four U.S. Open doubles crown and five more at Wimbledon. He and Jimmy Connors, two of the “bad boys” of men’s tennis in their time, are often lumped together but were quite different in style and substance. Connors, who almost never participated in Davis Cup competition, played to the crowd and won major champonships in his 30s. McEnroe, who played for and captained Davis Cup teams enthusiastically (a record 12 years as player with a record 41 singles wins), raged at everyone and was through as a world champion player after age 25. – J.S.

Rod Laver


Rod Laver (Tennis. Born, Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia, Aug. 9, 1938.) Rodney George Laver, ironically, was born in the year that America’s Don Budge became the first player ever to win the tennis “Grand Slam.” The irony, of course, is that years later, Laver became the second man to win the Grand Slam and, subsequently, the first man to do it twice. At New York’s Forest Hills, Laver made the U.S. nationals final in men’s singles three straight years, 1960-62, but won only the third time. In that year, he also won the Wimbledon, French and Australian singles crowns to complete the coveted “Grand Slam.” Laver was rated as the world’s No. 1 player in 1961 and 1962 but then turned professional. In the era before open tennis, Laver’s turning pro took him out of the world rankings. But at the dawn of the open era in 1968, Laver returned as the No. 1 player in the world. In 1969, he again won the “Grand Slam,” this time as a pro, and he was again ranked No. 1. To complete the Slam, Laver struggled through a four-set victory over countryman Tony Roche after dropping the first set in a match played on soggy grass after a day’s rain delay. Laver switched from sneakers to spikes in the first set for better traction. One of Laver’s last major wins in the United States came in 1970, when he captured the Marlboro Open played in Orange, N.J.

Art Larsen


Art Larsen (Tennis. Born, Hayward, CA, Apr. 17. 1925; died, San Leandro, CA, Dec. 7, 2012.) A rangy lefthander, Arthur David Larsen won the U.S. national singles in 1950, his only trip to the championship match, defeating Herb Flam, 6-3, 4-6, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, at Forest Hills. Larsen was ranked in the U.S. Top 10 seven times (1947-56) and was No. 1 in 1950. He was a California collegiate star whose career ended with a motorcycle crash in 1956.

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The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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