Suzanne Lenglen

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Suzanne Lenglen
Suzanne Lenglen 02.jpg
Lenglen (ca. 1920–1925)
Country (sports) France
Born(1899-05-24)24 May 1899
Paris, France
Died4 July 1938(1938-07-04) (aged 39)
Paris, France
PlaysRight-handed (one-handed backhand)
Int. Tennis HoF1978 (member page)
Career record341–7 (98.0%)
Career titles83
Highest rankingNo. 1 (1921)[a]
Grand Slam Singles results
French OpenW (1925, 1926)
WimbledonW (1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925)
US Open2R (1921)
Other tournaments
WHCCW (1914, 1921, 1922, 1923)
Olympic GamesW (1920)
Career record259–6 (97.7%)
Career titles74
Grand Slam Doubles results
French OpenW (1925, 1926)
WimbledonW (1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925)
Other doubles tournaments
WHCCW (1914, 1921, 1922)
Olympic GamesSF – Bronze (1920)
Mixed doubles
Career record382–16 (96.0%)
Career titles93
Grand Slam Mixed Doubles results
French OpenW (1925, 1926)
WimbledonW (1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925)
Other mixed doubles tournaments
WHCCW (1921, 1922, 1923)
Olympic GamesW (1920)

Suzanne Rachel Flore Lenglen (French pronunciation: ​[sy.zan lɑ̃.glɛn]; 24 May 1899 – 4 July 1938) was a French tennis player who won 31 Championship titles between 1914 and 1926. She dominated women's tennis from 1914 until 1926 when she turned professional.[2] A flamboyant, trendsetting athlete, she was the first female tennis celebrity and one of the first international female sport stars, named La Divine (the Goddess) by the French press.[3] Lenglen's 250 titles, 181 match winning streak and 341–7 (98.0%) match record are hard to imagine happening in today's tennis atmosphere.[4] Lenglen is regarded by some to be the greatest female tennis player in history.[citation needed]

Early life and background[edit]

Suzanne Lenglen was born in Paris on 24 May 1899 to Charles and Anaïs Lenglen.[5][6] She had a younger brother who did not live past the age of three. Lenglen's father was a pharmacist who became wealthy by inheriting a horse-drawn omnibus company from his father. Several years after Suzanne was born, her father sold the omnibus business and relocated the family to Marest-sur-Matz near Compiègne in northern France in 1904. They spent their winters in Nice on the French Riviera in a villa across the street from the the Nice Lawn Tennis Club. By the time Lenglen was eight, she excelled at a variety of sports including swimming and cycling. She also loved to play diabolo, a game involving balancing a spinning top on a string with two attached sticks. During the winter, Lenglen frequently performed diabolo routines in front of large crowds on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Her father believed she developed the confidence to play tennis in large stadiums from her early experience as a diabolo performer.[7][8]

Lenglen's father

Lenglen's father became inspired by the sport of tennis through attending tournaments on the Riviera where the world's best players would compete in the months leading up to the World Hard Court Championships. Having played the sport recreationally in the past, he bought Lenglen a racket from a toy store as a present in June 1910 shortly after she had turned 11 years old. He also set up a makeshift court on the lawn of their house in Marest-sur-Matz for Lenglen to practice with friends. She quickly showed enough skill for tennis to convince her father to get her a proper racket within a month. He also began playing against his daughter and developing training exercises for her. Three months later in September, Lenglen travelled to Paris to play on a proper tennis court owned by her father's friend, Dr. Cizelly. At Cizelly's recommendation, she entered a local high-level tournament in Chantilly. Playing in the singles handicap event where she received a point each game and two points every other game, Lenglen won four rounds and finished in second place.[9][10]

Lenglen's success at the Chantilly tournament prompted her father to train her more seriously. He studied the leading male and female players and decided to teach Lenglen the tactics from the more aggressive men's game instead of the women's game, which centered around slowly constructing points from the baseline at the time. When the family returned to Nice towards the end of the fall, her father arranged for her to be allowed to play twice a week at the Nice Lawn Tennis Club even though children had never been allowed membership or access to the courts. He also arranged for her to practice with leading male players at the club. Lenglen eventually began training with J. Negro, the club's teaching professional. Negro developed his own game around having a wide variety of shots and trained Lenglen to play the same way. Lenglen's father continued to serve as her primary coach at this time and throughout her career. He employed a harsh and rigorous style of coaching, saying, "I was a hard taskmaster, and although my advice was always well intentioned, my criticisms were at times severe, and occasionally intemperate."[11] Both of Lenglen's parents often watched her matches and discussed minute errors in her game between themselves throughout the match. They only showed restraint in their criticisms when she was sick, leading to Lenglen becoming comfortable with being ill.[9][12]

Amateur career[edit]

1912–13: Maiden titles[edit]

Lenglen (left) with regular doubles partner Elizabeth Ryan in 1914. They first played together in 1913.

Lenglen entered her first open singles event in July 1912 at the Compiègne Championships near her hometown, her only non-handicap event of the year. After an opening round default, Lenglen won her debut match in the quarterfinals before losing her semifinal to Jeanne Matthey. She also played in the singles and mixed doubles handicap events and won both of them. This success came after she did not win a title at any of the tournaments she entered at the Nice Lawn Tennis Club in the first three months of the year while her family was residing on the French Riviera. When Lenglen returned to Nice in 1913, she was more successful. After winning two handicap singles titles in January, she earned the right to represent Nice in a tie against Bordighera on the Italian side of the border. On a team of two men and two women, Lenglen played one singles rubber and won easily, only losing two games. The next month, Lenglen entered a handicap doubles event in Monte Carlo with Elizabeth Ryan, an American who moved to England a year earlier. Although they lost the final in three sets, Ryan became Lenglen's most frequent doubles partner and the pair never lost another match.[13]

Lenglen's success at handicap events led her to enter more open events in the rest of 1913. She debuted at the South of France Championships at the Nice Club in March. Although she won her opening match, she lost in the quarterfinals to the eventual champion Dagmar von Krohn. Nonetheless, when Lenglen returned to Compiègne in May, she won her first open singles title at the Picardie Championships. She won her next event in Lille as well. Both titles came within a few weeks of her 14th birthday. Lenglen lost to Matthey again at both of her events in July, the latter of which by default. She rebounded to win singles titles at her last two singles events of the year. Both titles came against Blanche Colston, who she also lost to in the mixed doubles finals at the same two tournaments.[14]

1914: World Hard Court champion[edit]

Lenglen at the 1914 World Hard Court Championships

Back on the Riviera in 1914, Lenglen focused on open events. She won two singles titles in January in Cannes, and also took the mixed doubles title at the latter event alongside Anthony Wilding. Her victory in singles at the against high-ranking British player Ruth Winch was regarded as a huge surprise. However, Lenglen still struggled at larger tournaments early in the year, losing to Ryan in the quarterfinals at Monte Carlo and then to six-time Wimbledon champion Dorothea Lambert Chambers in the semifinals at the South of France Championships. By April, Lenglen defeated Ryan in the final of another singles event in Cannes. Though, she finished runner-up to Ryan and Max Decugis in mixed doubles. In May, Lenglen was invited to enter the French Championships for the first time. Held at the Racing Club de France in Paris, the event was restricted to French players. The format gave the defending champion a bye until the final match, known as the challenge round. In that match, they would face the winner of the All Comers' competition, a standard tournament bracket for the remaining players. Lenglen won the All Comers' singles draw of six players to make it to the challenge round against Marguerite Broquedis. Despite winning first set, she ultimately lost the match. This was the last time in Lenglen's career that she lost a completed singles match, and the only time she lost a singles final other than by default. Although she also lost the doubles challenge round at the tournament to Blanche and Suzanne Amblard, Lenglen won the mixed doubles title with Decugis as her partner.[15][16]

Lenglen's performance at the French Championships set the stage for her debut at the World Hard Court Championships, one of the major tournaments recognized by the International Lawn Tennis Federation at the time. She was challenged in her opening match against Phyllis Satterthwaite and again in the semifinals against Suzanne Amblard, needing an 8–6 score to win the second set in the former and losing the second set in the latter. Nonetheless, she won three matches to make the final, where she only lost three games en route to defeating Germaine Golding for her first major title. Her volleying ability was instrumental in defeating Amblard, while her ability to outlast Golding in long rallies gave her the advantage in the final. Lenglen also won the doubles title with Ryan over the Amblard sisters without dropping a game in the final. She finished runner-up in mixed doubles to Ryan and Decugis alongside Ludwig von Salm. Following the World Hard Court Championships, Lenglen could have made debut at Wimbledon; however, her father decided against it. He did not like her chances of defeating Lambert Chambers on grass, a surface on which she had never played a tournament, when she had already lost to the six-time Wimbledon champion earlier in the year on clay. Lenglen won two more singles titles and then defaulted a final at the Compiègne Championships to Suzanne Amblard before World War I began in August, ending her season.[17][18]

World War I hiatus[edit]

During World War I, the Lenglen family lived at their home in Nice, an area much less affected by the war than Compiègne in northern France. No tournaments were held during the war, interfering with Lenglen's father's plan to have Lenglen enter Wimbledon in 1915. Although Lenglen could not play any official tournaments, she had plenty of opportunity to train while in Nice. Soldiers from around the world came to the Riviera to temporarily avoid the war. Some of these soldiers were top tennis players, including two-time United States national champions R. Norris Williams and Clarence Griffin. These players competed in charity exhibitions primarily in Cannes to raise money for the French Red Cross. Lenglen participated in these events, and in some instances had the opportunity to play singles matches against male players.[19][20]

1919: Classic Wimbledon final[edit]

Lenglen (near court) and Lambert Chambers contesting the 1919 Wimbledon final

Following the end of World War I in November 1918, many tennis tournaments resumed in 1919. Lenglen won nine singles titles in ten events, four doubles titles in four events, and eight mixed doubles titles in ten events. She won the South of France Championships in March without dropping a game in any of her four matches. Two months later, she won the Paris tournament, a stand-in for the French Championships and the World Hard Court Championships, both of which were still not held until the following year.[21][22]

Lenglen made her debut at Wimbledon in July, where the All Comers' format was used. With a six-round draw, Lenglen made it through the first four rounds while only losing six games. Among the players she defeated were 1912 champion Ethel Larcombe and future champion Kathleen McKane. Her biggest challenge in the All Comers' competition was her doubles partner Ryan, who saved match points down 2–5 to level the second set at five games. After an hour-long rain delay at 30–30, Lenglen won the last two games to win the match. Following a lopsided victory in the All Comers' final against Sattherthwaite, Lenglen faced Lambert Chambers in the challenge round. Although the 20-year-old Lenglen was considered a favourite against the 40-year-old Lambert Chambers, all three sets of the match were extremely close. While Lenglen led most of the first set, Lambert Chambers saved two set points with drop shots while down 3–5 and then earned two set points of her own at 6–5. However, Lenglen saved both and eventually won the set 10–8. Lambert Chambers forced a third set, despite squandering a 4–1 lead. The situation reversed in the final set as Lambert Chambers came from 4–1 down to earn two match points at 6–5. Though like in the first set, Lenglen saved both of them, including the first with a volley off the wooden frame of her racquet on an attempted passing shot by Lambert Chambers. She ultimately won the set 9–7 for her first Wimbledon title. The match set the record for most games in a Wimbledon final with 44, a mark only since surpassed by the 1970 final between Margaret Court and Billie Jean King. Over 8000 people attended the match, including King George V and Queen Mary, and well above the seating capacity of 3500 on Centre Court. Lenglen defeated Lambert Chambers and Larcombe again in the doubles final with Ryan. She had already lost to Ryan and Randolph Lycett in the quarterfinals of the mixed doubles event, her only loss of the year in any discipline aside from defaults.[23][24]

1920: Olympic champion[edit]

Lenglen at Cannes in 1920

Lenglen began 1920 with five singles titles on the Riviera, three of which she won in lopsided finals against Ryan. However, she did not defend her title at the South of France Championships, defaulting to Geraldine Beamish due to medical reasons. Beamish had won seven games in their last encounter, the most Lenglen had lost in a singles match all year. Moreover, Ryan was able to defeat Lenglen in mixed doubles at Cannes in windy conditions. This was her only mixed doubles loss of the year. Although the World Hard Court Championships returned in May, Lenglen had to withdraw due to illness. She recovered in time for the French Championships two weeks later, where she won the triple crown. Lenglen easily made it to the challenge round in singles, where she defeated Broquedis in a rematch of the 1914 final. Only the second set was close at 7–5. She won the doubles event with Élisabeth d'Ayen and defended her mixed doubles title with Decugis, only needing to play the challenge round.[25]

Lenglen's next event was Wimbledon. Lambert Chambers won the All Comers' final to set up a rematch of the previous year's final. Although the match was expected to be close again and began 2–2 in the first, Lenglen won ten of the last eleven games for her second consecutive Wimbledon singles title. She also won the triple crown at Wimbledon, taking the doubles with Ryan and the mixed doubles with Australian Gerald Patterson. The doubles final was also a rematch of the previous year's final against Lambert Chambers and Larcombe, while the mixed doubles victory came against the defending champions Ryan and Lycett. Lenglen's decision to partner with Patterson led to the French Tennis Federation threatening to not pay her expenses for the Wimbledon trip unless she paired up with a compatriot. Lenglen and her father replied by paying for the trip themselves. After Wimbledon, Lenglen played and won two events in Belgium in the lead-up to the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp. At the Olympics, Lenglen won two gold medals and one bronze medal for France. She won the singles event over British player Dorothy Holman, only losing three games in the final and one other game in her previous four matches. She won the mixed doubles event with Decugis. Although the pair lost the opening set of the quarterfinal against a Belgian team, they recovered and ultimately defeated the British team of Kathleen McKane and Max Woosnam for the title. Lenglen partnered with d'Ayen again in the doubles event. The pair lost their semifinal to McKane and Winifred McNair in a tight match that ended 8–6 in the decisive third set. This match was Lenglen's only loss in doubles all year. Lenglen and d'Ayen took the bronze medal after their opponents withdrew prior to the match.[26][27]

1921: Only singles defeat after World War I[edit]

Lenglen again dominated the tournaments on the Riviera, winning eight titles in singles, six in doubles, and seven in mixed doubles. Her only loss came in mixed doubles, a third set retirement to Satterthwaite and Jack Hillyard while competing with Charles Aeschlimann. She won all of her matches against Ryan, four in singles and five in mixed doubles. Ryan partnered with Gordon Lowe in each of the mixed doubles matches, while Lenglen's most frequent partner was Algernon Kingscote. All of Lenglen's doubles titles on the Riviera were with Ryan.[28]

Lenglen defended her triple crown at the French Championships in May, not even needing to play a singles match after Germaine Golding withdrew in the challenge round. Later that month, Lenglen returned to the World Hard Court Championships, where five-time United States national singles champion Molla Mallory was making her debut. The United States Lawn Tennis Association sent Mallory and Bill Tilden to the tournament with the hope of drawing Lenglen over to compete in the United States. Although Lenglen defeated Mallory in the final in straight sets, she trailed 2–3 in the second set before winning the last four games. Lenglen also won the triple crown at the tournament, partnering with Golding in doubles and Jacques Brugnon in mixed doubles. She then won her third consecutive Wimbledon titles in both singles and doubles. She defeated her doubles partner Ryan in a lopsided match where she won the last eleven games after losing two of the first three. She had to withdraw from the mixed doubles event in the second round after her partner André Gobert suffered an ankle injury.[29][30]

United States tour[edit]

Lenglen walking off the court after retiring against Mallory

Lenglen was interested in competing at the U.S. National Championships to prove that she deserved to be called a world champion. Her father opposed the idea because he could not accompany Lenglen across the ocean due to his poor health. Although the French Tennis Federation did not have the funds to send Lenglen to the United States, philanthropist Anne Morgan agreed to cover her expenses in exchange for her playing exhibition matches in support of the American Committee for Devastated France. This committee was founded by Morgan to provide relief for parts of France still recovering from World War I. Lenglen was scheduled to begin her trip on 30 July and arrive in time to play in tournaments beginning on 3 August, two weeks before the U.S. National Championships. However, bronchitis delayed her trip twice. She did not leave France until 6 August and did not make it to New York until 13 August, three days before her opening match. She was still sick when she arrived.[31][32]

The unseeded draw at the U.S. National Championships placed Lenglen in a first round match against Eleanor Goss followed by a second round match against Mallory if both players won their opening matches. After Goss defaulted, tournament officials rescheduled the match between Lenglen and Mallory to be held that night to appease the large crowd that showed up to see Lenglen play. Journalists at the time reported that Goss likely defaulted on purpose so that Lenglen would have to face Mallory without having played a competitive match since Wimbledon six weeks earlier. With over 8000 people in attendance, Mallory took a 2–0 lead in the first set before Lenglen began coughing in the third game. Lenglen recovered to win two of the next three games before Mallory took the last four games and the set. After a lost rally and a double fault to start the second set, Lenglen retired from the match. This was the only singles loss of Lenglen's career following World War I.[33][34]

Following the match, Lenglen withdrew from the doubles event, which she had entered with Mallory as her partner. Her retirement in singles was not well-received by fans or journalists. In particular, sportswriters believed she retired because she did not believe she could win, not because she was ill. They coined a phrase "cough and quit" that became popular at the time for describing someone who needed an excuse to avoid losing. The fact that Lenglen was seen dancing later that night further propagated the idea that she was faking an illness. Nonetheless, a doctor visited her later that week and recommended that she rest for eight days before resuming training. After multiple cancelled exhibition matches, Lenglen returned to play a practice session on 30 August but again became ill. She made her only two exhibition appearances in mixed doubles on 10–11 September. After still dealing with sickness, plans to have Lenglen enter other tournaments or play an exhibition against Mallory never materialized. She left the United States on 21 September.[35][36]

1922: Start of 181-match win streak[edit]

During the 1922 season, Lenglen did not lose a match in any discipline other than by default. She did not return to competitive tennis until March 1922, six months after her loss to Mallory. Lenglen's first tournament back was the South of France Championships, where she won the doubles and mixed doubles titles. She did not played the singles event and did not play singles again until a month later at the Beausoleil Championships in Monte Carlo. Lenglen won the title without dropping a game and only lost twelve points in the final against Goss, who had defaulted against her in the United States. This tournament began a 181-match win streak to end Lenglen's amateur career.[37][38]

In the middle of the year, Lenglen won the triple crown at the World Hard Court Championships, the French Championships, and Wimbledon. At the World Hard Court Championships, she came close to losing a set to Kathleen McKane in her singles semifinal. McKane had two set points at 5–4 in the first points; however, Lenglen saved both set points and ultimately won the set 10–8. After she only needed to play three challenge round matches to defend her three titles at the French Championships, Lenglen agreed to forgo the challenge round system and be included in the main draw at the request of the tournament organizers. Prior to the singles final, she lost more than one game in a set three times, once in a 7–5 second set against McKane in the second round, the second time in an 8–6 second set against Ryan in the quarterfinals, and the last in a 6–4 first set versus Irene Peacock in the semifinals. Mallory won the other semifinal to set up a rematch of their U.S. National Championship meeting. Like in the United States, Mallory won the first two games of the final. However, Lenglen rebounded and won the next twelve games for her fourth Wimbledon singles title.[39][40] The match only lasted 26 minutes, making it the shortest final in Wimbledon history.[41]

1923: Career-best 45 titles[edit]

Lenglen entered more events and won more titles in 1923 than in any other year. She won all 16 of the singles events she entered, as well as 14 of 15 doubles events, and 15 of 17 mixed doubles events. Unlike previous years, she did not default a match in any discipline. At the beginning of the season, Mallory travelled to France to make her debut on the French Riviera circuit. After the press accused both Lenglen and Mallory of avoiding the other, they faced each other in the semifinals of the South of France Championships. Mallory entered the match having not performed well at her other two events on the Riviera. In what turned out to be their last encounter, Lenglen defeated her without losing a game. At the same tournament, Lenglen's twelve-month win streak across all disciplines came to an end with a mixed doubles loss to Ryan and Lycett. Although Lenglen and Ryan won all eight doubles events they entered on the Riviera, they lost a set to Lambert Chambers and McKane in the Monte Carlo final, the only set of open tennis they lost together in their careers.[42][43]

At the World Hard Court Championships, Lenglen faced McKane in the final in each event, all three of which were held in the same afternoon. She defeated McKane in singles and mixed doubles, the latter of which with Henri Cochet as her partner for the second consecutive year. However, with Ryan absent, Lenglen partnered with Golding and struggled against the British team of McKane and Beamish, only winning five games. This was the last time the World Hard Court Championships were held. At the French Championships, the challenge round format was abandoned. Nonetheless, Lenglen defended her triple crown without losing a set. She partnered with Brugnon in mixed doubles for the third straight year, while paring up with Julie Vlasto for the first time in doubles. She faced the most adversity in the final when the crowed uncharacteristically booed her for trailing 0–4 to Golding in the second set. Lenglen recovered to win the next six games. At Wimbledon, Lenglen won the singles and doubles titles with ease, never dropping more than three games in a set. However, while partnering with Jean Washer, she was defeated by Ryan and Lycett for the second time this year. In September, Lenglen travelled outside of France and won several titles in Belgium, Spain, and Portugal.[44][45]

1924: No major titles[edit]

Although Lenglen did not lose a match in any discipline in 1924 except by default, she also did not win a major tournament in a year where majors were held for the first time since 1913. Minor illnesses limited her to three singles events on the Riviera, all of which she won. Lenglen played doubles more regularly, winning eight titles in both doubles and mixed doubles. Her closest match on the Riviera was in mixed doubles at the Gallia Club in Cannes. Lenglen and Henry Mayes defeated Ryan and Aeschlimann with a third set scoreline of 15–13, the longest set of Lenglen's career. In April, Lenglen travelled to Spain to compete at the Barcelona International. Although she won all three events, she contracted jaundice soon after the trip. The illness prevented her from playing the French Championships. By Wimbledon, she still had not fully recovered. Nonetheless, she entered the tournament and won her first three singles matches without dropping a game. However, in the next round, Ryan proved to be a more difficult opponent. After losing the first set, Ryan took the second set from Lenglen by a score of 8–6, only the third set of singles Lenglen had lost since World War I. Although Lenglen narrowly won the third set, she withdrew from all three events in the tournament following the advice of her doctor. She did not play another event the rest of the year. In particular, she missed the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, where Americans took gold in all five tennis competitions and Helen Wills won the women's singles event.[46][47]

1925: Open French champion[edit]

Lenglen won five mixed doubles titles at the French Championships with Jacques Brugnon, including the first two open to international players.

Lenglen returned to tennis at the Beau Site New Year Meeting in Cannes the first week of the year, winning in doubles with Ryan in her only event. She only played singles at two tournaments on the Riviera, winning both, including the South of France Championships. Her only loss during this part of the season was to Ryan and Umberto de Morpurgo at the Cote d'Azur Championships in Cannes with Aeschlimann as her mixed doubles partner. In May, Lenglen entered the French Championships, the inaugural edition open to international players. The tournament was played at St. Cloud at the site of the defunct World Hard Court Championships. Lenglen won the triple crown at the tournament and was not challenged in singles or mixed doubles. She won the singles final over Kathleen McKane, losing only three games. She won the mixed doubles final with Brugnon against her doubles partner Julie Vlasto and Cochet. Although Lenglen and Vlasto lost the second set of the doubles final 9–11 to McKane and Evelyn Colyer, they won the other two sets with ease for the title.[48][49]

Lenglen followed up her performance at the French Championships with another triple crown at Wimbledon. She played five singles matches and did not lose a game in the second set of any of them. The five games she dropped in total remain a record for fewest games lost in a singles title run in Wimbledon history. Her opponents included Ryan in her opening match, the defending champion McKane in the semifinals, and Joan Fry in the final. Partnering with Jean Borotra in mixed doubles, Lenglen lost one set in the semifinals to Lycett and his wife Joan. They defeated Ryan and de Morpurgo in the final. In doubles, Lenglen and Ryan won the title without dropping a set in what turned out to be their last tournament together.[50][51]

In the last part of the year, Lenglen represented France in an international tie against a team from Australia. She led France to a 7–4 victory in the tie, winning two singles rubbers and one doubles rubber with Vlasto. Members of the Australian team also entered the tournament at Deauville, where Lenglen defeated Australian Daphne Akhurst while only dropping four games. Akhurst had won the inaugural Australasian Championships, the precursor to the Australian Open, earlier in the year. In October, Lenglen returned to England to play at the Cromer Covered Courts, a new indoor wood tournament. Lenglen partnered with Lambert Chambers in doubles for the first and only time, while partnering with Brugnon in mixed doubles. She won both events. This was the only tournament Lenglen played in England other than Wimbledon as well as her only indoor event.[52]

1926: Final amateur year[edit]

Lenglen (left) and Helen Wills (right) at the Match of the Century

In what would turn out to become her last year as an amateur player, Lenglen played what many consider to be her most memorable match. In a February 1926 tournament at the Carlton Club in Cannes, she played her only match against Helen Wills.[2] The 20-year-old American was already a two-time winner of the U.S. Championships and would dominate the women's game in the late 1920s and early 1930s in the same way that Lenglen had dominated it since 1919.

Public attention for their meeting in the tournament final was immense, and scalper ticket prices went through the roof.[2] Roofs and windows of nearby buildings were also crowded with spectators. The match itself saw Lenglen clinging on to a 6–3, 8–6 victory after being close to a collapse on several occasions.

According to many authorities, including Larry Englemann in his book, The Goddess and the American Girl: The Story of Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills, Lenglen was forbidden to play Wills by her father, and, because almost for the first time she was defying her father, she was sleepless for the whole night before the match, and in a state of the highest nervous tension.

Later in the year, Lenglen seemed to be on course for her seventh Wimbledon singles title. However, Lenglen unknowingly kept Queen Mary waiting in the Royal Box for her appearance in a preliminary match. Lenglen, who had been told that her match would not start until much later, fainted upon being informed of her error, which was seen by aristocratic English attendees as an insult to the monarchy. Lenglen withdrew from the tournament, which would be her last appearance at the courts of Wimbledon.

Professional career[edit]

The first major female tennis star to turn professional, Lenglen was paid US$50,000 by American entrepreneur Charles C. Pyle to tour the United States in a series of matches against Mary K. Browne.[2] Browne, winner of the US Championships from 1912 to 1914, was 35 and considered to be past her prime, although she had reached the French final earlier that year (losing to Lenglen 6–1, 6–0).

For the first time in tennis history, the women's match was the headline event of a tour which also featured male players. In their first match in New York City, Lenglen put on a performance that New York Times writer Allison Danzig lauded as "one of the most masterly exhibitions of court generalship that has been seen in this country." When the tour ended in February 1927, Lenglen had defeated Browne, 38 matches to 0. She was exhausted from the lengthy tour, and a physician advised Lenglen that she needed a lengthy period away from the game to recover.

Instead, Lenglen chose to retire from competitive tennis to run a Paris tennis school, which she set up with the help and money of her lover Jean Tillier. The school, located next to the courts of Roland Garros, slowly expanded and was recognised as a federal training centre by the French tennis federation in 1936. During this period, Lenglen also wrote several books on tennis.

Lenglen was criticised widely for her decision to turn professional, and the All England Club at Wimbledon even revoked her honorary membership.[2] Lenglen, however, described her decision as "an escape from bondage and slavery" and said in the tour programme, "In the twelve years I have been champion I have earned literally millions of francs for tennis and have paid thousands of francs in entrance fees to be allowed to do so.... I have worked as hard at my career as any man or woman has worked at any career. And in my whole lifetime I have not earned $5,000 – not one cent of that by my specialty, my life study – tennis.... I am twenty-seven and not wealthy – should I embark on any other career and leave the one for which I have what people call genius? Or should I smile at the prospect of actual poverty and continue to earn a fortune – for whom?" As for the amateur tennis system, Lenglen said, "Under these absurd and antiquated amateur rulings, only a wealthy person can compete, and the fact of the matter is that only wealthy people do compete. Is that fair? Does it advance the sport? Does it make tennis more popular – or does it tend to suppress and hinder an enormous amount of tennis talent lying dormant in the bodies of young men and women whose names are not in the social register?"[53][2]

Playing style[edit]

Lenglen leaping in a ballet motion to hit a volley

Lenglen had a versatile all-court game. Her longtime doubles partner Elizabeth Ryan described her style of play as, "[Lenglen] owned every kind of shot, plus a genius for knowing how and when to use them. She never gave an opponent the same kind of shot twice in a row. She’d make you run miles... her game was all placement and deception and steadiness. I had the best drop shot anybody ever had, but she could not only get up to it but was so fast that often she could score a placement off it."[54] Her rivals Molla Mallory and Helen Wills also both noted that Lenglen excelled at extending rallies and could take control of points with defensive shots.[55][56] Although Lenglen built her game around control rather than power, she had the ability to hit powerful shots.[57] In particular, Mallory praised the power behind her defensive shots, saying, "She is just the steadiest player that ever was. She just sent back at me whatever I sent at her and waited for me to make a fault. And her returns often enough were harder than the shots I sent up to her."[55] British journalist A. E. Crawley regarded her as having the best movement of her time, saying, "I have never seen on a lawn tennis court either man or woman move with such mechanical and artistic perfection and prose. Whether [Lenglen's] objective is the ball or merely changing sides, she reminded you of the movement of fire over prairie grass."[58] He also believed she was a powerful server and an aggressive volleyer, commenting, "She serves with all the male athlete's power. She smashes with the same loose and rapid action, the release of a spring of steel. Her volley is not a timid push, but an arrow from the bow. And an arrow from the bow is Suzanne herself."[58]

At the recommendation of her father, Lenglen developed her style of play based on the games of the leading men's tennis players. This approach led her to become one of the leading volleyers in women's tennis at a time when the women's game was centered around playing from the baseline, even for the top players. Lenglen aimed to come to the net to finish points quickly whenever possible.[57] Kathleen McKane specifically noted that "Suzanne volleyed like a man" when describing her influence on women's tennis.[59] While Lenglen did not model the majority of her game after any specific player, she modeled her forehand after that of Anthony Wilding, who she regarded as having the best forehand of her time. Like Wilding, she aimed to hit forehands flat and with little to no topspin.[60] She also strived to strived to hit balls early on the rise.[61] Lenglen wrote in her book Lawn Tennis for Girls, "A favorite shot of mine is the backhand down the line".[62] Her father had made it a priority for her to master this shot in training as a consequence of her struggling with it early on.[63] Lenglen was regarded as having a graceful style of play. Her movement at times was thought to resemble that of a dancer. Her dancing motions may have arose from a course on classic Greek dance she had taken as a child at the Institute Massena in Nice.[64] René Lacoste, a leading French men's tennis player from her era, said, "[Lenglen] played with marvelous ease the simplest strokes in the world. It was only after several games that I understood what harmony was concealed by her simplicity, what wonderful mental and physical balance was hidden by the facility of her play."[65]

Lenglen was known for drinking cognac during matches. In the 1919 Wimbledon final against Lambert Chambers, Lenglen's father gave her cognac at two separate points in the match. On the first occasion, he threw a vial onto the court from the stands without anyone realizing what it contained at that moment. Both instances helped Lenglen as she won the next three games following the second set incident and then took a 4–1 lead in the third set after receiving more cognac in-between sets.[24] When Lenglen travelled to play at the U.S. National Championships in 1921, the United States Lawn Tennis Association agreed to allow her to consume alcohol during her stay even though that was illegal under the laws of Prohibition at the time. However, at the very least, the USLTA did not provide Lenglen with alcohol during her retirement loss to Mallory.[34]


In June 1938 Lenglen was diagnosed with leukemia and only three weeks later, she went blind. In early July 1938, the French press announced that Lenglen had suddenly become extremely fatigued and a few days later she died of pernicious anemia on 4 July 1938.[66][67][2] She was buried in the Cimetière de Saint-Ouen at Saint-Ouen near Paris.


Despite her flamboyant and sometimes controversial appearance on the court, Suzanne Lenglen was also known as a very graceful player.

Prior to Lenglen, female tennis matches drew little fan interest, which quickly changed as she became her sport's greatest drawing card.[2] Tennis devotees and new fans to the game began lining up in droves to buy tickets to her matches. Temperamental, flamboyant, she was a passionate player whose intensity on court could lead to an unabashed display of tears.[68] But for all her flamboyance, she was a gifted and brilliant player who used extremely agile footwork, speed and a deadly accurate shot to dominate female tennis for seven straight years. Her excellent play and introduction of glamour to the tennis court increased the interest in women's tennis, and women's sports in general.

In 1997 the second court at the Roland Garros Stadium, site of the French Open, was renamed Court Suzanne Lenglen in her honour. In addition, the trophy awarded to the winner of the Women's Singles competition at the French Open is the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. In 2001 the French Tennis Federation organised the first Suzanne Lenglen Cup for women in the over-35 age class. First played in France, the annual event is now held in a different country each year.

Lenglen, who was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1978, continues to be held by many as one of the best players in tennis history. For example, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, organiser of the Wimbledon Championships, ranks her among the five greatest Wimbledon champions.

On 24 May 2016, Google had a doodle in celebration for Suzanne's 117th birthday. In 2017, a Google Doodle honored her on International Women's Day.[69]


According to Wallis Myers of The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, Lenglen was ranked in the world top ten from 1921 (when the rankings began) through 1926 and was the world No. 1 player in each of those years.[1]

During her career, Lenglen won 83 singles titles, nine of which were achieved without losing a single game.[b] In addition, she won 74 doubles titles and 93 mixed doubles titles. She won the Wimbledon singles, women's doubles, and mixed doubles championships in the same year on three separate occasions (1920, 1922, and 1925).[71]

Career statistics[edit]

Major finals[edit]

Grand Slam tournaments[edit]

Singles: 8 (8 titles)[edit]

Result Year Tournament Surface Opponent Score1
Win 1919 Wimbledon Grass United Kingdom Dorothea Lambert Chambers 10–8, 4–6, 9–7
Win 1920 Wimbledon (2) Grass United Kingdom Dorothea Lambert Chambers 6–3, 6–0
Win 1921 Wimbledon (3) Grass United States Elizabeth Ryan 6–2, 6–0
Win 1922 Wimbledon (4) Grass United States Molla Mallory 6–2, 6–0
Win 1923 Wimbledon (5) Grass United Kingdom Kitty McKane 6–2, 6–2
Win 1925 French Championships (1) Clay United Kingdom Kitty McKane 6–1, 6–2
Win 1925 Wimbledon (6) Grass United Kingdom Joan Fry Lakeman 6–2, 6–0
Win 1926 French Championships (2) Clay United States Mary Browne 6–1, 6–0

World Hard Court Championships[edit]

Singles: 4 (4 titles)[edit]

Result Year Tournament Surface Opponent Score
Win 1914 World Hard Court Championships Clay France Germaine Golding 6–3, 6–2
Win 1921 World Hard Court Championships (2) Clay United States Molla Mallory 6–2, 6–3
Win 1922 World Hard Court Championships (3) Clay United States Elizabeth Ryan 6–3, 6–2
Win 1923 World Hard Court Championships (4) Clay United Kingdom Kitty McKane 6–2, 6–3

Grand Slam singles tournament timeline[edit]

(W) Won; (F) finalist; (SF) semifinalist; (QF) quarterfinalist; (#R) rounds 4, 3, 2, 1; (RR) round-robin stage; (Q#) qualification round; (A) absent; (NH) not held. SR=strike rate (events won/competed)
Tournament 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 1919 1920 1921 1922 1923 1924 1925 1926 Career SR
Australia NH NH NH NH NH NH NH NH A A A A A 0 / 0
France1 F NH NH NH NH NH W W W W A W W 6 / 7
Wimbledon A NH NH NH NH W W W W W SF W 3R 6 / 8
United States A A A A A A A 2R A A A A A 0 / 1
SR 0 / 1 0 / 0 0 / 0 0 / 0 0 / 0 1 / 1 2 / 2 2 / 3 2 / 2 2 / 2 0 / 1 2 / 2 1 / 2 12 / 16

1Until 1925, the French Championships were open only to French nationals. Beginning in 1925, the French Championships were open to all nationalities.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ranking by A. Wallis Myers[1]
  2. ^ These tournaments were: 1919 South of France Championships, 1920 Boulogne, 1921 Cannes (Beau Site Hotel), 1922 Beausoleil Championships, 1923 Pourville, 1923 Biarritz, 1923 Portuguese Championships, 1926 Nice (Parc Imperial) and 1926 Rome Championships.[70]


  1. ^ a b Collins, Bud (2008). The Bud Collins History of Tennis: An Authoritative Encyclopedia and Record Book. New York, N.Y: New Chapter Press. pp. 695, 701. ISBN 0-942257-41-3.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Jon Wertheim; Jacob Feldman (30 May 2019). "The Incomparable Life and Mysterious Death of Suzanne Lenglen". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 5 July 2019.
  3. ^ Clerici, Gianni (1984). Suzanne Lenglen – La Diva du Tennis. p. 253.
  4. ^ Little, Alan (1988). Suzanne Lenglen: Tennis idol of the twenties.
  5. ^ Engelmann 1988, p. 7.
  6. ^ Laporte, Jean (1 July 1914). "Autour du Championnat International de Tennis: Dans l'Intimité de la Championne" [Around the International Tennis Championship: In the Intimacy of the Champion]. Femina. Retrieved 22 July 2019.
  7. ^ Little 1988, pp. 7–8.
  8. ^ Engelmann 1988, pp. 7–8.
  9. ^ a b Little 1988, pp. 8.
  10. ^ Engelmann 1988, pp. 8–9.
  11. ^ King & Starr 1988, pp. 27.
  12. ^ Engelmann 1988, pp. 9–11.
  13. ^ Little 1988, pp. 9–11.
  14. ^ Little 1988, pp. 11–12.
  15. ^ Little 1988, pp. 12–15.
  16. ^ Engelmann 1988, pp. 14–15.
  17. ^ Little 1988, pp. 15–16.
  18. ^ Engelmann 1988, pp. 15–16.
  19. ^ Little 1988, p. 16.
  20. ^ Engelmann 1988, pp. 16–17.
  21. ^ Little 1988, p. 17.
  22. ^ Engelmann 1988, pp. 18–19.
  23. ^ Little 1988, pp. 17–24.
  24. ^ a b Engelmann 1988, pp. 19–23.
  25. ^ Little 1988, pp. 25–27.
  26. ^ Little 1988, pp. 27–30.
  27. ^ Engelmann 1988, pp. 24–26.
  28. ^ Little 1988, p. 31.
  29. ^ Little 1988, pp. 31–32.
  30. ^ Engelmann 1988, pp. 26–28.
  31. ^ Little 1988, pp. 34–36.
  32. ^ Engelmann 1988, pp. 28–32.
  33. ^ Little 1988, pp. 36–39.
  34. ^ a b Engelmann 1988, pp. 33–36.
  35. ^ Little 1988, pp. 39–40.
  36. ^ Engelmann 1988, pp. 36–39.
  37. ^ Little 1988, p. 41.
  38. ^ Engelmann 1988, pp. 39–40.
  39. ^ Little 1988, pp. 41–46.
  40. ^ Engelmann 1988, pp. 40–41.
  41. ^ Wertheim, Jon; Feldman, Jacob (27 June 2019). "The Incomparable Life and Mysterious Death of Suzanne Lenglen". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  42. ^ Little 1988, pp. 47–49.
  43. ^ Engelmann 1988, pp. 41–42.
  44. ^ Little 1988, pp. 49–52.
  45. ^ Engelmann 1988, pp. 42–43.
  46. ^ Little 1988, pp. 53–58.
  47. ^ Engelmann 1988, pp. 43–44.
  48. ^ Little 1988, pp. 59–60.
  49. ^ Engelmann 1988, pp. 44.
  50. ^ Little 1988, pp. 60–62.
  51. ^ Engelmann 1988, pp. 44–45.
  52. ^ Little 1988, pp. 62–66.
  53. ^ Billie Jean King with Cynthia Starr (1988). We Have Come a Long Way: The Story of Women's Tennis. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 40–41. ISBN 0-07-034625-9.
  54. ^ "Suzanne Lenglen". International Tennis Hall of Fame. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  55. ^ a b "Mlle. Lenglen wins from Mrs. Mallory" (PDF). New York Times. 6 June 1921. pp. 1, 5.
  56. ^ Pileggi, Sarah (13 September 1982). "The Lady in the White Silk Dress". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  57. ^ a b King & Starr 1988, p. 26.
  58. ^ a b Engelmann 1988, p. 23.
  59. ^ Wagg 2011, p. 137.
  60. ^ Lenglen 1920, pp. 10, 32.
  61. ^ Engelmann 1988, p. 51.
  62. ^ Lenglen 1920, p. 13.
  63. ^ Engelmann 1988, p. 12.
  64. ^ Englemann 1988, p. 8.
  65. ^ Englemann 1988, pp. 5–6.
  66. ^ "Le Journal". Gallica.
  67. ^ "CNN: Suzanne Lenglen – The first diva of tennis". Retrieved 16 August 2015.
  68. ^ "Beauty icon". Retrieved 6 March 2007.
  69. ^ "International Women's Day". Retrieved 8 March 2017.
  70. ^ Little, Alan (2007). Suzanne Lenglen : Tennis Idol of the Twenties (2nd rev. ed.). London: Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum. pp. 135–196. ISBN 9780906741436.
  71. ^ "". Archived from the original on 22 February 2007. Retrieved 6 March 2007.


  • Barrett, John (1980). World of Tennis 1980. Queen Anne Press. ISBN 978-0362020120.
  • Collins, Bud (2008). The Bud Collins History of Tennis: An Authoritative Encyclopedia and Record Book. New York: New Chapter Press. ISBN 978-0942257410.
  • Engelmann, Larry (1988). The Goddess and the American Girl: The Story of Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195043631.
  • King, Billie Jean; Starr, Cynthia (1988). We Have Come a Long Way: The Story of Women's Tennis. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0070346253.
  • Lenglen, Suzanne (1920). Lawn Tennis for Girls. New York: American Sports Publishing. ISBN 978-0469069497.
  • Little, Alan (1988). Suzanne Lenglen: Tennis Idol of the Twenties. The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum. ISBN 978-0906741221.
  • Wagg, Stephen (2011). Myths and Milestones in the History of Sport. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0230241251.

External links[edit]