Simonne Mathieu

The women’s doubles trophy at the French Open is named for Mathieu, Coupe Simonne-Mathieu and the new 5,000 seat Roland Garros court will be named after her.
But who was Simonne Mathieu? Alongside Suzanne Lenglen and Henri Cochet she is one of France’s greatest tennis champions. But she was much more than that.

Simonne Mathieu and Suzanne Lenglen

Married at 17, her baby laid in his pram courtside when she became French junior champion in 1926. At 20, she was a mother of two kids whom she rarely saw as she travelled the world, collecting titles in Egypt, the Netherlands, Greece, Switzerland or Belgium.

She bounced back from losing six French Open singles finals (including three consecutive against the same opponent, Hilde Sperling) to finally win her home Grand Slam event at the seventh attempt, in 1938. She defeated fellow countrywoman Nelly Landry 6-0 6-3.
She even completed a rare triple that year, sweeping Roland Garros singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles titles. Only Suzanne Lenglen (1925 and 1926), Maureen Connolly (1954) and Margaret Court (1964) have achieved that distinction.

Simonne Mathieu, Nelly Landry, Marlene Dietrich - Roland Garros 1938

Simonne defended her title in 1939, with a straight sets victory over Jadwiga Jedrzejowska 6-3 8-6. France would have to wait until 1967 to see another French-born winner, Françoise Dürr, win the home title. [1]

She never played in Australia and only twice at the US Championships where she reached the quarterfinals in 1938. And even though she never captured the title in London, she had tremendous success at Wimbledon, with six semifinals (1930, 1931, 1932, 1934, 1936, 1937) and four quarterfinals (1933, 1935, 1938, 1939).

Mathieu was ranked in the world top 10 eleven times and reached rank number 3 in 1932 behind the two Helens: Wills Moody and Hull Jacobs. She was French number one from 1928 until 1940.

A resolute baseliner, she played with great steadiness and determination, quite often in long drawn-out matches. She had an outstanding forehand drive.

“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

Despite her weakness at the net, she was a fantastic doubles player: she won 11 Grand Slam doubles titles: three women’s doubles titles at Wimbledon (1933, 1934, 1937), six women’s doubles titles (1933, 1934, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939) and two mixed doubles titles (1937, 1938) at Roland Garros.

Simonne Mathieu and Toto Brugnon

A fighter on the court, Mathieu has also gone down in history as a fighter off the court.
She was playing a tournament in the United States when World War II broke out in 1939 and then decided to return immediately to France. Following France’s surrender in June 1940, she joined General de Gaulle in London, and offered him her services. She set up the Corps Féminin Français, a group of women volunteers serving in the Free French Forces.

She ended the war with a grade of Captain and marched down the Champs Elysées alongside de Gaulle when Paris was liberated in August 1944. She was finally reunited with her family, and with tennis.
She served as umpire for the “liberation match” between Henri Cochet and Yvon Petra at Roland Garros on September 17 1944 wearing her uniform as an officer in the French forces.

From 1949 to 1960 she was captain of the French womens team. She died in 1980, aged 72.
She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2006… the year Amélie Mauresmo won two Grand Slams.

Notes:
[1]: Nelly Landry won the title in 1948, but she was Belgian-born and became a French citizen after marriage
[2]: Read more info on The War Illustrated

Pictures:
1: Simonne Mathieu, 1926
2: Simonne Mathieu and Suzanne Lenglen, 1926
3: Picture taken before the Roland Garros 1938 singles final. From left to right: Simonne Mathieu, Nelly Landry and Marlene Dietrich.
4: Mathieu playing with Mousquetaire Toto Brugnon
5: Henri Cochet, Simonne Mathieu, Yvon Pétra

Sources:
Wikipedia, International Tennis Hall of Fame, The golden days of tennis on the French Riviera by Alan Little, Roland Garros website

Margaret Court

45 years ago, Margaret Court completed the fifth calendar Grand Slam in history, after Donald Budge (1938), Maureen Connolly (1953) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969). Twice previously (in 1962 and 1969), Court had failed to win the coveted Grand Slam, falling both times at Wimbledon.

The powerful Australian was the most dominating player in the 60s, winning 13 Grand Slam tournaments.
Then she decided to retire after Wimbledon in 1966. But after getting married in 1967, she changed her mind and returned to tennis in 1968. Her goal: to complete the calendar-year Grand Slam. In 1969, she captured 3 majors, but lost to Ann Jones in Wimbledon semifinals.

In 1970, she had already won the Australian and French Championships when she met Billie Jean King in the Wimbledon final. This match is still considered as one of the greatest played on Center Court.
Court prevailed 14-12 11-9. 46 games, a record for the final, the tie-breaker not yet in use. But the result might have totally different: King broke Court’s serve 4 times in the first set, she served for the second set at 5-4, 7-6, and 8-7, and saved four match points. It would be the third and last title for Margaret Court at Wimbledon.

She met doubles specialist Rosie Casals in the US Open final, cruising through the first set 6-2. Casals bounced back to take the second set 6-2, but Court overcame her nerves in the third and captured her fourth US Open title 6-2 2-6 6-1. She also won the women’s doubles and mixed doubles.

Rosie Casals:

We called Margaret ‘The Arm’. It was like her right arm was a mile long when you tried to pass her.

Court regards her U.S. Open win against Casals in 1970 as the best moment of her career.

I had won three of the four Grand Slam tournaments twice before but completing the full set in one year was very special. Maureen Connolly was the only player who had previously achieved the Slam in the women’s game. In those days the US Open was played at Forest Hills, an old-fashioned club that was very different to the massive Flushing Meadows. Winning that final against Rosie Casals was special.

Court retired again to have children but came back in 1972, and won 3 of 4 Slams in 1973.
She retired permanently in 1977 when she learned she was expecting the last of her four children.

Margaret Court won 62 Grand Slam championships, more than any other woman, and in 1970 became the second woman (after Maureen Connolly in 1953) to win the grand slam of tennis singles: Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the Australian Open, and the French Open titles in the same year. She is the only player to achieve the Grand Slam in mixed doubles as well as singles, winning the four events with fellow Australian Kenneth Fletcher in 1963.
She’s also the only person to have won all 12 Grand Slam events (singles, doubles and mixed doubles) at least twice.

Margaret Court 24 Singles titles:
– Australian Open: 11 (1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973)
– French Open: 5 (1962, 1964, 1969, 1970, 1973)
-Wimbledon: 3 (1963, 1965, 1970)
– US Open: 5 (1962, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1973)

In January 2003, Tennis Australia renamed Melbourne Park’s Show Court One to the Margaret Court Arena. She was the recipient of the 2003 Australia Post Australian Legends Award, and featured on a special 50c stamp. In 2006 she was awarded the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) highest accolade, the Philippe Chatrier Award.

Apart from her wonderful on-court achievements, Court who found a ministry (the Margaret Court Ministries), is also known for her homophobia. She said in particular that Martina Navratilova and other lesbian and bisexual players were ruining the sport of tennis and setting a bad example for younger players.

More on this controversial champion.

Wimbledon champion Ann Jones

From Love Thirty, three decades of champions, by Rex Bellamy – published in 1990

Adrianne Shirley Jones, an exemplary strategist and tactician whose tennis always made sense, had no big shot and was too down-to-earth to present an overtly striking personality. Consequently, as Billie Jean King asserted, Jones was the most underrated woman player of the 1960s – except by those who had to play her or had the expertise to fully appreciate what she was doing. The record speaks for itself. Up to a point, anyway. The Wightman Cup figures obscure the fact that, of all the women who represented Britain most often in the annual contest with the United Stats, Jones had much the best win-loss record in singles and was matched only by Christine Truman in doubles. She went to the top of the heap in Britain at a time when domestic competition was uncommonly distinguished: because her career overlapped those of Mortimer and Truman, Shirley Blommer, and Virginia Wade, all of whom won Grand Slam singes championships.

Tennis was the second sport in which Jones achieved worldwide distinction. Her parents were international table tennis playes and it was in this game that Jones, like Fred Perry before her, first made headlines. She played for the senior England team at the age of 15 (no other girl has achieved so much so soon) and later contested five world championship finals: one in singles and four in doubles. In 1957 Jones was runner-up in all three events. Table tennis sharpened her reactions, taught her the value of spin, and made her a tough competitor who could instantly identify the points that most mattered. The negative side of it was her tendency to lose, however narrowly, the big finals. That planted a seed of self-doubt often evident in her tennis. True, she won the first Grand Slam singles final she reached, in Paris in 1961. But after that Jones repeatedly had cause to suspect that she would usually be found wanting during the last sprint to the tape.

She played her first tennis tournament in 1952, at the age of 13, basically as a summer relaxation, and in the following year competed for the first time in the british junior championships on the shale courts at Wimbledon. In those early years she was simply playing a form of table tennis adapted to a tennis court. But the outdoor game began to assume more importance when she won the British junior title two years running, in 1954 and 1955. On her way to that second title she was reduced to tears by an opponent who lobbed everything. Jones was so distracted that she wanted to quit but was talked into battling on. The irony is that, years later, the soporific precision of her lightweight tennis was to have a similarly maddening effect on a legion of opponents who played well, worked themselves into the ground, and emerged with headaches and maybe one or two games.

In 1956 Jones competed in the Wimbledon championships for the first time. She was still dividing her year between table tennis in winter and tennis in summer, but the outdoor game was no longer merely a recreation. She was beginning to grow away from table tennis, partly because international tennis provided a far more comfortable life style. And in 1958, unseeded, she beat Maria Bueno to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals for the first time. Demonstrably, she was good enough to close the book on a gratifying table tennis career and travel the world more or less full-time as a tennis player, in the last decade of ‘shamateurism’.

In 1961 there was evidence of her maturing versatility when she won the French singles championship on slow clay and advanced to the United States final on the rather bizarre grass courts of Forest Hills. Then came the ‘mixed’ summerof 1962 in which she reached her first Wimbledon final, in the company of Dennis Ralston and promptly married an old friend, Pip Jones. This gave her off-court life stability and a new set of priorities: and as a player she was benefiting from the friendship and advice of the great Maureen Connolly. But the ultimate break-through was still some way ahead and from 1964 onwards Jones had to deal with nagging problems that arose from a slipped disc and affected her neck and the shoulder of her racket arm. It may or may not be relevant that although table tennis had in many ways been an admirable preparation for her tennis career, Jones had almost reached physical maturity by the time her body and her technique had to cope with the persistent stress of services, overheads and volleys.

Towards the end of 1966 Jones briefly considered retirement but Pip encouraged her to carry on: a specially designed programme of exercises did much to sort out the neck and shoulder trouble. At the age of 29 she acquired fresh momentum from the advent of open competition. Jones was not to know it at the time but this provided a basis for the finest tennis of her career. In April of 1968, the first month of the Open era, Jones (guaranted at least $25,000 a year for two years) was among four women to sign contracts with George MacCall‘s professional group. The others were Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals and Françoise Durr.

Durr was witty, charming, and smart – and delightfully Gallic. She gripped the racket with her forefinger pointed down the shaft, but her wildly unorthodox game was a joke that had to be taken seriously. When serving she waved her back leg in the air as if she did not know what to do with it. Her sliced backhand often took her down on one knee, with her bum almost touching the court. Virginia Wade suggested:

Playing with her is like being on a Saturday morning children’s show. I love to watch her hitting crazy winners with her mongrel set of strokes

But Wade rated Durr as an outstanding doubles player; and the record confirms that opinion.

Durr’s angled volleys were a prime feature of her game. Technically, her tennis was a smack in the eye for the purists. But the important thing was where she put the ball, not the way she did it. Her wits were sharp, her ball control sound. And she spiced the already piquant dish with sun-glasses, hair-ribbons, bightly busy dresses, shrieks and self-admonitory comments, and a habit of banging herself on the head with her racket. In short, Durr was a bundle of fun – and a far better played than she looked.

King and Casals were close friends. Durr enlivened the off-court hours of the Jones. But the four new professionals got on well together and also with the six men in the MacCall group, Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Richard Gonzales, Roy Emerson, Fred Stolle and Andres Gimeno. For Jones the match-player, the benefits of living and working in such distinguished company were exciting: not least the chance to practise with the men and learn from them. Most of all, she learned to play a more attacking game. That could never be the bedrock of her tennis but at least she could now use the serve-and-volley stuff more often and with more confidence. In any case she had reached a phase of her career in which the baseline style was no long, in itself, sufficiently gratifying. She was readier to take a few risks and go for winners.

It all came together at Wimbledon in 1969 when Jones became the first left-hander to win the women’s championship. In her last two matches she came back from a set down to beat Margaret Court and King in turn. The 10-12 6-3 6-2 win over Court demanded the finest tennis of her career and an outstanding feature was the persistence and confidence in which Jones attacked. That was her 14th consecutive Wimbledon. She had been runner-up in 1967 and had made six other advances to the semi-finals. Now she wom not merely one title, but two, sharing the mixed championship with Stolle. It was enough. Jones was a BBC commentator when she returned to Wimbledon in 1970. She has since combined that role with coaching the young, captaining British teams, refereeing, helping to run the women’s international circuit, and (most important of all) bringing up three children.

Jones had immense powers of concentration. She was shrewd and sound and stubbornly patient. She knew exactly what she could and could not do and, just as important, was remarkably cute in appraising her opponents and making the appropriate stategic and tactical adjustments in her own game. Jones never missed a trick. While respecting the odds and eschewing risk, she could usually come up with something special in critical rallies. Lacking raw power, she became adept at flawlessly controlled tactical manoeuvres incorporating a wealth of variations. Spin, a useful legacy from table tennis, was always a feature.
The forehand, looped o hit with sidespin, was her best shot. She was particularly effective in driving her opponents back with a looped forehand or a top-spun lob, thus opening up the court for the gently terminal nudge of a drop-shot. Her chipped backhand was secure but seldom a threat, though occasionally she indulged her sense of fun by taking the ball early and putting top-spin on a full-blooded drive. Mostly, her approach shots (like her services) were not penetrating enough to justify more than sporadic demonstrations of her sure touch on the volley.
Jones was, and remains, a witty and wise raconteuse with a refreshingly direct manner.

Enjoy this 4-part Rolex documentary retracing Wimbledon’s history from Suzanne Lenglen to Rod Laver to Roger Federer. A must-see for every tennis fan.

Part 1 (1877-1939): the foundations of Wimbledon

Suzanne Lenglen, designer Ted Tinling, Gussie Moran, Bill Tilden, Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet, René Lacoste, Don Budge, Helen Wills, Fred Perry

Part 2 (1945-1977): a brand new era

Virginia Wade, Jack Kramer, Maureen Connolly, Althea Gibson, Ann Jones, Louise Brough, Harry Hopman, Ken McGregor, Rod Laver, Frank Sedgman, Cliff Drysdale, WCT, Handsome Eight, Ken Rosewall, Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong, Billie Jean King

Part 3 (1978-1999): the Golden Era

Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, Martina Navatilova, Steffi Graf, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi

Part 4 (2000-2011): Sampras, Federer, Venus and Serena

Pete Sampras, Pat Rafter, Roger Federer, Goran Ivanisevic, Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, John Isner, Nicolas Mahut