Wednesday, 4 July 2012
Suzanne Lenglen: Tennis As She Was Played
Her dominance of Wimbledon, in particular, was complete: she won the women's singles title every year from 1919 to 1925, except 1924 when ill health forced her to withdraw. (To put this in perspective, the next Frenchwoman to win Wimbledon was Amelie Mauresmo, 81 years later, in 2006.) And it wasn't only her brilliant play that attracted attention - her style of dress, with bare forearms and calves, was considered decidedly 'fast', as was her endearing habit of taking sips of cognac between sets. Lenglen seemed certain to win her seventh Wimbledon title when, owing to a misunderstanding, she kept Queen Mary waiting in the Royal Box for her appearance. When she realised her mistake, Lenglen fainted clean away, and withdrew from the tournament. Ah those different times...
Happily some footage of La Langlen survives, including this not entirely satisfactory account of her great match against the young American Helen Wills at Cannes in 1926. More interesting perhaps is this little film, How I Play Tennis, which not only illustrates her technique but also shows the almost balletic grace and elegance with which she played. Though she was no great beauty off-court, in play Lenglen was clearly something else, something exhilarating and really rather beautiful.