Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Suzanne Lenglen: Tennis As She Was Played

With Wimbledon in full swing, let's take a look back at one of tennis's greatest stars - the glamorous, exuberant French player Suzanne Lenglen, who died on this day in 1938, aged just 39. She died of pernicious anaemia, having been diagnosed with leukaemia and lost her sight shortly before her death - the culmination of a lifetime dogged by illnesses, everything from jaundice to whooping cough to chronic asthma. And yet, through it all, she dominated her game as no woman had before, and brought women's tennis firmly out of the shadows.
 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.


  1. Suzanne Lenglen was a French tennis player who won 31 Championship titles between 1914 and 1926. A flamboyant, trendsetting athlete, she was the first female tennis celebrity and one of the first international female sport stars.She was a fighter.Thanks to this blog for taking our attenion towards an old tennis star.Very good blog.

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