TIME Magazine, September 17, 1951, p. 52: see also: Power Tennis by Maureen Connolly
SPORT: Young Queen
Women's tennis had been in the doldrums since 1941, when Alice Marble left the scene. Its perfectly commendable roster of entirely adequate players seemed unable to turn up anyone in the legendary tradition of May Sutton or Helen Wills. But a Forest Hills gallery last week stood up and cheered with new hope for a sturdy, rosy-cheeked girl who will not turn 17 until next week. Second youngest women's national singles champion on record,* Maureen ("Little Mo") Connolly clearly was a good notch above her tournament competition.
Her style distinguishes her from most of the ladies. Nimbly toe-dancing on the baseline, she suddenly stops bouncing and slugs scorching drives--forehand or backhand--deep into enemy territory. Less outstanding are Maureen's service and volleying: she has the bone and muscle (130 lbs.) but not quite the height (5 ft. 4 in.) to bang in cannonball aces and smashing kills.
A Real Find. When Maureen was much shorter and only ten, back in San Diego, her widowed mother, a church organist, moved into a modest home only half a block away from the courts run by Tennis Pro Wilbur Folsom. Graduating from fence-peeking, Maureen began retrieving balls in exchange for lessons. Folsom converted her from a left-hander, taught her a strategy of baseline defense.
When Maureen was eleven, Folsom knew he had a real find on his hands, persuaded one of his well-heeled patrons to subsidize Maureen's lessons with famed Eleanor ("Teach") Tennant, who coached Helen Wills, Bobby Riggs and Alice Marble to glory. Teach, who has tutored Maureen ever since, began developing the dainty little baseliner into a hard-driving attacker.
In 1949, at 14, Maureen beat all the other little girls, became the youngest U.S. girls' champion. Last year she kept her crown--and ranked tenth among the big girls: the women's division. This spring Teach decided that more junior competition would simply dull Maureen's game, coached her to a berth on the Wightman Cup team which beat Britain.
"Yeeow!" ...In breezing through to the final without dropping a set, Maureen bowled over Veteran Doris Hart, three-time U.S. runner-up. Only Akron's steady Shirley Fry then stood between Little Mo and the big crown. After a battle fought mostly from the baselines, Loser Fry surveyed the result (6-3, 1-6, 6-4), then ruefully said: "No one can duel with her at the baseline... Go up to the net against her?... Ridiculous."
As her last shot forced an out, the new queen uttered an unqueenly "Yeeow!" Then she scampered to the net for a proper handshake, grabbed a towel near the umpire's chair and sobbed into it for joy over beating all the big girls at last.
* The youngest: May Sutton, who, when she won the title in 1904, was 2½ months younger than Maureen was on her day of triumph.
TIME Magazine, July 14, 1952, p. 44:|
SPORT: Little Mo Grows Up
Britain was not quite prepared for lean, well weathered (57) Tennis Coach Eleanor ("Teach") Tennant and her apple-cheeked San Diego prodigy, Maureen ("Little Mo") Connolly. Expecting to greet the same girlish, hard-playing bobby-soxer who wept with joy last September over winning the U.S. Women's title, English tennis fans were soon puzzling over a change in Little Mo. By the time she walked on to Wimbledon's center court last week for the Women's Singles finals, it was obvious what it was: Little Mo had changed into Killer Connolly.
From the moment she landed at London's airport late last May, Maureen had settled down to work with an awesome determination. Smashing her way to victory, she swept unchecked through the Grass Courts Singles titles at Surbiton and Manchester. It was big news whenever she dropped a set. Playing the all-out attacking game--volleys, overheads, attack with the serve--that Coach Tennant had drilled her on all winter, she moved into the early rounds at Wimbledon with machine-like precision.
"You Have To Be Mean..." There was an unladylike grimness about Maureen's playing that shocked most proper Britons into grudging admiration--and a wish to see her roundly trounced. Cried London's Daily Telegraph: "The big thrill the center court crowd so eagerly awaits... the defeat of the 17-year-old, much-vaunted American champion... is still to come." Teach snorted scornfully in reply: "She's out to kill them. You have to be mean to be a champion. How can you lick someone if you feel friendly toward them?"
Nothing halted Maureen's progress. Two of her early-round British opponents crisply praised Maureen's cannonball abandon, but also felt compelled to chalk up their defeats to the heat. The heat made no difference to Killer Connolly. Cool and unperturbed, despite a painfully sore shoulder, she kept dancing her little baseline jig, running her rivals ragged with hard-hit placements, only occasionally coming to the net to volley.
In the top bracket of the All-American semifinals, Maureen blasted Akron's steady Shirley Fry off the court, 6-4, 6-3, with unreachable placements. Then, appearing in a purplish cardigan designed by London's Teddy Tinling (who also designed Gussie Moran's lace panties), she faced Louise Brough, three-time (1948-50) Wimbledon champion, who upset Maureen last May to win the Southern California crown.
"All Up in the Air." Maureen went right to work. Again & again, her sharp-angled shots left Veteran (29) Brough standing flatfooted on the baseline. When Brough tried to slow Maureen up with a change of pace or drop shots, Maureen scampered all over the court, turning retrieves into unreturnable volleys, smashes and passing shots. In the first set she broke through Brough's service to win 7-5. After losing the first two games of the second set, she settled down to win five straight games before dropping one. Moments later, Maureen's unnerved opponent fluffed a serve into the net and the match was over, 7-5, 6-3. Crying "Whoopee!", Britain's new champion, its second youngest American titleist,* shook hands with Loser Brough and raced happily to take the trophy plate from the Duchess of Kent.
After hugging Teach in her dressing room, Maureen rushed off for a television appearance, a press conference, and to dress for the Wimbledon dance. "Everything is so wonderful," she burbled, sounding just like Little Mo again. "I'm all up in the air."
* May Sutton was five days younger when she won in 1905.
Maureen Connolly won all 9 Grand Slam tourneys she competed in from the 1951 US Nationals to the 1954 Wimbledon, completing the Grand Slam, all 4 titles in the same year, in 1953. |
On July 20, 1954, just 17 days after she had won her 3rd Wimbledon title, Maureen Connolly's horse, Colonel Merry Boy (a gift Maureen had recieved from hometown fans in San Diego) shied at a cement truck while Maureen was horseback riding. Maureen's leg was crushed against the truck, resulting in a broken fibula and cuts that required 20 stiches.
At the time, San Diego doctor Bruce Kimball said Maureen would make "a full recovery," but "I just can't say when she'll get back into championship form."
In fact, Maureen never returned to competition, and the injury ended her tennis career at age 19. Maureen became the women's sports editor for the San Diego Union newspaper, and got married. Later she and her husband Norman Brinker moved to Dallas, Texas. Sadly, Maureen died of cancer in 1969 at the age of 34.
Maureen Connolly and friend photo from TIME Magazine, July 1953
"On clay, Chris [Evert] and Maureen Connolly are close. Maureen hardly ever lost a match, winning Wimbledon at 16, 17, and 18... She and Chris are very similar-- great, great baseliners. If anything, Maureen might have been a little swifter and quicker around the court than Chris. Maureen would have beaten Martina [Navratilova] on clay. Its questionable whether Maureen would have beaten her on a hardcourt. On grass I like Martina."|
Bobby Riggs, quoted in Tennis Confidential by Paul Fein
"Whenever a great player comes along you have to ask, 'Could she have beaten Maureen?' In every case the answer is, I think not."|
London Daily Telegraph tennis correspondent Lance Tingay
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