Excerpts from Power Tennis by Maureen Connolly


Excerpts from Power Tennis by Maureen Connolly, 1954, Barnes, 85 pages
Out of print, but still readily obtainable used from Amazon.com.

Power Tennis is a pleasant little book, combining beginning tennis instruction with a lot of photos, mostly good, of Maureen Connolly demonstrating the strokes. Although it is too brief to serve alone as a beginner's only instruction book, it would make a nice supplement to others, and is a good addition to any collection of works about women's tennis greats. Power Tennis also benefits from having an index.

How I Learned to Play Tennis (pages 1-4)

    Tennis has been the most important thing in my life ever since I first picked up a racquet at the tender age of ten. Our home is located only two doors from San Diego's prominent University Heights playground and it was there that my career began. Attached to this public playground wre three white-stained courts, and each day on my way to play tag in the sand piles I would stop and watch players hitting balls back and forth. One day "Lil Mo" decided she would like to try her luck at this game, so I started picking up balls for the local tennis professional, Wilbur Folsom. This ball-girl routine became a daily habit and soon the coach handed me a racquet and said "Go to it." That's just what happened! I started by returning balls to his pupils and learning how to scramble from one side of the court to the other.

    When I was ten and a half, mother bought me a $1.50 racquet to enter my first tournament. Up to that time, she had no idea that I was even vaguely interested in this sport--much less wanting to play in actual competition. But since this racquet meant everything in the world to me, she was sweet enough to purchase it.

    My "debut" was in the La Jolla playground's thirteen-and-under division, and I will never forget the thrill of playing my initial match or the good case of "jangled nerves" that also played quite a part. By some stroke of fortune, I happened to reach the final round but was then soundly trounced by a good little player, Anne Bissell. I still remember the score, 8-6, 6-2. I was very disappointed at losing and knew right then that someday I wanted to reach the top in the tennis field. From then on in, it has been work, work, and more work with practice sessions beginning at 9:00 A.M. and winding up around dinner time...

    When I was eleven years old, the Balboa Tennis Club gave me a complimentary membership in their junior development program and that was one of the luckiest breaks possible. Here was the opportunity to play with the best club members, both male and female, and this improved my game 100 per cent... In addition to the Balboa Club, I was also given membership and help at the beautiful La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club and the popular Los Angeles Tennis Club. I only wish that all clubs in the United States would adopt junior aid programs because through them the champions of the future are developed.

    In my second year of tournament tennis, I met the world-famous coach, Eleanor "Teach" Tennant, at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club. I was playing in the Pacific Southwest tourney at the time, and my good friend and tennis enthusiast, Mrs. Curt Tree, arranged the introduction. I remember being quite nervous when "Teach" told me to wander into the opposite court and return balls to her. One thing still stands out in my mind--that was swatting every ball as hard as possible to try to impress this great coach. The Irish must be luckybecause a good percentage of my returns found the baseline and sidelines. How, I'll never know! Eleanor offered to take me as her pupil, and for six years we worked hard and long on my game. "Teach" revised my entire stroking production and taught me innumerable points on strategy and court sense from the back court. At first my strokes were awkward and loose and my footwork was atrocious. She quickly gave me exercises to strengthen my wrist and arm and insisted that I learn to dance so that I would "get off the dime," as she put it. One of Eleanor's greatest teaching assets is that she understands the individual player and knows how to deal with her temperament and moods. She used to "key me up" before a big match with a pep talk because with my particular type of game I have to be extra sharp, a little nervous, and on my toes to get the best out of my shots. She was also excellent in spotting an opponent's weakness and advising you how to take advantage of it.

    This past year I have been working with two other "greats" in our sport: Australia's Davis Cup captain, Harry Hopman, and the former world's doubles champion, Lester Stoefen. "Hop" began working with me during my 1952-53 tour of his country. He concentrated mainly on my volleys and overhead, and with our daily practice sessions they improved tremendously. We continued working together during our tour of Europe and on the States' eastern grass-court circuit. Sometimes during the important tournaments I would be overanxious and worried about certain shots. Then this master tactician would take me out on the court and tell me to "thrash" him a set. Of course, if I could win one game during the whole match it was a miracle but "Hop" would make me laugh and I would relax and start timing my shots more accurately.

    It is very easy to become "overplayed" in tennis due to all the pressure of strenuous matches, so a day off or some "easy tennis" is the best thing in the world to make you hit your groove again...
Maureen Connolly:

toss for
slice serve

toss for
twist serve
photos from
the book
    This season, since my return from abroad, I have been working very hard with Les Stoefen on my serve. Les is one of the biggest "boomers" the game has ever seen and he is teaching me a hard, flat ball and a good, reliable spin. My serve has always been the major weakness in my game, but under Les' expert tutoring it is gradually improving...
    One thing about tennis--you can never stop learning...

Strategy (pages 69-71)

    Strategy is divided into two categories--the offensive and the defensive. In the offensive group are the hard hitters and net rushers, while on the defensive side are the retrievers and masters of the "soft-ball" game...

    I am considered an offensive player for I hit the ball fairly hard and go for placements. The object of a power hitter is to maneuver the opponent out of court by hard drives to both sides of the court. In this way you obtain a setup that you can put out of reach. I am no net rusher by any means, but I do try to take advantage of of short shots either by volleying them away or letting them bounce and then angling them into an opening.
    In returning a service, mix your first returns by hitting one deep to either forehand or backhand corner or by hitting a sharp cross-court to the opponent's forehand service court. If you decide on a deep ball to the backhand, the opponent's logical answer will be a cross-court to your backhand. Then you would do one of two things--either hit your backhand down the line into the deep forehand corner, or angle a sharp across-court backhand. In other words, keep your opponent on the run and make her hit to your strength. If you favor your forehand, get the opposition into a cross-court rally and then you will have an open down-the-line shot to her backhand. I'd say that 65 per cent of balls hit are cross-courts as this is the more natural stroke of the two. So you should always be on your toes for more cross-court balls.

    The ideal player is one who can take advantage of good lengthy drives by following them up to net for the eventual winner. Some girls nowadays even come to net behind their serve, but you have to have an exceptionally good one to do this.
    Slicing can be both offensive and defensive and is a good way to break up an opponent's game. However, a slicer must have a perfect touch and the right ball to slice. Margaret Osborne DuPont is the only player I have seen who has mastered the slice, but she is one player in hundreds. To slice well, you must have a moderately paced ball and be in perfect position. A slicer generally has trouble with a hard hitter because the ball comes too fast for her to be absolutely set and she does not have time to cut the ball.
    A chop is good to an extent--especially for a drop shot (a short ball that barely clears the net and has little bounce) and for a retrieving shot on the forehand. I strongly advocate learning a good drop shot because you can often completely surprise your opponent, who may have been expecting another deep stroke. Doris Hart has this ball down to perfection, especially off her forehand side.

    You must be an exceptionally good runner and loaded with fight to apply defense strategy all the time. The defensive player is one who hits every ball back and waits for the opponent to make the error. Shirley Fry and Helen Pastall Perez are the greatest retrievers I have ever played against, and yet they can both switch to offensive tactics whenever necessary. The defensive player is especially trying on a back court hard hitter because she returns all the best shots high and easy. The only way to beat a "soft-ball" artist quickly is by storming the net and volleying every ball right from the start. It is difficult defeating her from the back court although it can be done--but with physical exhaustion after the match as a result.

    The best time to determine your opponent's weakness is during the rally period before the match. Hit her deep balls and then short balls. Find out if she moves better to the left or right, and discover how she takes hard and soft balls and a change of pace. A lot can be discovered during this period and the first few games of the match. It is also a good policy to scout your opponent in some of the earlier stages of the tournament and to figure out some plan of attack to use in the event you should meet. Always be prepared, however, to change your tactics because no person plays the same way twice. The day you watched her, she may have had a noticably weak backhand. But don't forget--she may have just had an "off day" on that particular shot. It's good to know your opponent's weakness, but always be prepared for the unexpected.
    In my opinion, temperament plays the most important role in every game. A person may be a "bomb" when she is ahead but the moment she finds herself behind, she may "choke up" and miss every ball. It is most necessary to get the jump on this type of player and to fight especially hard for the first five games. If your opponent has lapses where she "lets down" or relaxes her game, take advantage of these lapses. Doing so may break her confidence.
    Another thing to remember is to try hard to win the long rallies. After a tiring duel of forehands and backhands where you both have covered a lot of court, you will find yourself somewhat exhausted both mentally and physically. If you have won these rallies, it will be most discouraging to the opponent and you'd be surprised how much added confidence you will acquire during the next games.

    Another very necessary point: Never lose your temper while playing. You really harm only yourself and make the match a very unpleasant thing to watch. Perhaps you are unfortunate and receive a bad call at a crucial stage. Don't fret and become upset for you'll only throw yourself out of form and give your opponent encouragement. Nothing bolsters your own confidence quicker than to see the opponent throw a fit of temper. You immediately think, "Now I have her--she's going to beat herself." Although bad calls are disturbing, they usually even up at the end of the march, so don't lose your temper at any cost.
    In hot, muggy weather you may sometimes find yourself entangled in a grueling three-setter and it will be necessary to replace your energy during the match. My advice is to suck on sugar lumps while changing courts and to sip hot tea with lemon. Never drink a lot of water or cold soda pop because it acts like lead in your stomach and could easily make you very ill. Another hint is to take deep breaths between points during a match. This will give you that second wind. In hot weather be sure to run cold water over your wrists as that will refresh you and take away your thirst.

    No matter how tired you become while playing, always remember that your opponent is just as tired as you are--perhaps more so. If you can take advantage of her exhaustion by running her even more, she may eventuallly not even try for balls. Mary Hardwick brought out a very good hint once when she said, "Maureen, there may be a time when you feel like absolutely dying on court, but just remember--you'll feel much worse if you've lost the match than if you've won it. Always keep plugging away, for the time to rest is after the match is finished."

    Maureen Connolly (RH, converted lefty, 1H-BH, 5'5", 127 lbs.) 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. 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

    "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

Maureen Connolly page at the International Tennis Hall of Fame

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