Excerpts from Lawn Tennis: The Game of Nations by Suzanne Lenglen


Excerpts from Lawn Tennis: The Game of Nations by Suzanne Lenglen,
1925, Harrap, London, 127 pages Out of print, but sometimes obtainable used from Amazon.com

Lawn Tennis: The Game of Nations is not a book you are likely to pick up for a dollar. I had to shell out 30 bucks plus 4 for shipping. But it is Suzanne Lenglen's own words, and her writing is clear once you grow accustomed to the way French people use the English language. There is a smattering of history included with the playing instructions, and there are 8 photos of Suzanne demonstrating, though none as good as the one to the right. Suzanne does not explain how to fly, unfortunately.

Suzanne Lenglen hits a running, leaping backhand volley, while playing doubles with Gerald Patterson photo from The History of Lawn Tennis in Pictures
Chapter II Ground Strokes (pages 18-23)
    1. Plain Stroke...

    Stand with the left foot in advance and the left arm hanging without tension. Swing the racket well up behind and bring it forward with a clean, long sweep which does not stop when the point of impact at which you hit is reached, but carries on with a definite follow through.
    When the racket meets the ball its face should be flat, that is upright with relation to the ground and parallel to the net...
    The utmost care should be observed in order to get this production of the plain forehand stroke or drive reasonably accurate and mechanically correct before attempting any other...
    Give yourself room for your swing. With this idea in your mind you will gradually endow yourself with the ability to time the ball, and to anticipate the direction it is taking and the spot on which it is to bound.
    The position you should be found in, if a snapshot were taken of you when hitting a plain forehand, is with the left foot forward and the right foot back. The weight is at first distributed between the feet, then the body goes naturally forward on the left foot as the racket passes... the wrist should be tightened at the moment of impact. It should not be tightened sooner, because the arm will then be too stiff and there will be an excess of elbow in the stroke.
    It may be said that the racket is a greater or less servicable weapon for the user according to how far it may be made to become practically an extended hand, at the end of another arm. You brain should communicate to your racket its acts and deeds with the same natural telephony with which it instructs your hand. In effect, even as you would sweep an offending thing off a table, an action which you carry out with a simple intensive effort contained in a continuous movement, so you propel the ball with the racket when you make a plain forehand drive.
    You will observe that it is simpler thus to sweep something off a table than from a chair which stands lower. The ball correspondingly should not be allowed to fall too low before being struck. It should be taken at the top of the bound. That is, at the moment when it is at its highest rise before it begins to fall... If the ball is hit when it rises, more speed is given to the stroke. Hit when falling it is in all probability, unless from an exceptionally high bound, a ball that will leave the racket with an upward tendency, giving a high trajectory, which may land it out of court...

    2. Top Spin...

    In order to obtain top spin the ball is hit slightlyl from under and over the middle circumference. Something resembling a pull is obtained upon it. The swing is the same and the follow through must be observed, although at the finish of it naturally the face of the racket will be found turning downward instead of upward. Before being struck, the ball may be allowed to be slightly on the fall from the full height of the bounce.
    The effect of top spin is that the ball rotates rapidly forward... the resistance of the air makes it incline to dip downward... and when bouncing tends to come more sharply off the ground with a progress more forward than upward. A ball which keeps low and darts at you is obviously more difficult to drive back with advantage. Top spin is very useful, therefore, under many circumstances.
    The stroke was the chief weapon employed by Miss May Sutton (now Mrs Bundy), the American girl who won the Championship at Wimbledon in 1905 and 1907. Miss Joan Reid-Thomas, one of the best of the present-day young English players, employs it almost exclusively...
    I do not employ top spin much myself, preferring to rely on the safer ball control for placing purposes which the plain drive affords. At the same time, it must be recognized that it is useful for passing shots and for returns of service in doubles. On any surface, also, which may not be one of the most resilient, the fact that it presents a low ball to be addressed by a powerful driver, who may consequently have to hit upward or even under the ball, is an advantage...

Chapter IX Footwork and the Preservation of Rhythm and Balance (pages 96-99)

    By footwork I do not mean just running about, but the use of the feet.
    Your feet are the pivot from which the work is done. You must be easy upon them. Do not allow them to hold the ground flatly, for then movement in any direction will not be instant, and a fraction of time will be lost which cannot be made up.
    It starts from the beginning, which is the receipt of service. Be upon your toes, ready to take off in response to the message from your brain.
    Not a bad plan in order that this may become natural, and not be forced, is to walk about on your toes when you are dressing in the morning and to go up and down stairs on your toes. Even those who are by ill luck flat-footed can in this manner strengthen the arch of the instep.
    If you do not start the rally on your toes you will be apt to be digging your heels into the ground when you run. This jars and throws you out of your stride.
    Note carefully whether you are able to move with more ease one way or the other. If that is found to be the case, take every chance of thrusting to the slower side, never dodge it.
    Practice moving backward with your face to the net, keeping the weight of the body forward.
    When you move sideways, remember that it is not done by a push or fling of the leg on the side to which you are going, but that the impulse is taken from the foot on the other side.
    Never run too fast. Run with short steps or sort of jumps. I cannot emphasize enough the fact that the singles court is not so big as it appears. From the centre to the sides it is but 13½ ft., not quite two and a half times your height, between three and four strides. Right up to touch the net from the base line is 39 ft., about ten strides. And so on, you can work out every distance.
    Over-running is a thing to which you must pay great heed. Nothing is more calculated to throw you out of balance and to disturb the preservation of your rhythm...

    Beware lest the exercise which you are giving your right arm should lend it greater weight than the left.
    Go through at home, with the racket in the left hand, the movements which you do with the right. At first you will be awkward, but in a very short time you will be able to carry them out. The evening up of both sides of the body will improve your balance. People are not by nature right-handed or left-handed only. Children are rather prone, I believe, to use the left hand before they are taught that they must use the right.
    Correct the tendency you will have to make all your forward movements begin by a pressure of your stronger leg. Discover as soon as you can which is the weaker, and strengthen it by use.
    The arm which does not hold the racket does not for that reason wave idly like a tassel, nor hand rigid like a rod. It has a compensating influence, keeping the racket arm by counter balance from overdoing its job. It is nearly always held up, across, or at angles to the body, with the elbow bent. If it is not, there is something wrong with your rhythm. It is one-sided. It is ragged. To the spectator you have an awkward appearance. To yourself you have sense of half measures...

    Be careful that the body leans forward, riding upon the hips but deriving its impulse from the feet, upon which you should be able to sway, as from a root or socket.
    Practice that sway so that you may be able to throw your whole weight into the blow you give the ball. That blow starts, as I have said and cannot say too often, through from the feet to the centre of the racket, which is equivalent to the palm of the hand. In the true understanding of this principle is the foundation of footwork, balance and rhythm, and good lawn tennis.

    Suzanne Rachel Flore Lenglen was born in Compiègne, France on May 24, 1899. In her relatively short career she won 6 Wimbledon and 2 French singles titles, and was considered virtually invincible.

    Her toughest opponent was her health, and her most remembered defeats were when she retired from matches and tourneys citing illness.

    On February 16, 1926 Lenglen defeated the Helen Wills in what was called the "Match of the Century", at the Carlton Club in Cannes, France. Later that year she withdrew from her matches at Wimbledon, saying she was too ill to play. She had won 81 singles titles in her career.

    In late 1926 she turned pro, and toured the US playing matches against 35-year-old Mary K. Browne. Though Browne had been ranked # 6 in the world in 1925, Lenglen won all 38 of the matches they played. This was the first successful pro tennis tour in history.

    Suzanne Lenglen died of pernicious anemia in Paris on July 4, 1938, aged 39, two days after Helen Wills defeated Helen Jacobs to win her 8th and last Wimbledon singles title.

Suzanne Lenglen page at the International Tennis Hall of Fame

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