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Throwback Thursday: Suzanne Lenglen's record-breaking year

Suzanne Lenglen at Wimbledon
by Leigh Walsh
Thursday 1 May 2014

The first of a new Throwback Thursday series, Wimbledon.com looks back at Suzanne Lenglen's astonishing year in 1925, when she won her sixth Wimbledon singles title... 

Suzanne Lenglen was incomparable. France’s darling and Wimbledon’s champion. A ballerina with a racket and an artist with a ball. Engineered with the finest of parts and for two weeks each summer, Centre Court was her showroom.

After lifting the Ladies’ Singles title in the post war years from 1919-1923, Lenglen arrived at the All England Club in 1925 in search of an unprecedented sixth Wimbledon crown. Her bid for a sextet of titles had been scuppered a year earlier when when she gifted Kitty McKane, who’d go on to win the title, a walkover at the semi-final stage.

But in 1925, Lenglen had her sights set on history. The Frenchwoman eased her way to the final for the loss of just three games, beating her quarter-final and semi-final opponents, Winifred Beamish and McKane, 6-0, 6-0. At that time, Lenglen’s opponents judged their success in points and games rather than matches. And who could blame them with Lenglen losing just once – a controversial default to US champion Molla Mallory at Forest Hills in 1921 - in the seven years from 1919-1926.

When Lenglen floated onto Centre Court for the final against Joan Fry, the 26 year old proved too strong, defeating the Briton 6-2, 6-0 in front of a partisan home support.  

Lenglen’s strength lay in her refusal to conform. She was one of the first females to train with males, which enhanced her aggression on the court and she hit the ball far harder than many of her peers. In the early days of her career, she was one of the few women to serve overarm. In fact, her opponent in her first Wimbledon final in 1919, Dorothea Chambers, took on Lenglen with an underarm serve.

It was Lenglen’s movement and grace around the court that drew her the most plaudits. Often compared with the great ballerina Anna Pavlova, Lenglen glided where others plodded and tiptoed where others stomped. 

If it wasn’t for World War I, Lenglen could have set a higher bar for others to leap over. The Frenchwoman, who began competing in her early teens, didn’t get to contest The Championships during the war torn years from 1915-18. As it turns out, it didn’t take long for her six crowns to be surpassed. Helen Wills Moody picked up the mantel upon her retirement, winning the singles title at the All England Club on eight different occasions.

But Lenglen was the trailblazer that gave women’s tennis the opportunity to thrive. She was the face of the sport and one of its first true celebrities. 

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