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Helen Wills

Born 6 October 1905 in Centerville (California), died 1 January 1998 in Carmel (California)

Along with Suzanne Lenglen, who defeated her 6-3, 8-6 in their only ever meeting (in Cannes in 1926 in front of a media throng), Helen Wills was the biggest name in women’s tennis from the first half of the 20th century. And when her French rival threw her lot in with the professionals in 1926, the American was left with very little in the way of competition. So she set about amassing an incredible haul of titles, without ever looking like she had broken a sweat. Between the Wimbledons of 1927 and 1933, Wills won 158 consecutive matches, along with the 14 major tournaments she entered. By the end of her career, she had 19 majors – eight at Wimbledon, seven at Forest Hills and four at Roland-Garros (1928, 1929, 1930 and 1932), where she twice defeated Simonne Mathieu in the final. Indeed, the Frenchwoman was one of the few players ever to take more than four games in a set off Wills in Paris.

Despite the fact that she was even more untouchable in New York and London, her Paris record is still dizzying. Wills was more than just unbeaten in singles play at the Porte d’Auteuil (her first participation at the Internationals, in 1926, came before the construction of the stadium) – she never even conceded a set! The press at the time spoke of sets that were over with in the space of 10 minutes, sometimes less. Journalists revelled in her domination, announcing her victories in advance. On 28 May 1930, for example, the Auto-Journal gave the schedule of play as "2.30 pm, Miss Wills, on Centre Court, will summarily execute Miss Mondford".

She also won the doubles twice with Elizabeth Ryan (1930 and 1932), so it was only the mixed doubles that eluded her clutches, though she twice made the final alongside Francis Hunter (1928 and 1929). Like Lenglen, Wills was a forerunner of modern tennis with a well-rounded game. She also had a star quality, though she was far from being an extrovert. Her face was always hidden by a visor, and reputation had it that she never smiled on court, earning her the nickname "Poker face". Her amazing and admirable career was also the inspiration for the 1951 film directed by Ida Lupino entitled "Hard, Fast and Beautiful".

Helen Wills’ record at Roland-Garros:

• 19 wins, 0 defeats, 0 sets conceded.
• Four titles (1928, 1929, 1930 and 1932). She also won eight titles at Wimbledon (1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1932, 1933, 1935 and 1938) and seven at Forest Hills (1923, 1924, 1925, 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1931).
• Five participations (the first in 1926 in the second year of the French Internationals, but two years before the stadium was built)
• 15 matches played on Centre Court (the first on 26 May 1928, eight days after the inauguration of the stadium, against Marcou of France).
• Notable wins over Cilly Aussem (Round of 16 in 1928 and semi-final in 1930), Simonne Mathieu (1929 and 1932 finals), Hilde Sperling (semi-final in 1932).

 

© Piaz – FFT