Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Helen Wills Moody

Posted on August 23, 2009 by Dean Hybl
Helen Wills Moody

Helen Wills Moody

Few women’s tennis players have enjoyed greater success in Grand Slam championships than this week’s Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Week.

Between 1923 and 1938, Helen Wills Moody was victorious in 19 of the 24 major tournaments in which she participated. Except for two defaults due to an appendectomy in 1926, she reached the finals of every Grand Slam tournament in which she participated.

Originally from California and a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Wills was the first female athlete to achieve national and international recognition and fame.

She reached the finals of the U.S. Championship at age 16 in 1922 and teamed with Marion Zinderstein Jessup to claim the doubles championship. The following year Wills became the youngest player to date to claim the U.S. Championship singles title.

In 1924 she repeated as U.S. Champion and claimed the Gold Medal in both singles and doubles at the Olympic Games in Paris. It marked the last time tennis would be contested at the Olympics until 1988.

After claiming her third straight U.S. Championship in 1925, Wills traveled to France to participate in the French Championship for the first time.  Unfortunately, she suffered an emergency appendectomy that ended her tournament and forced her to withdraw from Wimbledon.

Fully recovered in 1927, she began an amazing streak of not losing a set. The streak would last until the 1933 Wimbledon Finals.

She claimed the singles title at the next 14 Grand Slam events in which she participated. During the streak, Wills claimed the Wimbledon title six times and won the French and U.S. Championship four-times each.

It was during this time, in December 1929 that she married Frederick Moody. The couple divorced in 1937.

Her streak finally ended when a back injury forced Wills Moody to default while trailing during the third set of the U.S. Championship finals against Helen Hull Jacobs. Wills Moody felt that the fans and media were unfairly harsh on her following the match and she never played in the U.S. Championships again.

She competed in only two more Grand Slam singles events during her career and claimed the title at both the 1935 and 1938 Wimbledon Championships.

Wills Moody finished her impressive career with a career singles record of 398-35 (.919 winning percentage). She claimed the Wimbledon singles title eight times, the U.S. Championship seven times and the French Championship on four occasions. She also won 12 women’s and mixed doubles titles at Grand Slam events.

She passed away on January 1, 1998 at the age of 92.

If you had a favorite athlete growing up that you would like to see featured as the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Week, send me a nomination by e-mail.

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