Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now



Queens of the Court: Althea Gibson, A Sports Pioneer 21

Posted on November 02, 2009 by Claudia Celestial Girl
Althear Gibson was 23 before she was allowed to compete in a major championship.

Althea Gibson was 23 before she was allowed to compete in a major championship.

Born in 1927, the year after the historic “Match of the Century ” featured in our previous two articles between the divine Suzanne Lenglen and the poker-faced Helen Wills, Althea Gibson is another of our Queens of the Court.

In 1956 Althea Gibson made history by becoming the first person of African descent, of any nationality, to win a tennis major (the French).

Ironically, Althea Gibson became the first black woman to not only achieve major success in the world of professional tennis, but also to compete after leaving tennis as a professional golfer.

But her career in tennis was a tough row to hoe.

Unlike Suzanne Lenglen or Helen Wills, who both played their first tournaments as teenagers, and so began amassing statistics, Althea Gibson did not enter the world “tour” of tennis until the age of 23. Why?

As an African-American woman from Harlem, New York, Althea Gibson was not allowed to play the majors until in the fall of 1950, when she was allowed to enter the U.S. National Championships (later to become the U.S. Open), then played at Forest Hills.

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Queens of the Court: Suzanne Lenglen, An Original Diva 14

Posted on October 30, 2009 by Claudia Celestial Girl
Suzanne Lenglen paved the way for the modern "Divas".

Suzanne Lenglen won 12 Grand Slam titles.

She was called ‘La Divine.’  Some say in the 1920s Suzanne Lenglen was a bigger name in sports than that of Babe Ruth.

Between 1919 and 1926, at a time when three and not four tennis majors were played, she won twelve Grand Slam titles, on three different surfaces, and an Olympic Gold medal (Antwerp). Notably in seven of 81 singles titles she did not lose a game!

She was dominant in a way that only a handful of male stars have been since the open era of tennis.  More than that, she imposed her personality on the sport, and the entertainment world of the day.  We recognize such a personality in contemporary terms, in modern English, we might call her a diva. Read the rest of this entry →

Queens of the Court: Helen Wills Moody, Shades of Garbo 8

Posted on October 28, 2009 by Marianne Bevis

Helen Wills Moody

Helen Wills Moody won 19 Grand Slam singles titles during her career.

The relatively unknown Molla Mallory holds the record for the most U.S. Open singles titles—eight. But it was the remarkable Helen Wills Moody who, at the age of just 17, relieved Mallory of her U.S. crown in 1923, and went on to hold the record of 19 singles Grand Slam titles for a third of a century.

This is the second in a series celebrating some of the most inspiring and influential women to have played tennis.

All the signs were that Helen Wills would make a success of her life.

She graduated from one of California’s top schools and won an academic scholarship to study fine arts at the University of California. She went on to be honored as a Phi Beta Kappa, one of the most prestigious liberal arts and sciences awards in the United States.

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Queens of the Court: Molla Mallory, Mould Breaker and Mould Maker 37

Posted on October 26, 2009 by Marianne Bevis
Molla Mallory won eight straight U.S. women's singles titles.

Molla Mallory won the U.S. Nationals women's singles title eight times, including four straight years from 1915-1918.

This is the first of a regular series of articles featuring some of the “Queens of the Court” in the history of women’s tennis.

When Anna Margarethe Bjurstedt was born in Oslo in March 1884, few could anticipate the mark she would make both on tennis and on women’s participation in sport.

This was the latter stages of the 19th century, when the modern rules of lawn tennis were still just 10 years old.

It was a world where Otto von Bismarck was Chancellor of Germany and Victoria was Queen of the British Empire.

There was no such thing as Greenwich Mean Time (that was set in October), and New York harbor was yet to receive the Statue of Liberty from France (on the 4th July that same year).

Van Gogh had not painted his “Sunflowers”, and Tchaikovsky had yet to write his “Sleeping Beauty.”

But this daughter of a Norwegian army officer was soon to introduce a new attitude and new approach to tennis.

In doing so, she won a record eight U.S. women’s singles titles and became the only woman—along with Chris Evert—to hold four of them consecutively. And her win in 1926, at the age of 42, established her as the oldest singles Grand Slam champion in history.

When Bjurstedt— Molla Mallory, as she was to become in 1919—first arrived in the United States in 1915, she had already won an Olympic bronze medal, but she was still a complete unknown. That was until she beat three-time defending champion Marie Wagner in straight sets to take the first of five singles titles at the national indoor championships.

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  • Vintage Athlete of the Month

    • Matt Snell: Super Bowl Hero
      December 24, 2020 | 4:06 pm
      Matt Snell

      The Vintage Sports Then and Now Athlete of the Month was the key weapon behind the most important upset in pro football history.

      While Joe Namath was the face of the 1968 New York Jets and Super Bowl III, Matt Snell was the backbone of the New York offense and primary weapon during the shocking victory.

      In many ways, the foundation for the 1968 championship squad started to be built in the 1964 AFL Draft when the Jets selected Snell, a star at Ohio State, with the third pick in the first round. Occurring at the height of the AFL-NFL player war, Snell was also drafted by the New York Giants in the 4th round of the NFL Draft (49th overall pick).

      Read more »

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