The greatest player in tennis history?
One of the top five women in Wimbledon history? “La Divine”
A picture says a thousand words.
Suzanne Rachel Flore Lenglen (French pronunciation: [sy.zan lɑ̃.glɛn]; 24 May 1899 – 4 July 1938) was a French tennis player who won 31 Championship titles between 1914 and 1926. She dominated women's tennis from 1914 until 1926 when she turned professional.
Flamboyant, trendsetting athlete, she was the first female tennis celebrity and one of the first international female sport stars. Named La Divine (the Goddess) by the French press.
Lenglen's 241 titles, 181 match winning streak and 341-7 (98%) match record are hard to imagine happening in today's tennis atmosphere. Lenglen is regarded by some to be the greatest female tennis player in history.
Play tennis for your health!
Because of poor health her family thought tennis would be good for her. Her first try at the game was in 1910, when she played on the tennis court at the family property in Marest-sur-Matz. The young girl enjoyed the game, and her father decided to train her further in the sport.
Only four years after her first tennis strokes, Lenglen played in the final of the 1914 French Championships, aged only 14 (the tournament was open only to members of French clubs until 1925). She lost to reigning champion Marguerite Broquedis in the final 5–7, 6–4, 6–3. That same year, she won the World Hard Court Championships held at Saint-Cloud, turning 15 during the tournament. This made her the youngest winner of a major championship in tennis history, a record she still holds. The outbreak of World War I at the end of the year stopped most national and international tennis competitions in Europe, and Lenglen's burgeoning career was put on hold for the next 5 years, until Wimbledon in 1919.
Here comes the style and flamboyance!
It was not only her performances on the court which were noted, however. She garnered much attention in the media when she appeared at Wimbledon with her dress revealing bare forearms and cut just above the calf, while all other players competed in outfits covering nearly all of the body. The staid British also were in shock at the boldness of the French woman who also casually sipped brandy between sets!
From 1919 through 1925, Lenglen won the Wimbledon singles championship every year with the exception of 1924. Lenglen was the last French woman to win the Wimbledon ladies singles title until Amélie Mauresmo in 2006.
From 1920 through 1926, she won the French Championships Singles title six times and the Doubles title five times, plus three World Hard Court Championships from 1921 to 1923. She starred in an instructional film Tennis and How to Play It that was shown in newsreels in 1922.
Just to show what a little style and flair can do for fan interest--Prior to Lenglen, female tennis matches drew little fan interest, which quickly changed as she became her sport's greatest drawing card. Tennis devotees and new fans to the game began lining up in droves to buy tickets to her matches. Temperamental, flamboyant, she was a passionate player whose intensity on court could lead to an unabashed display of tears. But for all her flamboyance, she was a gifted and brilliant player who used extremely agile footwork, speed and a deadly accurate shot to dominate female tennis for seven straight years. Her excellent play and introduction of glamour to the tennis court increased the interest in women's tennis, and women's sports in general.
In 1997 the second court at the Roland Garros Stadium, site of the French Open, was renamed Court Suzanne Lenglen in her honour. In addition, the trophy awarded to the winner of the Women's Singles competition at the French Open is the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. In 2001 the French Tennis Federation organised the first Suzanne Lenglen Cup for women in the over-35 age class. First played in France, the annual event is now held in a different country each year.
Lenglen, who was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1978, continues to be held by many as one of the best players in tennis history. For example, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, organizer of the Wimbledon Championships, ranks her among the five greatest Wimbledon champions.