Suzanne Lenglen vs Helen Wills, Carlton Club, Cannes, April 1926

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by newmark401, Jul 5, 2010.

  1. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

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    Part I of III

    This match, the only singles encounter between Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills, took place at the Carlton Club in Cannes, France, on Tuesday, 16 February 1926. Bad weather from the Tuesday to the Thursday of the previous week meant the tournament had had to be prolonged, but the weather was perfect for the final.

    The referee was George Simond, a former player. The umpire was George Hillyard, also a former player and the husband of Blanche Hillyard (née Bingley), the six-time Wimbledon singles champion. The linesmen were Cyril Tolley, an amateur golf champion; Clement Cazalet, a British tennis player; Roman Januch, the professional at the Cannes Tennis Club; Lord Charles Hope; and one R. Dunkerley. The two main organisers of the tournament, the Swiss player Charles Aeschlimann and the veteran New Zealand player Francis Fisher, were also present by the court.

    Guests included ex-King Manuel of Portugal; Grand Duke Michael of Russia; Prince George of Greece; the Rajah of Pudakota; the Duke of Westminster; the Duke of Connaught; Baron de Graffenried; and Count de Bourbel.

    The match began just after 11 am. Suzanne Lenglen won it 6-3, 8-6 in just over an hour.
    ----

    The piece entitled “My Match Against Mlle Lenglen” was written by Helen Wills in 1933. The original source is unclear – it might have been penned for an American newspaper. It contains some interesting information on the events leading up to and the hysteria surrounding the match.

    The second piece, “Lenglen-Wills match at Cannes”, was written by James Thurber (1894-1961), the American author, cartoonist and humorist, one of the 3,000 spectators on the day itself. Thurber’s account is slightly biased in Helen Wills’ favour, but nevertheless accurately reproduces the intense nature of this unique contest.
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    My Match against Mlle Lenglen, by Helen Wills

    “I was happy when I persuaded my father and mother to let me go to the South of France. Both had thought that there wasn’t really any reason for travelling such a long distance for tennis, because I could play all that I wanted to at home in California. Finally, my mother consented to go with me. The United States Tennis Lawn Tennis Association advised me not to go there for the tournaments and said that I could not be considered as their representative. But it seemed to me, at twenty, that the Riviera tournaments were the most alluring things in all the world.

    “So we started out, leaving California sunshine and tennis, shortly after Christmas, to journey six thousand miles to the South of France, where there would be more sunshine and more tennis. I found, when we arrived, that the sunshine was not nearly so warm as that in California, but that the tennis was worth having made the trip for. All the best players were gathered there for the tournaments that year – Mlle Lenglen, who lived in Nice; Eileen Bennett; Betty Nuthall; Didi Vlasto, the pretty Greek champion; and Helene Contostavlos, another excellent Greek player, who is a cousin of Didi.

    “I was so eager to begin playing at once that I entered a tournament in Cannes the next day after arriving. The pink clay courts felt very different under foot from the asphalt courts to which I had been accustomed in California. The balls bounced differently too. There had been rain and the clay was damp, so that the bound was low. It was several days before my drives reached their usual form. And I found it difficult to be steady and accurate.

    “In the South of France Mlle Lenglen was queen. The whole of the Riviera was Mlle Lenglen’s home town. She lived in Nice, in a villa opposite the Nice Tennis Club, but so closely situated were all the towns that from a tennis point of view they were one. The first time that I saw Mlle Lenglen in Nice was from the terrace on the top of the Nice Tennis Club. She leaned out of an upper window of her villa and waved at us. She was wearing a white tennis dress and a yellow sweater. Soon she was over on the terrace with us, welcoming us pleasantly to her home club.

    “Mlle Lenglen knew every inch of every court on the coast, and it was not surprising that she chose the excellent courts of the Carlton Club at Cannes for the scene of her appearance in the singles. The courts were owned by her good friends, the Burkes, who are well-known professionals. There are several Burke brothers. One of them used to practice with Mlle Lenglen continually.

    “In California I had vaguely thought that if I were fortunate enough to win my preliminary matches, I would have the opportunity of meeting Mlle Lenglen in a number of tournaments, and thereby learn a great deal about tennis. I was disappointed when I realized that these imagined meetings were to be boiled down into one, and that my whole visit to the South of France would have in it just one match with Mlle Lenglen.

    “The buzzing which had surrounded the tournament became concentrated on the final bracket. It had seemed to me that the week preceding and the week of the tournament had been entirely too hectic. No tennis match deserved the attention which this one received. Our match was bounced upon by the newspaper correspondents, who waited on the courts or else in the bar at the corner. I know that I, and probably Mlle Lenglen, too, was inclined to think that the outcome of the match meant more than it really did. It is not always easy to maintain a sense of proportion at a time like this.

    “The court was a marvel of smoothness. The roller had done double duty. The seating facilities were very cramped, as there were not enough places for people who wished to see the match. The tickets had got into the hands of speculators and were being sold for four and five times what they had originally cost. The gates were so narrow and the ticket takers so stubborn – as they always are abroad – that there was much congestion around the one entrance. It was with difficulty that my mother and I got into the court at all.

    “The linesmen had been carefully chosen – men who had played tennis themselves, who were supposed to have an eye for a moving tennis ball. Among the linesmen was a titled English gentleman of distinguished mien. On one line was an English golfer who had been a champion.

    “The match started with the usual spin of racket, the choosing of side and the preliminary rally. From the first I knew that Mlle Lenglen was determined to extract the most out of her own game. She intended to bring forth the concentrated knowledge that had accumulated with her years of tournament play. She meant, also, to make the most of her understanding of strategy. She always did do these two things, for, curiously enough, she was one of the most consistent of players in her matches, contrary to general belief. But on this occasion she seemed to fix her mind on these two ideas with more determination than ever – or so I thought, because it was myself who was experiencing the full power of her concentration.

    “I also felt that she was saving her strength as much as possible – making her mind do the running instead of her feet. Indeed, it was I who was the stronger player physically, and the one who had the greater powers of endurance. But she was the superior in experience and in the understanding of the tactics of the game, as, in fact, she should have been, because she was seven years my senior.

    “Her favourite bit of strategy in our match was to keep me running back and forth, and then, at an opportune moment, to angle a shorter ball, so that I would have to run the longest distance for it – that is, on the diagonal, instead of sideways. Unless I made a very satisfactory return from this short ball, then she would be able to send a passing shot down the line.

    “Now, there is nothing particularly new about tactics of this variety in tennis; they have been often used. But probably never with the accurate touch which Mlle Lenglen gave to them. In other words, she accomplished and carried to their ideal completion strategic plans which other players try but cannot always consistently finish.

    “As I remember, I had no definite plan of strategy or attack, because it was so difficult to find any way of attacking Mlle Lenglen’s game. And my three years of big tournament play were not sufficient to warrant my being called a general of strategy. I felt that I could run as far on the court and for as long a time as Mlle Lenglen. This was a consoling thought. I felt that I could meet enough of her balls so that the rallies would be prolonged. But as to the actual placing of the balls, I could not figure out a way beforehand. However, I hoped that the match itself might indicate what my strategic moves should be. As it turned out, my idea had been right about actual physical strength. As the match wore on, Mlle Lenglen showed signs of weariness, and it was because of this that the second set went to the score of eight games to six. But clearly, throughout the match, Mlle Lenglen was my superior as regards tactics and placing, and it was this which enabled her to win, coupled, of course, with her usual steadiness.

    “A thing that surprised me was I found her balls not unusually difficult to hit, nor did they carry as much speed as the balls of several other of the leading women players whom I had met in matches. But her balls kept coming back, coming back, and each time to a spot on the court which was a little more difficult to get to.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2010
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  2. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

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    Part II of III

    My Match against Mlle Lenglen, by Helen Wills (contd.)

    “It may seem that I am overdoing my description of my experiences when playing against Mlle Lenglen. A match seven years ago – why, that is older than old news! But the interesting thing about it – at least to me – is that I believe that that match, for me, will be the unique experience of all my tennis-playing days. The reason being that Mlle Lenglen was a unique player. No woman player that I have met since at Wimbledon or Forest Hills can compare with her in playing ability. Since Mlle Lenglen showed how tennis can be played, there has been a marked rise in the standard of women’s tennis, but no one has yet equalled her mastery and skill.

    “Unconsciously, I compare other matches that I play with the Lenglen one, and use it as a yardstick of measurement. To me, of course, at the time, with my game at the point where it might improve or cease to improve, the lesson was a most opportune one, and I feel that I learned things in that one match, as I said before, which have stuck with me ever since.

    “The match – the actual playing of it – may be called uneventful, with the exception of one incident – at least from the point of view of the onlooker. The reason being that the white ball went back and forth, back and forth. Neither player did anything out of the ordinary, such as scolding ball boys or arguing with the linesmen. The comedy of the match was supplied by a eucalyptus tree that grew at the end of the court just behind the backstop. It was partly trimmed off, so that its shadows would not fall on the court, but in the leaves that were left were hidden more small boys than you would have believed possible. At intervals they fell out, or were dragged down by red-faced gendarmes who disturbed the peace more than the boys.

    “Several roofs of surrounding houses might have given way because of the unaccustomed weight of people, but did not. Americans, who were present in large numbers, clapped for their player, and the French for theirs. Patriotism holds true to form at a tennis match. I do not know which player the English onlookers wanted to have win. Perhaps they clapped for the ball itself, in the interests of pure sport.

    “From the eucalyptus-tree end of the court there were distractions, but both players were equally handicapped – perhaps Mlle Lenglen more than I, because of her highly strung nature. A crowd of people from the town, unwilling to buy tickets, pressed against the backstop at one time and threatened to knock it over. Mlle Lenglen, who was nearest, with a few sharp words, stilled the commotion. There was only one unusual incident in the play itself. Towards the end of the second set, Mlle Lenglen needed only one more point to win the match. I sent over a ball down the line on her backhand that she thought was outside. She moved forward to the net and held out her hand for the final handshake. I thought, seeing her do this, that the match was over, so I went forward to the net too. Linesmen rose from their chairs and moved over to the court. Suddenly the voice of the Englishman on the line – Lord Hope – was heard at the end of the court. He said, ‘The ball was good! I did not call ‘out’.’ Then a number of people became excited. Some thought that Mlle Lenglen would become upset and play badly, after the surprise of finding that she had not yet won the match, after all. But Mlle Lenglen remained calm. This incident, better than any, shows that she was a truly splendid match player.

    “After our second handshake – for she won the second set a few games after this unusual incident – Mlle Lenglen was immediately surrounded, where she sat on a chair by the umpire’s stand, with crowds of linesmen and officials. She was weeping, now that the match was over. Above the heads of the circle about her was passed a great bouquet of American beauty roses.

    “So interested was I in the hubbub and general mass of gesticulating people who surrounded Mlle Lenglen that I did not become aware, until some moments later, that I was standing entirely alone on the court. Turning my thoughts upon myself, I found that I did not feel so sad as I really should have, but at the same time I began to feel rather overcome at being in the middle of the court by myself. Then suddenly a young man whom I had met a few days before vaulted over the balustrade from the grandstand at the side of the court and came over to me. He said, ‘You played awfully well’. It was Mr Moody.”
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    Lenglen-Wills match at Cannes, by James Thurber

    “…Helen Wills, with the eyes of Lenglen on her across a net, all alone, for the first time, as the game began, was nervous. She showed it in her first quick wide-of-the-baseline returns of Suzanne’s service. The Frenchwoman took an easy love game quickly. The next game was a little different, but neither player was yet warmed up. Wills saw the game go to 15-40 against her. Then abruptly it was deuce, her advantage, her game. And almost before the stands knew it she took the next game, by the same route exactly, on her opponent’s serve. 2-1 Wills.

    “Lenglen made up for it rapidly and irresistibly. She took two love games in succession and fairly toyed with the American in the second one. Then she made it ten straight points by going to 30-love in the sixth game. Wills held, to 30-40; then Lenglen took her third straight game to make the score 4-2, her favour. The seventh game was Wills’ best in this set. She took it to 40-0 on Lenglen’s service, lost a point, and then shot over a nice winning placement.

    “With the score thus 4-3 in her favour, Lenglen asserted herself and beat Wills’ service in the eighth game, four points to one. She went into the last game of the set with a nice lob to begin with, shot over a placement to make it 30-love, lost a point and took the next two – game and set.

    “Neither player had yet attained the form she was to show in the second set. Wills’ early nervousness resulted in several wide outs and even more netted shots. They had been fairly even at the net, to which, however, they were yet to commit themselves for a real test. In her two straight love games the Frenchwoman’s easy placements, that left Helen’s racket wide of the ball in several cases, were abetted by Miss Wills’ failure to take advantage of her opportunities.

    “The second set got off in a blaze of Wills. She took her first and only love game against the total of four that Suzanne scored in the two sets. After outshooting the French star to reach 30-love, Wills was helped to 40 when her opponent outed widely, and the California girl broke into her top-form stride in the next exchange, winning her love game by a pretty placement.

    “They were both now at it in earnest, and from this point on the game took on a thrilling aspect that kept spectators on the edge of their chairs, made hearts beat thickly in throats, and brought involuntary shouts from the watchers.

    “With Lenglen serving the second game, Helen stepped into her first serve and began one of the most beautifully played point-battles of the match. She outplayed her opponent at this point in every phase of play, and the variety was becoming fast and furious. Wills took the next point also, only to yield the next two; then she made it 40-30, whereupon Suzanne forged to the front, deuced the game, and despite some of the most splendid brilliance of the afternoon, gained the advantage and the game.

    “Helen Wills was now in the match hammer and tongs, with fire in her eye and every trace of the nervousness which had visible restrained her early play entirely vanished. She was playing not the greatest woman player in the world but just a woman who happened to be a finalist in the same match. With this attitude showing in every stroke, she served to 40-15 in the third game and then won it, four points to two. Score: 2-1, Wills.

    “At this point Helen Wills had Suzanne Lenglen on the run. She outplayed her at every turn in the fourth game, smashing through the Frenchwoman’s service with the loss of only one point. Score: 3-1, Wills. But Suzanne Lenglen was not swept aside, partly due to a little over-anxiety on the part of the American girl. Suzanne broke through Wills’ service in return by the identical point score of the previous game. Score: 3-2, Wills.

    “The Frenchwoman tied the count in the next game, winning it four points to one. But that was just the beginning of the struggle. The seventh game was one of the most thrilling and terrifically fought of the afternoon, and the Berkeley youngster won it in the end after it had gone four times to deuce. Moreover, she won it in spite of the fact that Lenglen had it in her grasp, 15-40, before the American, making good her reputation for hard, cool playing in a crisis, carried it to deuce, her ad, deuce again, Suzanne’s ad, deuce again, Wills’ ad, deuce again, Wills’ ad and game. Score: 4-3, Wills.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2010
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  3. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

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    Part III of III

    Lenglen-Wills match at Cannes, by James Thurber (contd.)

    “On her serve, Lenglen took the next game, four points to two. It was in this hot sector of the match that Wills suffered one of her worst blows, a blow bad enough to break stuff less stern than the heart of the American fighter. With the score at 30-all, Lenglen outed, but the line judge failed to see or to call it. It practically presented this crucial game to the Frenchwoman. The stands yelled ‘out’ in a chorus, but the heartbreaking ‘boner’ was a fait accompli. Score: 4-4. The other blow that hit the American girl in the middle of this set was not a bad break but Lenglen’s terrifically swift battery of placements all around the edges of the court that left the American panting.

    “Wills took the ninth game, however, in one of the most splendidly fought encounters of the set, replete with hard playing on both sides of the net. She served to deuce, her advantage, and game. The tenth game became Lenglen’s love fourth game. Score: 5-5.

    “Both players were very tired, but Wills seemed suddenly a little ill in the bargain, for at one point in this terrific duelling, with Lenglen in place ready to serve, the youngster bent over and leaned pathetically on her racket. With her racket in the air and ball in hand, Lenglen had to call to the girl to get her to look up and receive the serve.

    “Later, however, the American rallied, while Lenglen was visible fatigued – a fatigue that showed in every line of her face. The light was a little drained from her eyes and the lines around her mouth showed sheer misery. It seemed that at several points she was on the verge of stampede, and she evidenced it one notable case by failing to play a stroke near the baseline and looking rather abjectly at the line judge. It was good and Wills won the point. Wills won the applause of the crowd in the terrific eleventh game when, with the points at love – 40 against her on her service, she moved to 30-40 before yielding. Score: 6-5, Lenglen.

    “The next game was sheer tribute to Wills’ ‘stuff’. And incidentally it will go down as one of the most grotesque and thrilling and momentous games on record. Lenglen needed the game to win the set and match and the virtual championship of the world. It was her serve. It seemed to her that she could rest soon. And she had to rest soon. So did Wills.

    “Lenglen won the first two points. Wills fought with everything she had and won the next point. Lenglen went to 40-15. And here came the incident that brought the stands to their feet, cheering Lenglen, the ‘winner’ of the great confrontation. She shot the ball perilously near the line. The line judge was silent. Silence means the shot is good. Lenglen upped her racket and prepared to leave the court. Wills started for the net, her hand out to congratulate the winner. The stands rose. And suddenly there was a conference of officials, and a loud voice announced, ’40-30’. Wills had been saved. The game went on. Wills took it to deuce, her advantage, game. Score: 6-6.

    “The next game was almost as nerve-wracking and it was again a great tribute to the American girl’s remarkable grit in the face of defeat. On Helen’s service, Suzanne rushed to 0-40. Then Wills rallied and fought back to deuce, then to her advantage. Lenglen deuced it, went to ad, and then took the game.

    “The next, and last, game similarly went to deuce twice. After Lenglen had stood at 30-15, Wills climbed up to 30-40. Lenglen brought it to deuce, then to her advantage. Here the French star faltered and double-faulted. Deuce. But she came back, won the advantage again, and then the game, set and match. There was the meeting at the net, and the ‘battle of the century’ was over.

    “Wills, tired, game, defeated, but carrying a radiance all her own, left the court of honour with its cups and flowers and its ‘bravos’ to Suzanne Lenglen. Lenglen was tired. Tired, pale and drawn…”
    -----
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2010
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  4. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Thanks, Mark, for the excerpts. I enjoyed both, but maybe Helen's a little more; it's understated and reflective.

    Too bad these two ladies didn't have a true rivalry; one of the most compelling things about it would have been the contrasting personalities.
     
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  5. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    There seem to be conflicting accounts about what exactly happened at the end of the match.

    Both Wills and Thurber refer to an incident on match point, with the two ladies thinking that the match was over and meeting at the net to shake hands. Both accounts mention a conference of officials, but disagree on who hit the controversial shot, whether it was in or out, and what the officials decided.

    Helen:

    Thurber:

    Ferdinand Tuohy, writing the day after the match in the New York Times, seems to refer to the incident, but he claims the linesperson actually called the ball out, which disagrees with both Wills and Thurber. He's vague, though, about when it happened, and the way I read it he could be referring collectively to several incidents spread out near the end of the match:

    Here's the boxscore of the match, printed in the New York Times:

    [​IMG]

    There are a few disagreements with Thurber's blow-by-blow account, but all minor (for instance Thurber says the last game went to two deuces, which would be a point score of 6 to 4; the boxscore has 5 to 2, which is actually an impossible score for a tennis game).

    Mark, when did Thurber publish his account?
     
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  6. krosero

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    On top of all the confusion about match point, an Associated Press story published in the Times refers to another incident, this time with Helen thinking she had won the second set, due to a bad call.

    I don't think Helen actually reached set point as this article seems to say she did, because the boxscore has Lenglen winning the tenth game at love. So Helen could not have had a 40-15 lead.

    Besides, the same account refers to Helen changing ends to receive Suzanne's serve. But would there have been a change of ends after a 6-4 set?

    I think if this incident happened, it was more likely at 4-all, a game that Helen did win: so there could have been score of 40-15; it just couldn't have been a set point. And there would have been a change of ends after that game.

    Also, Thurber gives the order of service. Helen did not serve at 5-4; she served at 4-all.

    Interesting that Helen does not mention this incident. Maybe if it had actually been set point, she might have remembered it; but she says only one incident occurred, the one on match point for Suzanne.

    But it's not really so surprising that she didn't mention another incident. Helen already seems a little apologetic about going into so much detail concerning "A match seven years ago – why, that is older than old news!" (one of my favorite lines in the piece).
     
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  7. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

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    Hi, krosero,

    Glad you liked the accounts of that great match. The piece by Helen Wills was first published in the "Saturday Evening Post" newspaper in 1933, but I found it in "The Faber Book of Tennis". I got the Thurber piece from "The Fireside Book of Tennis" (1972), but it must have been printed first soon after the match itself.

    Helen Wills didn't reach set point in the second set but, as the Thurber piece states, she was leading 4-3 in the second set when, at 30-all on Lenglen's serve, the Frenchwoman hit a shot which most people, including Helen, thought was out. However, the linesman, Cyril Tolley, didn't call it, so the score was called 40-30, not 30-40, thus denying Helen Wills a break point which would have given her a chance to go 5-3 ahead with her serve to follow.

    If I remember correctly from Alan Little's "Suzanne Lenglen - Tennis Idol of the 'Twenties", it was Helen Wills who hit the controversial shot when Suzanne was leading 6-5, 40-15 in the second set. Someone in the crowd apparently shouted "Out!", at which point both players approached the net and shook hands. However, when the officials convened, Lord Charles Hope, who was on the line in question, said "I did not call out". So the match wasn't really over. This decision was in Helen Wills' favour in more than one way because Suzanne Lenglen appeared to be tiring fast, but it says a lot for her mental and physical abilities that Suzanne was able to close the match out after losing that game at 6-5.
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2010
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  8. selesian

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    Thanks for posting this -- very interesting reading.
     
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  9. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    The reason I ask is, I wonder if the Thurber account you posted is merely the raw account that he made when the match occurred, or a version that he cleaned up and/or edited later for publication elsewhere. I don't know if that would make much of a difference, but it would be interesting to know.

    Thurber does seem to be referring to a similar incident, although his details are different; and he leaves a lot out. He places it at 3-4, on Suzanne's serve rather than Helen's; he puts it at 30-all instead of game point; and he does not give the linesman’s name (Cyril Tolley per the AP report). He does not mention Wills changing ends, or being called back (the score would still have been only 4-all, per his account).

    Although the AP report looks sloppy in its details, I think it's probably describing a real incident where Helen went to change ends and had to be called back. It's hard to see how or why that particular detail -- plus all the others about Helen throwing up her hands, the conversation with Tolley, etc. -- would be made up. Especially in an account that was written and published right after the match was played.

    Neither Wills nor Thurber mentions those details, but maybe that's understandable. Helen changing ends, and having to be called back, does not exactly put her in the most favorable light. Perhaps Thurber, who as you mentioned seems biased in Helen's favor, left it out for that reason. Helen may simply have come to regard it as her own mistake; or else forgotten it as one of many important points (or lost opportunities; or confusing moments). Helen seems to regard the incident at match point as the important incident -- and a match point is "bigger" than a mere break point or a 30-all point.

    But it's interesting that Helen writes, "On one line was an English golfer who had been a champion." So she does mention Tolley; she just doesn't do it by name. And she doesn't mention the incident in which he was involved!

    I wonder if the unusual prizefight atmosphere, and the bustling crowds, may have contributed to some of the confusion about the details of the match.
     
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  10. krosero

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    To add to the confusion, the NY Times published one more article in its reports the day after the match, this one by Perry Robinson. He confirms that there was a controversial line call at match point, but he places it at 7-6 (the final game):

    Thurber put the controversial match point at 6-5, and his account is so detailed that he may be right. But Robinson's article has some detail, too, about who won the games in the second set -- all of it agreeing with Thurber and the boxscore. So who knows.

    Again, as I read articles about this match, I know the sports writing of the time was given to exaggeration -- but I'm amazed at the anticipation that the match generated everywhere, and the crush of humanity that milled about in that small space. The AP report has this:

    A Times editorial:

     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2010
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  11. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

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    Here is an excerpt from a report on the match in question, from "Lawn Tennis and Badminton" of 27 February 1926. I'm not sure who the author is as reports almost always appeared unsigned. The author goes into some detail regarding the confusion at 6-5, 40-15, in Lenglen's favour in the second set:


    "Although she won the first game to love, mainly because Miss Wills was over-driving, Mlle Lenglen showed quite early that she was not herself; her shots were safety shots, and she was a little lucky in evening the score at 2-2 after being led by 2-1. But she played the next two games really well, and the 4-2 lead which she thereby gained was priceless. It sufficed to carry her out at 6-3.

    "But the second set opened entirely in favour of Miss Wills. She took her risks boldly, both on the drive and on the volley (and also by a really skilful use of the drop shot), and led 3-1. Although pulled back to 3-3, she led again at 4-3 and 5-4. But in doing all this she had to run continuously all over the place, for Mademoiselle, at this stage, was playing her 'cat-and-mouse' game almost to perfection. She compelled Miss Wills to yield the tenth game to love and advanced almost as easily to 6-5.

    "Then, in the twelfth game, came the hair-raising incident of which so many different versions have appeared. The true facts are that Mlle Lenglen (serving) reached 40-15, the match-point. The ensuing rest [rally] was ended by a level return by Miss Wills which cut the forehand line. The linesman, Lord Charles Hope, remained silent, but in spite of this and probably because Mlle Lenglen had made no effort to retrieve a ball which had beaten her, the crowd thought that she had won.

    "She may have thought it herself, but at any rate the arena was instantly invaded by a more than ordinarily demented throng of pressmen, photographers and partisans. In the midst of the hubbub Lord Charles Hope walked up to the 'chair' and quietly mentioned that he had not given that last ball out. Commander Hillyard, keeping his grip on the situation, at once ordered the court to be cleared, and the match was resumed at 40-30 in Mlle Lenglen’s favour.

    "She had still a match-point chance, but she lost it and the game as well, and it was six-all. There followed two tense games, both of which were well and truly won by the champion after she had double-faulted when once again within an ace of the match. The manner in which the two players kept their heads after this nerve-wracking interruption was wholly admirable. The extent to which they were both perturbed, mentally as well as physically, may be left to the imagination, though it may be recorded that whereas Miss Wills was able to preserve her accustomed serenity after the match was over, Mlle Lenglen left the court the centre of a jubilant throng, with tears in her eyes, the outcome of emotions which had been with difficulty restrained."
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2010
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  12. Don't Let It Bounce

    Don't Let It Bounce Hall of Fame

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    Wonderful, in particular Miss Wills's account. Thanks for posting it.

    The writing style of the first half of the 20th century–its seemingly greater emphasis on respect for the language than on drawing attention to the writer–makes our age seem crass by comparison. (I do realize there's a selection bias in that comparison, but that's nonetheless the feeling.) Miss Wills's excitement at how her game might grow from a series of matches with Mlle. Lenglen, compared to our win-obsessed culture, only adds to that feeling.

    The detailed description of tactics so obvious that later tennis enthusiasts and journalists would not bother mentioning them (side-to-side, etc.) had a charming naivete, I thought, and their vividness really pulled me into the time and place as I read the account.

    It's interesting, too, that the communication limitations of the time (telegraph, I suppose?) were such that even a simple matter of fact was difficult to ascertain.

    And speaking of tactics: Well played, Mr. Moody. Well played. :)
     
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  13. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    I think what this account makes clear is that the crowd was practically a participant in what happened. If they saw a ball as wide or long on match point, of course some of them would have shouted “Out!” That seems completely natural -- and it's confirmed by the Times articles reporting how much the crowd was interfering.

    Bud Collins, in his Encyclopedia, basically agrees with this last report that you've posted: he's got Helen hitting the controversial shot, at 6-5. And he says a spectator called "Out".

    And as you say, Alan Little has the same basic facts. Wills does, too, without specifying what game it was. Robinson says it was at 7-6, but all the other sources seem to say it was earlier (even Wills and Tuohy, with their vagueness, say it occurred a few games before the end).

    Thurber writes that Lenglen hit the controversial shot and that the call of "good" was overturned. But looking at his account again, his language is just a little vague. He doesn't explicitly say that Lenglen made the shot; he looks somewhat non-committal with the pronoun "she." He also does not explicitly say that the call was overturned, which is what would have happened if Lenglen had made the shot and the line judge had originally called it good. He just says there was a conference of officials and Helen was “saved.” So his version of events is left implied; he doesn't seem 100% certain.

    That's also true in one earlier passage:

    “It seemed that at several points [Lenglen] was on the verge of stampede, and she evidenced it in one notable case by failing to play a stroke near the baseline and looking rather abjectly at the line judge. It was good and Wills won the point.”

    That sounds like the incident at match point, as described by the other sources. But Thurber does not seem certain about when it occurred; and taken together with what I think is a lack of certainty about what happened at 6-5, maybe it makes sense to go with the other sources: Helen hit the controversial shot, and the call was not overturned.

    It's interesting, in this last article you posted, the author mentions that “many different versions” had already appeared, only 10 days after the match.

    If it was such a big deal -- what happened at match point -- I do wonder why the AP report did not even mention it. But I think the writer regards the earlier incident, with Helen changing ends, as the crucial point of the whole story. Maybe for him what happened at match point was secondary (or repetitious, in a column with limited space). What he does say is that the earlier incident is what essentially defeated Helen psychologically. That was his story, his angle.

    Probably Thurber, with his bias toward Helen, just didn't see it that way, and chose not to dwell on that episode (if he refers to it at all, which is not certain -- though I tend to agree with you that he did).

    It's fascinating reading through any old historical accounts, but particularly when they disagree -- because then I think you get some clues, a little window, into their different points of view.

    And I just enjoy the detective work that goes into this.

    I've found some material on their doubles matches, which I'll post later.

    Thanks for starting this thread! Absolutely fascinating match.
     
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  14. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Two hours after their match, Lenglen and Wills met in a doubles match. They paired up, respectively, with Didi Vlasto and Henriette Contoslavos. Lenglen and Vlasto won, 6-4, 8-6, per the Associated Press (per Thurber it was 6-4, 7-5).

    They had played once before, in a mixed doubles match in Nice on Feb. 7. Lenglen and Baron Henri de Morjugo took that match over Wills and Charles F. Aschlimann, 6-1, 6-2. The New York Times had this:

     
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  15. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

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    Here is an account of the second set of the singles match, from Alan Little’s biography "Suzanne Lenglen – Tennis Idol of the 'Twenties":

    "The second set opened entirely in favour of Helen Wills, who took risks boldly on the drive and the volley to go ahead 3-1. However, in the fifth game she moderated her pace and attempted to beat Suzanne by more purposeful placing. These tactics played into the hands of Suzanne, who recovered to 3-all. The seventh game was the longest of the match and required 14 points before the American won through.

    "Suzanne wavered a little in the next game and at 30-all hit a forehand drive which Helen Wills thought was clearly out. However, the linesman, Cyril Tolley, remained silent and the American’s chance to lead 5-3 disappeared. She recovered to lead 5-4, but Suzanne won the next game to love by placing the ball very skilfully at half court, which brought the American forward to overdrive.

    "Suzanne advanced easily to 6-5 and appeared to have the match within her grasp in the twelfth game when she reached 40-15 on her service. However, after a long rally Helen Wills hit a beautiful drive, which struck Suzanne’s forehand line. The linesman, Lord Charles Hope, remained silent, but from somewhere came a shot of 'out' and Suzanne, thinking that the match was over, advanced to the net and shook hands with Helen Wills.

    "Immediately the court was invaded by the many eager photographers and pressmen. Realising the situation, Charles Aeschlimann rushed forward extending his arms to indicate to the surging mass that the match was not over. In the midst of the commotion George Hillyard dismounted the umpire’s chair and, walking a few steps to the sideline, confirmed with Lord Charles Hope that the ball was good. He returned to the foot of the chair and, after informing the two players that the match must continue, ordered the court to be cleared.

    "The match resumed with the score at 40-30. Suzanne, nearly exhausted, still had a match point but she hit the ball over the baseline and soon the score was 6-all. There followed two tense games. Suzanne, after being a game point down, captured the American’s service to lead 7-6. In the last game Suzanne double-faulted when within a point of winning, but her coolness and experience triumphed in the end on her fourth match point, 8-6. The set had taken 41 minutes when the match ended at 12.25 pm. The points tally in Suzanne’s favour was 30 to 17 in the first set and 52 to 47 in the second set."
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2010
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  16. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Even though Helen said in 1933 that there were no other incidents other than the one at match point, Larry Engelmann wrote in 1988 that she always remembered the earlier line call that had gone against her.

    In The Goddess and the American Girl (1988 ), Engelmann places the incident at 3-4, 15-30 on Suzanne's serve, second set. Lenglen hit a shot that looked wide:

    Englemann calls Tuohy an Associated Press correspondent. If that means that Tuohy wrote the AP story published in the Times, then it's no great mystery why that story mentions the Tolley incident without even referring to the controversy at match point: Tuohy had already mentioned the incident at match point in the Times' lead story, under his own byline.

    There's more from Engelmann's book here: http://tennis.quickfound.net/history/suzanne_lenglen_helen_wills.html
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2010
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  17. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

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    According to Alan Little, Suzanne couldn't do much in the doubles final, played later in the afternoon, because she was so exhausted from playing the singles. Fortunately, Diddie Vlasto played well enough for them to be able to win. Helen Wills was quite unpredictable in doubles, unless she played with someone like Hazel Wightman or Elizabeth Ryan.

    Diddie (as she was known to family and friends) was born in Marseilles, France, of Greek parents (her given first names were Pénélope Julie). She married a man of Greek-Italian heritage and moved to Athens, Greece, but kept her French passport.

    Helen Wills' partner was Helene Contostavlos, who was Greek, or of Greek origin (she played in the French Closed Championships, open only to French players or overseas players registered with French clubs).
    --

    The mixed final in Nice had been between Suzanne and Baron Hubert de Morpurgo (Italy) and Helen and Charles Aeschlimann (Switzerland). Aeschlimann married the American player Leslie Bancroft.
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2010
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  18. krosero

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    Thanks for that, I had gotten the names and spellings from the newspaper articles, which of course can be sloppy about details.

    The AP report mentioned that Wills was consistently attacking Lenglen in the doubles, while Diddie and Suzanne directed almost everything at Helen's partner.

    And then Suzanne collapsed after the match. Helen was cheered and surrounded by fans, and "without a look at Suzanne, shook hands with Mlle. Vlasto and then walked off" (AP).
     
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  19. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    There is some good picture material about Lenglen and the Cannes match on
    histoiredutennis.com.
    See dames biographies and dames episodes. Included is a photo of the famous non match point. Lenglen and Wills are shaking hands at the net, while an official is running and waving in front of the camera, to signal, that the match isn't over yet. On a lighter note: The Count De Mopurgo is said to have been immensely disliked by Tilden, a big ego himself, for his aristocratic behaviour. Tilden paid him back with a wipeout in the 1930 Italian final.
     
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  20. krosero

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    There is some film of the match on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HSsH7V3Ml8

    At 3:51 is the premature conclusion, with the reporters surging toward the two women and the umpire's chair but held back, as Urban said, by an official. (Both women proceed as if the match were over, and Helen even gets as far as putting on her sweater). Then the film shows the reporters surging forward a second time, and this time they're allowed to walk to the players and the umpire's chair.

    In that second handshake, the two women have changed sides, so there doesn't seem to be any doubt that the controversial call happened at 6-5. Robinson puts it at 7-6, but that looks like a simple mistake.

    (At 6:19 on the YT clip is the second handshake from a different angle.)
     
    #20

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