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. ----- 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.