This piece is really about the winners of the first ten Ladies' Championships of Germany. -------------- Part 1 During the first two years of its existence, in 1896 and 1897, the ladies’ singles event was held in Hamburg. There followed a sojourn of four years in Bad Homburg, from 1898 to 1901. The tournament returned to Hamburg in 1902 and remained there, with breaks during the two world wars. Up until 1979, a men’s and women’s event was held concurrently in Hamburg (the men’s event was initially closed to foreign players). In 1979, the women’s event moved to Berlin with a new title, the Ladies’ German Open (this event was discontinued in 2009). A different WTA event was held in Hamburg in 1982 and 1983, and again from 1987 to 2002. No women’s event has been held in Hamburg since then. The information on Maren Thomsen and Elsie Lane, and the details of the 1902 tournament, won by Mary Roß, as well as some of the information on Toupie Lowther, are taken from the 1997 edition of “Tennis – A Cultural History” by Heiner Gillmeister. I have provided some additional information in square brackets. Detailed information on the careers of Blanche Bingley Hillyard and Charlotte Cooper Sterry is available from many sources, including the internet. ------------ The first two finals were played over the best of five sets. Unless otherwise indicated, the finalists are German. Results of the ladies’ singles final from 1896 to 1905: 1896 Maren Thomsen d. E. Lantzius 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 1897 Blanche Hillyard (GB) d. Charlotte Cooper (GB) 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 1898 Elsie Lane (GB) d. Toupie Lowther (GB) 7-5, 7-5 1899 Charlotte Cooper (GB) d. Countess Clara von der Schulenburg 7-5, 6-4 1900 Blanche Hillyard (GB) d. Muriel Robb (GB) 2-6, 8-6, 7-5 1901 Toupie Lowther (GB) d. Gladys Duddell (GB) 6-0, 6-0 1902 Mary Roß d. Hilda Meyer 8-6, 6-0 1903 Violet Pinckney (GB) d. Hilda Meyer 6-2, 6-1 1904 Elsie Lane (GB) d. L. Bergmann 6-3 6-0 1905 Elsie Lane (GB) d. K. Krug 6-0 6-1 ----------- Maren Thomsen, champion in 1896 In “Tennis – A Cultural History”, Hans Gillmesiter writes: “At the 1896 tournament, the first ladies’ championships of the country were also contested. In marked contrast to the men’s event, these were open championships. The prize had been presented a year before by an Englishman, Walter Howard, and it had been the intention of the donor to attract players from England. The trophy was, according to Baron Robert von Fichard [sports journalist and historian of tennis], not a cup, but a silver dish or bowl (‘eine silberne Schale’) which again testified to the organisers’ attempts to make the Hamburg tournament a true copy of the All England Championships where the ladies’ prize was a rosewater bowl. “Despite such clever stratagems, English ladies were in the first year conspicuous by their absence. The sliver dish therefore went to a German, Fräulein Maren Thomsen [b. April 1879], a rank outsider. Frl Lantzius, the favourite, who had in the first round easily eliminated another likely candidate for the victory, Frl Holtz, played ‘below her usual form’ in the final, resorting to a rather cowardly game from the baseline. Thus the more aggressive play of Frl Thomsen, of youthful appearance who possessed ‘a very good overhand service’, a rarity at the time, prevailed. Her victory in three straight sets, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5, was a very popular one, a fact which became apparent, the correspondent of ‘Spiel and Sport’ wrote, by the many kisses she received from the female supporters, and the handshakes form the gentlemen. “Frl Thomsen was at once heralded the ‘rising star’ on the German tennis scene, but her success was to remain an ephemeral one. Nothing more was ever heard of her. She had only just turned 17 when she won the championship. The only star, if any, German tennis was to produce in the years to come was Countess Clara von Schulenburg who had in the same event not even survived the first round, where she had been soundly beaten – by the very same Maren Thomsen, the eventual champion. “The first champion’s life does not seem to have been a very happy one. She was at one time engaged to a widower who had two children. He died before the marriage could take place. Afterwards she nursed her ailing parents and then for some time ran the household for her brother-in-law after the death of her elder sister. Failing to play the role of a mother for her sister’s only child, a daughter, she rather prematurely succumbed to a fatal disease [skin cancer] in 1936. Her death passed unnoticed.” ---------- Blanche Hillyard, champion in 1897 and 1900 Blanche Hillyard, née Bingley (married 1887), was born on 3 November 1863 in Greenford, Middlesex, England. Blanche Hillyard won the German Championships in 1897, defeating Charlotte Cooper 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in the final, and again in 1900, beating Muriel Robb 2-6, 8-6, 7-5 in the final. Rather uniquely, Blanche’s husband, George (b. 6 February 1864) won the men’s singles title at the same event in the same two years. Blanche Hillyard appeared in a record 13 ladies’ singles final at Wimbledon, winning the title six times, in 1886, 1889, 1894, 1897, 1899 and 1900, and being runner-up in 1885, 1887, 1888, 1891, 1892, 1893 and 1901. Blanche Hillyard died on at her home, Greenford, Mare Hill, Pullborough, Sussex, on 6 August 1946. She was 82. ---------- Elsie Lane, champion in 1898, 1904 and 1905 In “Tennis – A Cultural History”, Hans Gillmesiter writes: “The Ladies’ Championship of Germany was, as it were, the first act of a piece which might have come straight from contemporary Drury Lane theatre. Appropriately, the heroine of the drama went by the name of Elsie Lane [b. 22 June 1864 in Lucknow, India]. Miss Lane was a steady and accurate baseliner, equipped with a backhand which the correspondent of ‘Lawn Tennis’, rather ungentelemanly, chose to call ‘a scoop’. She beat the brilliant, albeit erratic Toupie Lowther, who had abandoned her usual play in favour of an uninspired game from the baseline, in two straight sets, 7-5, 7-5. “The champion, a resident of Hove, was to perform acts two and three in 1904 and 1905 and, after having won the title of Champion of Germany three times, captured Walter Howard’s silver dish for good. In 1906, a new trophy was presented by Grand Duke Frederick Francis of Mecklenburg Schwerin. “By 1904, the belief had become firmly established in the Fatherland that, if the National Women’s Champion (with the exception of Countess Clara von der Schulenberg) were to play Miss Lane, the outcome would be a ‘double bagel’, and by 1905, Elsie (in England less well known than her sister Hilda who frequently competed at Wimbledon) had acquired the epithet ‘invincible’. Her unfailing retrieving qualities were the terror of her continental opponents who knew that she would emerge victorious even if taken to rallies of 50 or 60 strokes. In 1905, an especially knowledgeable tennis enthusiast, who had heard about her serving a double fault, with broad sarcasm remarked: ‘Then she will die shortly!’ In the Fatherland, Elsie was the female counterpart of the infallible M.J.G. Ritchie, five times Champion of Germany between 1903 and 1908, whose style of playing it safe, however, was not recommended even there. The two were successful only, it was said, as long as they did not meet the ‘positive’ player, the one going for his or her point and who did not wait for the opponent’s errors. Championship honours were therefore denied to them in England.