Women's professional tennis prior to the WTA.


A fellow poster was asking about women's professional tennis references prior to the formation of the women's tour in 1968. We know very little about them. I will start by quoting my own post which references the professional efforts of Alice Marble and Mlle. Lenglen.
"I always assumed that normally these 'matches' were anticipated as part of the mens pro tour much like an opening stand-up comic, would precede the headliner act.

Here is an interesting paragraph from Wiki. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzanne_Lenglen#Professional_career
"As the first major female tennis star to turn professional, Lenglen was paid US$50,000 by American entrepreneur Charles C. Pyle to tour the United States in a series of matches against Mary K. Browne. Browne, winner of the US Championships from 1912 to 1914, was 35 and considered to be past her prime, although she had reached the French final earlier that year (losing to Lenglen 6–1, 6–0).
For the first time in tennis history, the women's match was the headline event of a tour which also featured male players. In their first match in New York City, Lenglen put on a performance that New York Times writer Allison Danzig lauded as "one of the most masterly exhibitions of court generalship that has been seen in this country." When the tour ended in February 1927, Lenglen had defeated Browne, 38 matches to 0. She was exhausted from the lengthy tour, and a physician advised Lenglen that she needed a lengthy period away from the game to recover.
Instead, Lenglen chose to retire from competitive tennis to run a Paris tennis school, which she set up with the help and money of her lover Jean Tillier. The school, located next to the courts of Roland Garros, slowly expanded and was recognised as a federal training centre by the French tennis federation in 1936. During this period, Lenglen also wrote several books on tennis.
Lenglen was criticised widely for her decision to turn professional, and the All England Club at Wimbledon even revoked her honorary membership. Lenglen, however, described her decision as "an escape from bondage and slavery" and said in the tour programme, "In the twelve years I have been champion I have earned literally millions of francs for tennis and have paid thousands of francs in entrance fees to be allowed to do so.... I have worked as hard at my career as any man or woman has worked at any career. And in my whole lifetime I have not earned $5,000 – not one cent of that by my specialty, my life study – tennis.... I am twenty-seven and not wealthy – should I embark on any other career and leave the one for which I have what people call genius? Or should I smile at the prospect of actual poverty and continue to earn a fortune – for whom?" As for the amateur tennis system, Lenglen said, "Under these absurd and antiquated amateur rulings, only a wealthy person can compete, and the fact of the matter is that only wealthy people do compete. Is that fair? Does it advance the sport? Does it make tennis more popular – or does it tend to suppress and hinder an enormous amount of tennis talent lying dormant in the bodies of young men and women whose names are not in the social register?"[14]

Here is another reference with a lot more details to Lenglen's post career 'career' with matches and scores. https://www.tennisforum.com/59-blast-past/194266-suzanne-lenglen-career-results-2.html " According to the tour's business manager, William Pickens, on January 29, 1927, the amount of Lenglen's guarantee for the tour was $50,000 ($644,920 in June 2011 dollars, according to the consumer price index) plus 50 percent of the net gate receipts, which according to published reports was at least $50,000. Browne's guarantee was $30,000 ($386,952 in June 2011 dollars) plus 6 percent of the net gate receipts or at least $6,000 ($77,390 in June 2011 dollars). The tour promoter, C. C. Pyle, said that the total guarantees for the 6 touring players (4 men, 2 women) were $142,500 ($1,838,022 in June 2011 dollars). Pickens said that Pyle's profit, exclusive of royalties, was between $50,000 and $75,000" See post #27.

I have come across virtually nothing about these kinds of events but maybe collectively we can add more on this subject.
Last edited:


Here's a one liner from Marble's wikis bio "After capping a stellar amateur career in 1940, Marble turned professional and earned more than $100,000, travelling around playing exhibition tournaments.

This has more information[1] "http://www.tennisserver.com/lines/lines_06_10_01.htmlLate in the year, Tennant negotiated with President Lloyd B. Icely of Wilson for Alice to turn pro and receive a guaranteed $25,000 for playing a 1941 North American tour. In her autobiography, Courting Danger, Alice told how she later threatened to leave the tour, thereby obtaining a revised contract from Icely raising her pay to that of the tour's male headliner, Budge.
In announcing the signing of Alice and the planned Garden opener, Jack Harris on November 12 explained that the cast would also include Budge and Tilden. A few days later came the announcement that Alice's tour opponent would be the British star Mary Hardwick. Harris publicly said that he was the sole backer and underwriter of the tour, thereby continuing the unannounced nature of Icely's and the Wilson Company's close role in pro tennis.
At age 27, Queen Alice was an athlete of style and strength, admired everywhere. Although at 5-7 she was not extremely tall, her serve was a superior weapon, carrying considerable pace or spin, as desired. Her stroking was forceful from both sides, her quickness and court speed excellent. Consistent with her attacking style, she volleyed exceptionally well and she hit every overhead with authority--like the top men, it was sometimes said. Her tour opponent, Mary Hardwick, was a veteran of international play and held world amateur ranking of #8 in 1939. (Alice of course was #1.) Mary had stayed in North America upon war's onset, and had been promoting British war relief causes.
No one expected that the tour would be exciting competitively. Hardwick, who had never beaten Marble as an amateur, was obviously well behind Alice in ability, while Tilden at 47 could hope to threaten a Budge only occasionally despite Don's recent illness and obvious gain at the waistline. But customers in most places were eager to watch the world's acknowledged best--Budge and Marble--even if outcomes seemed certain.
Opening night at Madison Square Garden on January 6, 1941 was worthy of past openers. Allison Danzig called the Marble-Hardwick match a "stern, punishing battle," as Hardwick put forth firm stroking and steadfast defense in resistance to Marble's persistent attacking. Mary won the first four games from the baseline employing what Herald-Tribune's Al Laney called "a backhand as good as any woman has ever owned." Alice then stepped up her play and eventually prevailed, 86 86, despite occasional sub-par spells by both players. The difference was, wrote E.C. Potter, Alice's ability to come to net. But Mary's strong play led Fred Hawthorne to predict that Mary would win more often than expected. Later that night, Alice bristled at a remark by Icely implying that Alice had intentionally kept the scores close.
In the evening's second match, Don Budge, playing methodically and "well within himself," comfortably defeated Tilden. Potter wrote that Bill substituted antics for solid shot-making, but added that the crowd seemed not to mind. The mixed doubles, where Tilden and Marble paired against Budge and Hardwick, proved crowd-pleasing. Marble-Tilden won in split sets. Most of the 12,000 watchers stayed to the end.
The card was identical two nights later before 7,000 in Chicago Stadium. Mary won the first set and reached three match points, but Alice increased her net-attacking and eventually won the match, having produced twice Mary's total of placements. Budge defeated Tilden, two sets to one, and Hardwick-Budge won the mixed doubles.
After Chicago, Marble began asserting her strong superiority, winning easily on January 10 in Minneapolis and again on January 12 in Cincinnati, where Alice's weaponry forced Mary to endless retrieving. On January 23 in Boston after nine defeats, Mary won for the first time. Meanwhile Budge, who had been ill in late 1940, seemed overweight and unable to produce his former sustained power. Tilden made most of their matches interesting, and scored his first 1941 victory over Don in Detroit, January 13. Bill injured a leg a few days later in a car accident and was replaced in several engagements by John Nogrady, who had originally signed on in charge of the equipment truck and the portable canvas court.
The tour itinerary stretched well into spring, criss-crossing the continent to its extremities and reaching many of the same arenas visited by the pros in the past. Attendance held up well, helped by the previous winter's stand-down and the invigorating of America's economy amid rearming. But it seemed clear that it was the presence of Marble that made for box-office success. Part or all of the nightly proceeds sometimes went to war charities. Eleanor Tennant gave clinics at many tour stops, joined sometimes by one of the principals. The cast was congenial to one another. Both Mary and Alice liked and admired Tilden, who helped them in their tennis and was interesting in conversation. Budge was cool toward Tilden, perhaps because of Bill's homosexuality, Marble suspected. Writers everywhere were captured by Alice's personal magnetism and beauty...."


On Gibson https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Althea_Gibson#Professional_career

" In 1959 she signed to play a series of exhibition matches against Karol Fageros before Harlem Globetrotter basketball games.[55][19] When the tour ended she won the singles and doubles titles at the Pepsi Cola World Pro Tennis Championships in Cleveland, but received only $500 in prize money. ….Her professional tennis career, however, was going nowhere. "When I looked around me, I saw that white tennis players, some of whom I had thrashed on the court, were picking up offers and invitations," she wrote. "Suddenly it dawned on me that my triumphs had not destroyed the racial barriers once and for all, as I had—perhaps naively—hoped. Or if I did destroy them, they had been erected behind me again." [56......

And who was this opponent Karol Fageros? https://apnews.com/94d6aa255eb6c91b1ac9b862d0f71aee


So, it sounds like there was never any perennial women's professional tour of standing tournaments--just a temporary series of one-time exhibition matches for super-stars.
Last edited:


So, it sounds like there was never any perennial women's professional tour of standing tournaments--just a temporary series of one-time exhibition matches for super-stars.
that's pretty much it. Nothing sustained, nothing with momentum, nothing with press coverage beyond the 'star' on contract. Not exactly a meritocracy!
Last edited:
Interesting thread and subject. As best as I can tell, there were only five professional tours or series involving women prior to 1968:

1926-27 Lenglen vs Browne
[Details are included the book "The Goddess and The American Girl" by Larry Englemann]

1936 Ethel Arnold vs Jane Sharp
Part of tour with Tilden and Barnes

1941 Marble vs Hardwick/Hare
Part of tour with Tilden and Budge

1950-51 Betz/Addie vs Moran
Part of tour with Kramer and Segura

1959 Gibson vs Fageros
In conjunction with Harlem Globetrotters


Hall of Fame
So, it sounds like there was never any perennial women's professional tour of standing tournaments--just a temporary series of one-time exhibition matches for super-stars.
That’s correct. Go to the threads arguing about how Court should be ranked and you will see this is a major point.