Women’s tennis hits a rare golden age in 1968: Behind the players

The Golden Era for female tennis in the United States was a turbulent one. The rise of women’s professional tennis that began in 1969 with the publication of Marjorie Spears Smith’s book “Women’s Tennis and the American Popularity,” or WTT for short, was only a fraction of the professional career of Billie Jean King, who went on to win 15 Grand Slam tournaments. But among the women on the tour, there were seven in the top 10 who made it to the U.S. Open. Here’s a look at all of them.

1. Helen Wills Moody (7 titles)

The “American Colossus,” an immediate sensation at Wimbledon when she defeated Rick Raskind in the final, served an amazing 119 aces in 1961 and a record total of 169 in 1971. She won her only Grand Slam tournament at Wimbledon in 1972, beating Chris Evert-Lloyd in the final. She beat then-number one Chris Evert-Lloyd 6-2, 6-3 in the semifinals before beating Nancy Richey in the finals 6-4, 6-2.

2. Pam Shriver (4 titles)

A five-time Grand Slam singles champion, Shriver had more style and tenacity than her fellow women and helped popularize women’s tennis by participating in male-only intramural tennis in high school. She went on to play some top professional level men in the 1980s, such as Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Ivan Lendl. A year after her second Grand Slam title, she won a doubles with Martina Navratilova in the 1974 U.S. Open.

3. Tina Rutledge (4 titles)

Rutledge’s only Grand Slam singles title was in 1980, at Wimbledon, coming out on top over Gena Nazario-Szerchak. The Australian-born Rutledge became the “Australian Princess” because she played her singles matches at the WTA’s St. Louis event in front of five Australian flags. She won more than $300,000 in salary and prize money over her career, advancing to the top 10 by the age of 20.

4. Suzanne Lenglen (4 titles)

Before King came along, there was little for women to cheer for in women’s tennis. The Wimbledon and U.S. Open title holder had won four in her career, thanks to hard work and the tactics of her trainer, John Zaritz. Lenglen is still considered the greatest women’s player to have ever lived, but she was a notorious womanizer and husband of 15 years to tennis great Fritz Lenglen, who became a husband to Helen Wills Moody and won five consecutive titles in 1907. Helen of Troy got her rings from him.

5. Margaret Court (3 titles)

Court was one of the first two girls in the world to win a Grand Slam singles title when she did it at Wimbledon in 1970. The other, Pat Cash, went on to win the Wimbledon singles title for the men’s tennis men in 1976. Not too long after playing in her first U.S. Open, Court started a re-defining feud with Billie Jean King, which dragged on for years. She won the 1976 Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles, followed by a French Open title a year later. At age 46, she won the 1973 French Open to make it five French titles in a row.

6. Pam Shriver (3 titles)

Shriver was already a four-time Grand Slam singles champion in 1980, when she faced Evert-Lloyd in the final. She was the fifth female to break the 200-minute barrier in the U.S. Open final and won 6-4, 6-3. At the U.S. Open, Shriver had been paired with Lori McNeil for doubles play, where they made it to the finals.

7. Beryl Wisner (3 titles)

A veteran doubles pro, Wisner was the No. 2 player in the world before signing with WTT at Wimbledon in 1973. She teamed with Maria Bueno to win the 1979 U.S. Open doubles title. By the end of her career, she had won 18 major titles and was ranked No. 2 in the world. She died in a car accident in 1993 in suburban Atlanta.

Leave a Comment