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Queen Mother Of Tennis
August 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 5
Oh, I was so proud of her. I was so proud of her, and as a matter of fact, you know, I watched her lips, and I don’t think she swore once. And that was the first time I’ve ever been so pleased with her. I was so pleased that I could be pleased with her.
What do you think, Mrs. Wightman, about the tennis leagues- World Team Tennis? Does that seem to you a good idea?
Well, I was one of the first people to say it wouldn’t go. After I went to see the first match, oh, I said, that’s too tough. The women can’t do this. This is going to be awfully hard on the girls. But do you know how many matches I went to see? Six last winter. I went six times. It intrigued me. It is so hard, and it takes so much effort to do it.
Is that because they play the matches so quickly, one after another?
Well, it isn’t just that. But the bell rings, and you start right in playing. Usually on the tennis court you warm up —some people four minutes, some five minutes, then somebody stalls a little bit—you can be a little more like yourself. In a regular tournament if you’re going to play singles and doubles and mixed doubles, you have a question of hours in between. You can pace yourself; it’s not rushing. But here I just felt, oh, how can they take it? And that’s the way I felt all last winter, and yet I was foolish enough to go every time somebody would take me. And I enjoyed it every time.
How do you like the scoring system they use in team tennis- the one, two, three, four, instead of fifteen, thirty, forty, game?
I haven’t made any attempt to understand it, but I don’t like it as well as what I’ve done all my life, and it isn’t much simpler either, but a lot of people could never understand “fifteen love” and “advantage.” But that was tennis to me.
Were you bothered by the noise at the Lobster [the Boston league] matches?
After the first match I saw, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to like it, because of the rowdyism. I am one of the few people that believes that the audience should be quiet when people are playing tennis. I remember the first time I ever gave a thought to it. I was playing against May Sutton, and the gallery had gotten so big because it made tennis popular to see two women playing, one from northern California and one from southern California, and they [the audience] were shouting, “Come on, northern girl! Come on, southern girl!” It nearly killed me.
I realized that the reason noise bothered me particularly is I depend on hearing the sound of the ball on the racket. The hearing is very important because when I hear the ball hit so loud, I know it’s going to go farther. It may be hit so it’s going to be a half volley, it may be hit so it’s going to be a high lob. I depend on hearing it.
I wish I could have seen you play, Mrs. Wightman. Tell me about jour game.
Well, I’ve never been a perfect player, but I’ve been a successful player; I couldn’t do as many good shots as Billie Jean can do today, but I can be more intelligent about it than she was several years ago. Nobody ever gave me a lesson, so all I did was learn how to make a shot I wanted to make, though I didn’t always know what shot I was making. I had played two or three years when somebody said to me in Seattle, “How’d you learn to make that half volley?” and I said, “What is a half volley?” I’m just telling you the truth. If somebody would have taught me, I never would have learned to make a half volley, because they would have told me wrong.
Which was better, your backhand or your forehand? Or was there no difference?
I wouldn’t say I had any outstanding shot. I don’t think I ever had a beautiful forehand drive. I think that’s the last thing in the world I ever had. I may have had one of the best drop shots in the world, but I never had a good drive. And a backhand, I don’t remember having a good backhand drive either, but I never was afraid if the ball came to my backhand. The shot I liked to use was either a cut or a chop. My placements were accurate, so therefore I used the shot I could make.
I know you were an expert volleyer. What other parts of your game were especially good?
I was the only girl who could smash. You see, I’m a player that if any ball comes over the net and there isn’t anybody to play it but me, I’ll be there. And I didn’t win by losing the points, you know.
When you first started playing and coming into the net, weren’t most women still playing a base-line game?
Yes, and the reason I started playing net was it made it hard for them. That was all. Nobody told me anything about it, but if this woman [her opponent], if I can be sure she’s going to hit the ball from way back there and stay there, I’ve got a lot of space.
What about your serve, Mrs. Wightman? I gather that most women served underhand when tennis first started in this country. Did you ever play against a woman who served underhand?