Queen Mother Of Tennis

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Yes, I did. That first woman I won the Nationals from, Mrs. Wallach [Barger-Wallach].

In 1909?

Yes, that’s the first woman I remember who did [serve underhand], and she was like my grandmother. She was old and thin, wore black stockings, and had long sleeves and a skinny little figure. She didn’t play through the tournament. In those days the champion stayed out until after the tournament was won by somebody, and then she played against the winner in the finals the next day.

So the champion really just defended her title?

That’s right. The champion had quite a time, too, because usually the player who was playing all that week had gotten more used to the grass and was in better form. How she [Mrs. Barger-Wallach] had ever won the singles I’ll never know. She never won any tournaments after that, that I know.

How did you learn to do an overhead serve?

I served overhand from the beginning. And I didn’t practice my serve with anyone until I had been playing for several years. Then once when I was playing with Maurice McLoughlin [National Singles Champion in 1912 and 1913]—he had a beautiful serve—he wanted me to learn his American twist, but I told him, “I’m not built that way. I have short arms, short legs, and it isn’t comfortable to throw the ball the way you want me to do it.” I suppose I was too feminine, but I couldn’t do a serve that would put me off balance. All I could think of was to keep my short, square body on balance.

What about your lob?

Well, I’ll tell you a story about that. Once when I was over in England, I was walking across the Wimbledon grounds, and I saw this gentleman I had played mixed doubles with four or five years before. The minute he saw me, he put his hand behind his back and hobbled along. I asked him what was wrong, and he said his back was still sore “from those lobs you gave me.” I remembered that match; I had to keep the ball away from him the best I could. In order to keep it away from him I put the lobs over his head. I knew the stupid girl he was playing with wouldn’t have the sense to go over to get them.

Did you practice a great deal?

When I was living in Berkeley, I didn’t practice. I played probably once or twice a week. That was all the chance I had. And then I usually played with one of my brothers or boyfriends, because the girls weren’t good enough to hit the ball over the net hardly. Playing with the boys, I didn’t loaf. That’s all.

What about when you moved to Boston and started playing there?

I didn’t have a lot of time to practice. I usually had a baby at home I was nursing, and, well, I should think if Billie Jean plays four and five and six hours a day now, if I happened to play one hour a day, it was pretty good.

Did you go into training before matches?

Well, I was in training all the time, which doesn’t mean anything, because I didn’t do anything except eat, drink, and not be too merry. I don’t know what it is to go in training and out of training.

Did you have great endurance as a tennis player?

No, I didn’t have much endurance. But I made use of what I have. I guess the way I did it was to make my shot so difficult for [her opponent] that I wouldn’t get caught on my next shot. I think that’s what I did, now you mention it.

You must have been a master of the forcing shot.

I remember the first time I played this girl who was six inches taller than I was, and everybody told me that she had a service I couldn’t get back; well, I thought about it. So when she served to me, I said, well, I’m going to get that serve back. I’m going to have my racket flat and hit the ball in the middle and get it back, and if she is not used to people getting the ball back, she won’t be ready for the return. That was my psychology. So after I got her serve back, she was so surprised she didn’t return the shot. It wasn’t that I was smart or brilliant or had beautiful shots, but I kept myself from getting caught.

Did you make a point of trying to see a new opponent play before you had to play her?

I never was averse to seeing anybody play. And usually anybody that I was going to play against that I hadn’t seen, if I was handy, I always looked. I can remember one instance when some girls from New York had played in a tournament and gotten beaten, and I criticized them badly for having lost, because I said, “I’ve seen that girl play and she’s not good.” And they said, “Well, you don’t know what it is to play against her.” Well, later in Brookline [Massachusetts] I was to play against this girl, and my New York friends were there—they were there to see me get beaten. But that girl didn’t have a backhand. After we had played the match, the girls said to me, “How did you ever beat her?” I said, “I didn’t give her a shot to hit that she liked.”

What about other games? Do you play golf, for instance?