Queen Mother Of Tennis


I was never a golf player. I played once, and I got a top score. It just happened, but I don’t like any game that’s slow. I won the squash national championship, though, and then I won the badminton national championship. Anything with a racket.

When was that?

About 1927. Well, let’s see now. I won the squash singles, and I won the badminton; I think I won the badminton singles, but I lost the badminton mixed doubles. Got to the finals twice in two different years. And Ping-Pong, I won the state Ping-Pong championship. Anything with a racket.

Have you ever played platform tennis, paddle tennis?

Paddle tennis came along too late for me. It’s a simple game, and I don’t care for it. Don’t like the sound of the racket, it’s so dead. I only played it a few times, but enough to know that I don’t like the dead sound.

What kind of racket do you use, Mrs. Wightman?

Well, as a matter of fact I haven’t any idea what the last racket I had was. I remember playing with a Pirn, that was the first racket I had. P-I-M , the first racket I ever saw. Then they brought out rackets with people’s names. There was one named for Doris Hart. I had a Hart racket one time. It was nice.

Was there ever a Wightman racket?

Yes, they had a Wightman racket, put out by Bancroft. It was kind of a ladylike racket. They had to name rackets after something.

Do you ever use a metal racket?

No, it came along after I was interested. I’ve hit a few balls with them, but it didn’t appeal to me.

I gather you don’t have trouble with tennis elbow. Have you ever had a tennis elbow?

No, that’s foolish. A tennis elbow comes from overdoing when you are not ready, see. The only time I had a little tendency for a sore arm was soon after I had had a baby and played an exhibition match. When you play an exhibition, you go out for the big shot, the shot you ordinarily wouldn’t play, to put on a good show; and once playing a Red Cross exhibition, I almost got a sore arm.

Mrs. Wightman, I gather that as well as playing tennis, you’ve done an enormous amount of teaching. Is that right?

I have never been able to be anywhere without teaching tennis. I am happier teaching than anything else. You know, I could name twenty people that are very outstanding that wouldn’t be playing tennis if it were not for me. Now I don’t want people to know that. It means nothing to anybody else but me, but I think that’s why I still have this terrific love for the game.

But I gather you don’t think much of most tennis teachers. Why is that?

I’ve seen a lot of people giving lessons, and I used to marvel at the pupils being so patient, because what the teacher was telling them was nothing. The teacher was nothing, just an automaton who was out there knocking a ball.

Well, what about when you teach?

I don’t tell them wrong. That’s all. I always demonstrate with my own racket because people see easier than hear. Now, average teachers who are no good, I don’t think they make an effort to explain properly, and of course rhythm is hard to explain. But most people who teach tennis don’t feel the way I do about rhythm. I think the only way you can teach tennis is slow motion to begin with, so the ball is hit smoothly, rhythmically, nothing jerky about it.

Where do you do most of your teaching?

Anywhere. Wherever I was, I used to teach. And in my garage. That’s right out here, and it’s my answer to teaching tennis. It’s right there. You hit against the wall. The best wall, I think, is wood, just ordinary wood. I got a man to come cover up the windows with plywood in the garage, and the bottom below the windows, I had him slope the boards a little out from the bottom—that’s a good idea, and it takes a little speed off. A lot of people don’t have the patience, but if more people used the bangboard, they would learn quicker. The garage, it’s to me the perfect way of teaching and learning.

Have you ever written a book about tennis?

Yes, I wrote a book, a little book, Better Tennis [1933]. I wrote it in longhand, mostly while I was waiting in the car to pick up my children from school. It was put out by Houghton Mifflin, and of course they wanted a fancy book, but I didn’t want a fancy book. When I looked at Billie Jean’s book a few years ago, the first one she wrote, I tried to read it, but it was so technical. It was so difficult. If I were fifteen or sixteen, trying to learn tennis, and tried to read her book, I would have thrown it out the window. My book was plain ordinary writing and plain ordinary language, and it wasn’t very pretty.

Was it useful to people?