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Queen Mother Of Tennis
August 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 5
Oh, everybody liked it. In fact, I played mixed doubles with a gentleman I didn’t know over at Harvard one day, and I said to him, “It’s fun to play with you. You know so much about doubles,” and he said, “I should; I read your book.” I nearly dropped dead. Last thing in the world I expected. Have you seen my tennis alphabet? It’s in the book.
No, but I’ve seen it quoted. My favorite was your advice for the letter Q—“Quash Qualms.”
Well, it was enough of a little thing that it made its mark.
You’ve been running tennis tournaments here at Longwood for many years, haven’t you?
Oh, yes, children’s tournaments, adult tournaments, I’ve been running tournaments here since 1923. I know practically everybody who hits a tennis ball in Massachusetts. And then the National Championships were played here in Boston—which is why I got so many titles; the only tournaments I played in [after coming to live in the East] were the Nationals, so if I happened to win them, I got the title—so I got the idea of putting up tennis players who travelled. I could remember that when I was young and travelling, I had to have some friend’s house to stay in.
You mean in the early days the tournament committees didn’t necessarily find housing for the players?
Oh, they had never heard of it. Well, I was using my house for players, and there were getting to be more players, so I happened to find this house. It’s bigger, and it’s just four minutes’ walk from Longwood, and that gave me the idea.
What’s the greatest number of players you’ve ever had staying here?
Fourteen; fourteen extra girls. I didn’t often have men, because at that time my husband and I were not living together, and I didn’t want to worry about extra men in the house. They cramped my style. [The Wightmans were divorced in 1940.] And when the pros got into it, I said I wouldn’t take any pros into my house during the tournaments. For instance, I told Maureen Connolly’s pro, I remember saying to her, “I’ve asked Maureen and her chaperon to stay at my house, but I can’t ask you because I don’t have any pros staying here.” I wasn’t going to have her do something I didn’t like. I said, “You can come for lunch, you can come for dinner any day, but you’re not spending the night.” That’s just me.
When the players come to Longwood now, do you still have girls here?
Well, I’ve only given it up since I haven’t been feeling too well, just the last year or two.
We’ve been talking all this time, and I haven’t asked you about the Wightman Cup.
It doesn’t say Wightman Cup on it, you know. It says International Trophy, but nobody knows that. The reporters wouldn’t ever call it anything but the Wightman Cup. They say that gives it prestige.
Why, if you originally intended it as an international trophy, do only the English and the Americans compete for it?
Well, when I gave the cup, fifty years ago, I thought it would be nice to see that French girl, Suzanne Lenglen, come over here. She won Wimbledon in 1919, and I won the National here in 1919. Everybody thought it was quite something to win the Nationals in 1909 and ten years later to win it again. But I never thought of any such thing. I just thought wouldn’t it be fun to have Suzanne Lenglen and other foreigners come here to play.
But the French women never have played for the cup, have they?
No, the English women had no desire to compete in anything with the French at the time. The way it happened, the English team had arrived in New York [in 1923, the first time the Wightman Cup was actually awarded], and that new stadium at Forest Hills was just getting finished, and the important thing was to have something special—an event—to open it with. We won all the matches that year. And the next year we played in England, and we lost all the matches but one. I won the only one that we won—the doubles. Then after we’d been in competition for a while, other people wanted to get in, and that’s when the English stepped down and said, we don’t want any competition with the French. It’s interesting. Small. But there was nothing you could do about it. I didn’t worry about it. The interesting thing is that the English have only won the Wightman Cup six times. Isn’t that something?
Why have they won it so seldom, do you think?
Well, they don’t have the setup we do. America has a terrific setup—lots of places to play and lots of people interested in playing. They don’t have as much time out in the open as we do.
The Wightman Cup used to be completely for amateurs, didn’t it? Do both amateurs and professionals play now?