Queen Mother Of Tennis

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There’s nothing amateur any more. Amateurs and professionals, you can’t keep them apart. Everything’s professional. A few years ago people voted on what they wanted, and the English were the first ones that wanted to have it professional, because their good players had all turned pro and they wanted to win.

I read somewhere that last year some of our top players, BiIKe Jean King and several others, didn’t want to compete for the Wightman Cup. Why was that?

There is no money in the Wightman Cup. There’s expense money, it doesn’t cost anything to play, but they don’t get prize money.

How did you actually select the Wightman Cup, the actual physical trophy?

Well, I went to a store in town, in Boston. It was Woods, N. G. Woods in those days, and I picked out the only cup they had that was feasible. It was a beautiful cup—it’s not big or that tall, but it’s kind of slender. It’s a very pretty cup, very feminine.

There was a celebration for the fiftieth anniversary of the Wightman Cup last year, wasn’t there? Was that fun?

When I heard that Longwood had decided to give a celebration for the fiftieth year of the Wightman Cup and that they wanted it to be special to honor me, I said, “That’s ridiculous.” I said, “I will not come. I don’t feel like things like that any more.”

Did you go?

I was there every day. I didn’t miss one thing. I even went to dinner at a backyard supper party. Oh, it couldn’t have been a better thing. And they made up this beautiful program. This is a picture of me on the front, and pictures of teams, teams, teams, and very few beer ads, and very few whiskey ads. They got pictures from Wimbledon in England that couldn’t have been gotten anywhere else. I think it is the most remarkable program ever printed. One little girl’s mother wrote me—she had stayed here at my house when she was fourteen—the mother wrote to me this last summer, and she just had to have me autograph a picture. I didn’t have any picture to autograph, so I got the girl one of these programs, and I autographed every picture of me in it. And she was tickled to death. Of course, she’s a grown woman now, and she’s married and has four children. Her husband’s in the Bahamas. I think he’s the governor of some island.

Mrs. Wightman, over all the years you’ve been playing, which woman player have you admired the most?

Oh, that’s a difficult question to answer. I would say that up through the first era, the era I knew best, it was Suzanne Lenglen. She was so homely—you can’t imagine a homelier face—but she graceful, a wonderful player. And Helen Wills, of course. It is very difficult to pick out the great players, but I’m satisfied to keep those two on my list. And Alice Marble. Alice was the first girl who became sensational. Nowadays each girl is sensational, I think.

What do you mean by sensational?

A little bit on the publicity side. Wanting to do something a little spectacular. Helen Jacobs was a great player too. She was the most responsive pupil I ever taught. I just hate to put any of them down. The finest of the younger ones was little Maureen Connolly. Maureen Connolly was the type that I could sit back and say, well, there is perfection. She was such a wonderful player, used her head. She was nipped in the bud, got her leg injured when she was riding horseback. She was not able to play well again, and then she died young. What a shame! She was on the brink of greatness.

 

Who do you think are the best among the current crop of players?

It’s hard to say … I certainly think Mrs. [Margaret] Court. And have you seen Evonne [Goolagong] play? She’s a charming girl. And Billie Jean. Chris Evert, she’s a lovely little girl. I love her femininity. There is something about her. Oh, I’m very much pleased with her.

Do you think you could have beaten today’s players when you were playing at the top of your form?

Oh, I don’t think so. I wouldn’t think so—I should say that I could run them, but I couldn’t beat those girls. They are too fast, they are too agile In a doubles game I would hold my own. My problem would be the distance. You see, I am too short to be able to cover the ground that these girls can who are eight inches taller than I am. They would be a whole stride ahead of me all the time.

I understand that a lot of the players who have stayed here and a lot of your pupils call you Mrs. Wightie. Who started that?

I think it was Mrs. Du Pont. She was one of our best tennis players. She was Margaret Osborne before she married Will Du Pont. She was a particularly fine doubles player, could win mixed doubles off most anybody. And do you know? She’s named a horse after me, one of her yearlings. It’s in its third year now and just beginning to pace out a little bit. When she decided to call the horse Mrs. Wightie, she went through all the rigmarole you have to go through if you want to name a horse after somebody. She sent me a picture of the horse.