SI Vault
William F. Talbert
June 11, 1956
Stars that are and stars-to-be confidently defend U.S. prospects of maintaining our ladies first
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
June 11, 1956

Ladies First

Stars that are and stars-to-be confidently defend U.S. prospects of maintaining our ladies first

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Uncle Sam may be worried about his tennis nephews, but he's losing no sleep over his nieces. At Wimbledon this month, the dominance of American women, which has lasted for 19 years, is unlikely to be broken.

If European tennis galleries are good judges, the most exciting U.S. prospect since the relentless little court killer, Maureen (Little Mo) Connolly, will be the tall (5 feet, 10� inches), 28-year-old Negro girl, Althea Gibson, who has just won her first major tournament by taking the French title in Paris. This was Althea's seventh tournament victory in succession, and her 13th since she began her world tour last winter at New Delhi, India.

Not that Miss Gibson (who was born in Silver, S.C., but whose home is in New York) is a newcomer to tennis fans in this country. She made her bow on American courts six years ago, to the accompaniment of a violent thunderstorm, the reverberations of which may yet shake tradition-steeped Wimbledon. That was on an August afternoon in 1950, at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills. Althea, an unknown quantity as a tennis player and the first woman of her race to compete in the national tournament, was meeting Louise Brough, the blond stylist from Beverly Hills, Calif., who was already a proven champion and is the present Wimbledon titleholder.

While black clouds gathered, Miss Gibson fought to the brink of an astounding upset. After dropping the first set 1-6, she won the second 6-3 and then marched to a 7-6 lead in the decisive third—one game from triumph. The Forest Hills crowd, first staggered and then delighted, was solidly for her.

Then the heavens opened, and the court was deluged. Lightning sheared one of the huge concrete eagles from the top of the stands and sent it crashing to the ground. The match had to be discontinued.

The next day, refreshed and poised, Louise ran out three straight games to pull out the match. Althea seemed stunned. She never quite recovered her full stature—until now. Her contemporaries said she had the shots but lacked the killing instinct.

This—the vital ability to put over a knockout blow which distinguishes champions from perennial also-rans—may have been Althea's great discovery during her recent international campaign. A similar experience transformed players like Ellsworth Vines, Don Budge and Tony Trabert.

Until Paris, Miss Gibson was still missing the opportunity of hitting a forcing shot and following it to the net, which would have won some of those tournaments more quickly. So it seems that self-confidence was still her big problem. And it is a problem lodged, not in doubts about her own brand of tennis, but in the peculiarly lonely fight up the ladder which has been hers.

After she won the Italian title this year, SI's Rome correspondent, Walter Guzzardi, talked to her and did not find her entirely relaxed after her Far Eastern swing which had taken her through New Delhi, Rangoon, Calcutta, Lahore and Bangkok.

"Traveling around like this isn't easy. I'll bet I've lost 20 pounds on this trip. I eat a lot [preference: omelets], but on the courts I work it off. But it's tiring. Sometimes I had to give away the cups I won because I didn't have room for them in my luggage."

Continue Story
1 2 3