The commercial aspects of the match were further accentuated when rumors began floating about that Suzanne's father, Papa Lenglen (who had taught her not only to play tennis but to know the value of a franc), had seen to it that his daughter would be cut in for $12,000 of the gate receipts, which ultimately totaled around $40,000. An Englishwoman, who also knew the value of a franc as well as a shilling, got her hands on a large block of 50-franc tickets, which she later peddled for 1,000 francs each.
The match was called for 11 o'clock in the morning. Years later Miss Wills was to recall that the night before, after a dinner of clear soup, filet mignon, green peas, boiled new potatoes, ice cream and cake, she went up to her room and, despite the repeated strains of the season's top hit,
, which floated up from the terrace below, slept soundly.
The Riviera produced its best weather for the match, and long before play started all the regular seats were taken and spectators were clinging to nearby trees, fences and rooftops, from which tiles had been removed in some cases. Hundreds more simply stood outside in the streets, hopeful of hearing the umpire's call of the score as the match progressed. No one ever did figure out how many people either saw the match or were in the vicinity.
The quality of the play never quite came up to expectations. The circus atmosphere, the long weeks of tension, the tendency of spectators, unschooled in the niceties of tennis etiquette, to cheer wildly, to the particular discomfiture of Suzanne, did little for the players' concentration. Early in the match crowds outside, seeking to batter their way to a view of the court, pushed forward so violently that they nearly toppled one of the backstops. Suzanne, a native of nearby Nice, apparently knew how to deal with people of her district. She walked to the end of the court and spoke sharply to the surging tennis fans. Even though they were separated from her by a wall of opaque canvas, they were thoroughly cowed and minded their manners.
Next, French gendarmes pursued some minor lawbreakers up and down the trunks and through the branches of a row of eucalyptus trees near the court. Miss Wills later recalled her amusement at this parody of the chase footage in a Keystone cops comedy. But she found little more to amuse her as the match unfolded.
Both she and Suzanne began by playing cautiously, and that style prevailed through most of the match. Although Suzanne was known for her daring, she was content to try to outsteady Helen, which she did. Helen made 26 errors to Suzanne's 14 in the first set. Each girl had only five placements and there were no service aces. Suzanne placed her shots with a precision that disconcerted Helen and kept the slower California girl from getting into position for her killing forehand, the shot she depended upon as a point winner.
Frequently Suzanne employed soft and sharply angled shots to force Helen to run diagonally toward the net and one sideline, thus causing her to leave vast areas of her court undefended. Suzanne won the first set 6-3, but stopped play several times to remonstrate with the noisy gallery, which was overwhelmingly for her. "After all," she said after the match, "tennis is not baseball or boxing."
In the second set Helen began anticipating some of Suzanne's cannily directed shots and ran to a 3-1 lead. Her strategy of seeking to exhaust her older opponent, who was something of a hypochondriac, appeared on the point of fruition. Suzanne, never one to conceal either her emotions or her real or imagined pains, began clutching dramatically at the region of her heart. When she found herself down 3-1, she strode to the sidelines and helped herself to a stiff shot of cognac. Stimulated, Suzanne evened the set at 3 all, but soon fell behind. Helen, ahead by one game, smashed a hard forehand down the line that the crowd, partisan though it was, thought to be good. But the linesman, Cyril Tolley, a noted British golfer, ruled the ball out. Suzanne rallied, and at 6-5 reached match point.
Then an incident occurred that some were inclined to compare with the false armistice of November 7, 1918. Helen hit a ball deep, and someone in the stands yelled "Out!" The players and the crowd assumed the call was official. Spectators swarmed over the court and photographers posed the two girls at the net. But the officials ruled that the ball had been good. Helen then won the game and the set stood at 6-6. Such an incident usually left the emotional Suzanne seething. A crisis of nerves appeared in prospect. But she seemed unperturbed and ran out the set 8-6, and with it the match.