June 27, 1960: The Day Wimbledon starlet Lottie Dod passed away
On this day in 1960, the youngest player to ever win a Grand Slam title passed away while listening to Wimbledon on the radio.
What happened exactly on that day?
On this day, June 27, 1960, Lottie Dod, the youngest-ever Wimbledon champion, died at the age of 88, while listening to the Wimbledon radio broadcast in bed. Nicknamed “the Little Wonder”, she won the Championships in 1887, at the age of 15 years and 9 months, before claiming four other titles at the All England Club. Lottie Dod retired from tennis aged only 21, and she later competed in other sports, such as hockey, golf and archery.
Lottie Dod was born in 1871, around the time tennis itself was invented. She began to play tennis at the age of 9, when tennis courts were built close to her family’s estate, with her brother and sister. She entered her first tournament in 1883, and soon, she was nicknamed the “Little Wonder”. Four years later, she was good enough to enter the draw of the fourth edition of the Ladies Championships, at Wimbledon.
In 1887, there were only five players competing in the women’s draw, and the tournament was played with the Challenge Round, which meant that the defending champion automatically qualified for the final. Women had to play in layered outfits and full-length dresses, an inconvenience that Lottie Dod avoided: as a 15-year-old, she was allowed to play in her school uniform, which allowed her to move more freely: black stockings and shoes, a white flannel cricket cap, and a calf-length dress. However, great movement was not her only asset: her forehand was really powerful for the time, and she was the first woman to come to the net, to volley and smash. Even her unusual underarm serve was a problem for her opponents.
According to The Sheffield Independent, Dod “simply ‘cantered’ through the two rounds in which she had to play”. In the final, she destroyed the defending champion, Blanche Bingley, 6-2, 6-0, after the second set lasted only 10 minutes. The new Wimbledon champion didn’t consider her triumph as an exceptional feat, though. “As a rule, ladies are too lazy at tennis,” she said. “They should learn to run and run their hardest, too, not merely stride. They would find, if they tried, that many a ball, seemingly out of reach, could be returned with ease.”
The following year, in 1888, Dod successfully defended her title, defeating the same Bingley in the final (6-3, 6-3). That year, she also played a forgotten version of the Battle of the Sexes, 85 years before Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. As she didn’t have worthy competitors in the women’s game, she challenged three of the best male players of her time, who accepted her challenge, spotting her two points each game. With these rules, Dod lost to the last Wimbledon champion, Ernest Renshaw, but she beat Harry Grove, from Scotland, and Ernest’s brother, William Renshaw, a six-time Wimbledon champion.
After she missed the two following editions of the Championships, she won three consecutive titles (1891-1893), each time against Blanche Bingley. Aged 21, Lottie Dod then retired from tennis, which allowed her rival to set a record for the most titles claimed at Wimbledon, with a total of six crowns. It was not until Suzanne Lenglen came along that a female player managed to win Wimbledon more than three times in a row.
Being the youngest Wimbledon champion was not enough for Lottie Dod. Once her tennis career was over, she took up other sports, such as hockey (playing for the England women’s national team) and archery (claiming a silver medal at the 1908 Olympic Games). Dod also played golf at a very good level, and she even won the 1904 British Ladies Amateur, which made her the first and only woman to win British tennis and golf championships.
After serving as a nurse during World War I, which earned her a Red Cross Medal, Lottie Dod lived a quiet life, attending Wimbledon every year until she was in her eighties. On June 27, 1960, she passed away in her bed, while listening to the Wimbledon radio broadcast.
What happened next
Lottie Dod’s record would remain unbeaten, at Wimbledon, as well as in any other Grand Slam tournament. The second youngest Grand Slam champion in tennis history would be Martina Hingis, who would win the 1997 Australian Open at the age of 16 years and three months, having a lot more fierce competitors to face on her way to the title.