September 7, 1953: The day “Little Mo” – Maureen Connolly – became the first woman to complete the “Grand Slam”
Every day Tennis Majors takes you back in time to celebrate a great moment in tennis history. Today, we go back to 1953 to witness how 18-year-old became the first woman to complete the calendar-year Grand Slam
What happened exactly on that day?
On this day, September 7, 1953, in New York, Maureen Connolly defeated Doris Hart 6-2, 6-4 for the third time that year in a major final, to win the US National Championships. Thanks to this win, she became the first woman in tennis history to complete the calendar-year Grand Slam, a feat that had been achieved only once before in men’s tennis, by Donald Budge in 1938.
The players: Maureen Connolly and Doris Hart
- Maureen Connolly: “Little Mo” who dominated women’s tennis
Maureen Connolly was born in 1934 in San Diego, California. Her first passion was horseback riding but as her family could not afford the lessons, she took up the game of tennis. Although she began by playing left-handed, she was coached to play with her right hand. This change did not prevent her from becoming a great player. Connolly hit powerful groundstrokes from the baseline with great accuracy, especially on her backhand side. At the age of 11, she was nicknamed “Little Mo” by a San Diego sportswriter, in comparison with the firepower of a US Navy ship, the USS Missouri, known as “Big Mo”.
Connolly participated in the US Championships (which would later become the US Open) for the first time in 1949 at the age of 14, losing in the second round. In 1950, she lost in the second round of the US Championships again – that would remain the last loss of her career in a Grand Slam tournament. From 1951, Little Mo dominated the game like no one before her. She won the next six Grand Slam tournaments that she entered after that: the US Nationals (1951, 1952), the Australian Open (1953), Roland-Garros (1953) and Wimbledon (1952, 1953). In 1953, having won the three first Grand Slams of the year, she had the opportunity to complete the first-ever calendar Grand Slam in women’s tennis.
- Doris Hart: the woman who won three Wimbledon titles on the same day
Born in 1925, Doris Hart began playing tennis at the age of 10, although, having suffered from osteomyelitis, she had a permanently impaired right leg. That did not prevent her from becoming one of the greatest players of her time. In her early years, she lost four singles Grand Slam finals, before she finally triumphed at the 1949 Australian Championships. This first major title was followed by three more: the French Championships (1950, 1952) and Wimbledon in 1951, That year, at the All England Club, Hart won the singles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles titles, playing the finals of all three events on the same day. She had accumulated a total of 12 Grand Slam titles in doubles, as well as 10 mixed doubles titles.
The place: West Side Tennis Club, Forest Hills, New York
The US National Championships was established in 1881, and, although it is the only Grand Slam to have been played every single year without an interruption since its inception, it moved locations several times throughout the 20th century. First held in August 1881 on grass courts at the Newport Casino, on Rhode Island, the tournament moved to New York in 1915, where it was held at the West Side Tennis Club, at Forest Hills (with the exception of years 1921-1923, when the event was held in Philadelphia).
The facts: Maureen Connolly wins the final in straight sets
In 1953, Maureen Connolly was completely dominating the women’s game. Having only lost two matches in the entire season, she had won the first three Grand Slam tournaments of the year, dropping only one set – in the French Open quarter-finals. She arrived at the US Open with the opportunity to become the first woman to achieve the calendar-year Grand Slam.
“Little Mo” made her way into the final without losing a single set, and on the last day, September 7, she faced her long-time rival Doris Hart, whom she had already defeated in the final at both Roland-Garros and Wimbledon that year. However, Hart was one of the two players who had managed to beat Connolly that year, at the Italian Open (4-6, 9-7, 6-3), and their showdown at the All England Club, which they both called “the best match of their life”, had been extremely close (8-6, 7-5). They were the first women to play each other in three major finals in one year.
This time, at Forest Hills, in front of 12,000 spectators, Connolly left no hope for her opponent, whom she steamrolled in only 43 minutes, 6-2, 6-4. Her only moment of doubt came at 4-2 in the second set, when, approaching victory, she let her opponent come back to 4-4. However, she quickly gathered herself together to seal the first calendar-year Grand Slam in women’s tennis history. In the 22 matches she played to achieve that feat, ‘Little Mo’ only lost one set, and lose an average of three games per match.
What next: A brilliant career and life come to a tragic end
In 1954, ‘Little Mo’ would continue dominating the women’s game, adding two Grand Slam titles to her list of achievements, at Roland-Garros and at Wimbledon. Unfortunately, on July 20, 1954, Connolly would seriously hurt her leg in an accident where she was hit by a truck, while she was horse-riding. This injury would put an end to her brilliant career, and later, Maureen Connolly, although she could not compete anymore, would still be able to play one-set exhibitions. She would become a radio and television commentator. In 1958, she would win a settlement against the truck company and she would be granted the largest ever personal injury award.
In 1966, Maureen Connolly would be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and would die at the age of 34 in 1969.
Doris Hart would go on to become the first woman to achieve a career Grand Slam Boxed Set (winning at least one title in singles, doubles and mixed doubles at each Grand Slam). She would retire in 1955, winning six major titles at singles, 14 in doubles and 15 in mixed doubles.
Connolly and Hart would remain the only women to have faced each other in three Grand Slam finals until 1984, when Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert achieved the same feat.
The Williams sisters were the third pair in tennis history to do the same in 2002. Interestingly, each time, the same player won the three finals (Connolly, Navratilova and Serena Williams).
Only two other female players would match Little Mo’s feat of achieving the calendar-year Grand Slam: Margaret Court in 1970, and Steffi Graf in 1988. Graf, on top of winning the four majors would even complete a Golden Grand Slam, adding an Olympic gold medal to her calendar Grand Slam. In men’s tennis, two more calendar Grand Slams would be achieved – in 1962 and 1969, both by the same man: Rod Laver.