If Suzanne Lenglen, a French tennis player who remains an icon in the sport, were alive today she would have marked her 117th birthday.
Lenglen, who passed away at the age of 39 on 4 July 1938, was born on 24 May 1899 in Paris, France.
Despite suffering from an illness as a child, Lenglen began her tennis career in 1910. In less than five years, she became the youngest champion in the sport.
Nicknamed by the French press as “La Divine” (“The Divine”), Lenglen is not only considered the first female tennis star, she is also one of the first female sports figures to have gained international fame.
In the Roland Garros women singles’ competitions, she won in 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925, and 1926, and also won in the tournament’s women doubles’ competitions in 1914, 1921, 1922, 1925, and 1926. She also won in the tournament’s mixed doubles’ competitions in 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925, and 1926.
As for Wimbledon, she won the women singles’ competitions in 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, and 1925, and also won in the women doubles’ competitions in 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, and 1925. In the mixed doubles’ competitions, Lenglen won in 1920, 1922, and 1925.
In the World Hard Court Championships, Lenglen won on four occasions in 1914, 1921, 1922, and 1923, defeating France’s Germaine Golding (6-3, 6-2), US’ Molla Bjurstedt Mallory (6-2, 6-3), US’ Elizabeth Ryan (6-3, 6-2), and the UK’s Kitty McKane Godfree (6-2, 6-3), respectively.
Lenglen also soared to victory in the Olympics, which assisted in gaining her international recognition for her talent. In the 1920 Summer Olympics, held in the Belgium city of Antwerp, she won the women singles’ gold medal. The silver and bronze medals went to the UK’s Dorothy Holman and Kitty McKane Godfree, respectively.
Her victories at the 1920 Olympics included winning the mixed doubles’ gold medal, along with France’s Max Decugis. The silver medal went to the UK duo of McKane and Max Woosnam, while the bronze went for the Czechoslovakia duo of Milada Skrbková and Ladislav Žemla.
Also at the 1920 Summer Olympics, Lenglen and her compatriot Élisabeth d’Ayen won the women doubles’ bronze medal. The silver medal went to the UK duo of Winifred Beamish and Holman, while the champion duo that won the gold medal was the UK duo of McKane and Winifred McNair.