Class of 1964
World No. 1 (1939)
Grand Slam Results
18-time major champion
Member of the U.S. Wightman Cup Team 1933, 1937-1939
Member of the winning team all four years
It wouldn’t be difficult to mistake Alice Marble for a Hollywood starlet. At first glance, you could mistake her for film actress Greta Garbo, her appearance was that striking.
On a tennis court, few struck the ball with such tenacity and aggressive style as the blonde and athletically fit Marble. While there were female contemporaries who dabbled in power tennis, most notably Helen Wills and Suzanne Lenglen, none had the aplomb to pull it off like Marble. She served and hit stinging volleys, powerful overheads, and used her speed to cover every inch of the court. Those who chronicled her career, one that led to 18 major championships – five in singles, six in women’s doubles, and seven in mixed doubles – said her game mirrored more Don Budge-Bill Tilden-Ellsworth Vines than it did the leading women’s players of the era, including Helen Jacobs, Sarah Palfrey, and Pauline Betz.
“Alice Marble was a picture of unrestrained athleticism,” Billie Jean King told the New York Times. “She is remembered as one of the greatest women to play the game because of her pioneering style in power tennis. I admired her tremendously because she always helped others.”
In her youth, Marble honed her game on the public courts at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, a fertile breeding ground for talented players, and a place that fellow Hall of Famer Margaret Osborne duPont also frequented as her training location. She enjoyed baseball, basketball, and boxing and didn’t gravitate toward tennis until she was 15-years-old. She made her mark as a champion of dozens of California junior tournaments, and became known as the “Queen of Swat.”
In her nine-year amateur career (1931-40), Marble never played in Australia, only once in France, and three times at Wimbledon. Marble made her first appearance at Forest Hills in 1931 and in 1933 had her first breakthrough, advancing to the quarterfinals, becoming the world’s No. 10 ranked player. Her career, extensively chronicled in her 1991 biography Courting Danger, took a dramatic twist in 1933. She had been playing both singles and doubles in a weekend qualifying tournament in East Hampton, New York. On a sweltering, 100-degree day, Marble played 108 games, was said to have lost 12 pounds while competing from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. She suffered heatstroke that afternoon, leaving her in shaky health, and ending the rest of her playing season. The next spring, while, competing in American-French team matches in Paris, Marble collapsed on court and was diagnosed with anemia and pleurisy.
It took two years for Marble to fully recover, and her comeback may be one of the greatest in sporting history. Under the tutelage of coach Eleanor “Teach” Tennant, Marble refined her game and won the first of her five major singles titles at the 1936 U.S. Nationals. There were whispers that Marble wasn’t ready to compete again, and her entrance into the event led to skepticism. She quieted the naysayers by defeating Jacobs in the final after dropping the first set, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. Was the championship a one-timer? Marble completely silenced the critics two years later when she won her second U.S. National Women’s Singles Championship by trouncing Nancye Wynne Bolton, 6-0, 6-3. It was the precursor to a run in the 1939 and 1940 seasons that made Marble invincible on court. Not only had she overcome serious health issues, but her tennis rose to remarkable heights.
In 1939, she blitzed Kay Stammers to win her first and only Wimbledon Ladies Singles Championship, 6-2, 6-0. Her stay in London was memorable, as Marble swept the singles, doubles (with Palfrey), and mixed doubles titles (with Bobby Riggs). That summer she copped her third U.S. Championship by defeating Jacobs again, 6-0, 8-10, 6-4. At the U.S. Championships in 1940, she won her third straight – and fourth overall – by trouncing Jacobs with relative ease, 6-2, 6-3. The sum of this two year spurt was astonishing. Marble didn’t lose a single match either year, concluding her amateur career by winning 18 tournaments, 111 matches, and posed a 45-0 winning streak. Records indicate that in the last three years of amateur career before turning professional, Marble won 120 of 124 matches. Buoyed by her singles success, Marble won the U.S. National Women’s Doubles Championship with partner Palfrey four straight years (1937-1940) and back-to-back Wimbledon Ladies Doubles titles with Palfrey again in 1938 and 1939. Seven mixed doubles titles were won, including three straight at Wimbledon with Budge (1937, 1938) and Riggs (1939). Marble added four mixed doubles titles at the U.S. Nationals with four different partners, Gene Mako in 1936, Budge in 1938, Harry Hopman in 1939, and Riggs in 1940.
Following the spectacular 1938 and 1939 seasons, Marble was named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year and appeared on the August 28, 1939 cover of Life Magazine. As a member of the U.S. Wightman Cup team (1933, 1937-1939), Marble led the Americans to four victories while compiling an 8-2 record, one loss each in singles and doubles.
In 1941, saying she had nothing left to prove on the amateur tour, Marble turned professional. She was ranked in the World Top 10 five times (1933-39), reaching No.1 in 1939. Marble, who was at the peak of her career when World War II broke out, lost a substantial chunk of her career. In her biography Courting Danger, Marble writes she was assigned as a government spy to gather information in Switzerland. In 1947 she published The Road to Wimbledon, an account of her triumphs at the All England Club.
Following tennis, Marble led a full and active life, designing sportswear, traveling, lecturing, and teaching tennis. For a brief time, she served on the Editorial Advisory Board of DC Comics, helping to create the "Wonder Women of History" feature for the comics, which told the stories of prominent women of history in comic form. As a tribute to her career, the Alice Marble Tennis Courts, located at the top of Russian Hill in San Francisco, are named in her honor.
Marble succumbed to the debilitating disease pernicious anemia and died in Palm Springs, California. The Palm Desert Resort Center Court was dedicated in her honor in 1987 and the ceremonies were attended by Althea Gibson.
Wimbledon: W 1939
U.S. Nationals: W 1936, 1938, 1939, 1940
Wimbledon: W 1938, 1939
U.S. Nationals: W 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940
Wimbledon: W 1937, 1938, 1939
U.S. Nationals: W 1936, 1938, 1939, 1940