Class of 1977
While Time Magazine had a history of featuring tennis players on its covers as the game transformed itself into one of the world’s most popular sports, it didn’t mean the editors weren’t prudent in their selections. Worldwide exposure came commensurate with achievement and notoriety, which meant Betty Nuthall was a deserving candidate to have her story told.
Nuthall was featured on the July 6, 1931 Time Magazine cover, a black and white head shot that appeared to be produced in a pencil-sketch format. Her face was mixed with a serious expression and a sly smile. Nuthall’s forehead was covered with her traditional thick white headband – there is nary a photo of her not wearing the accessory – and the caption read, “The smile is her mother’s idea.”
Nuthall’s primary claim to fame and immortality came a year before Time went to press. On August 23, 1930, Nuthall defeated American Anna McCune Harper in a mere 36 minutes, 6-1, 6-4, to become the first non-American to win the U.S. Nationals. The 19-year-old Brit focused her game on a strong forehand, accurate ball placement, and speed. Nuthall, who had learned tennis from her tournament-playing father Stuart, had long preferred to serve underhand, but when she won the U.S. Championships she had adopted the traditional overhand style. Describing her play in 1930, Allison Danzig wrote in The New York Times: ''Resourceful and enterprising in the range of her strokes, strong in endurance and agile in her movement.”
It took 38 years for another British woman to win the U.S. Championship. In 1968 Virginia Wade defeated Billie Jean King, 6-4, 6-2, to win the first US Open. Nuthall didn’t depart New York with just one trophy; she won the first of three women’s doubles titles, partnering with Sarah Palfrey to defeat Edith Cross and Harper, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. Nuthall and Eileen Bennett Whitingstall won the 1931 title with a nifty 6-2, 6-4 victory over Helen Jacobs and Dorothy Round. She added a U.S. National Mixed Doubles Championship alongside George Hart, ousting a terrific duo in Harper and Wilmer Allison, 6-3, 6-3. In 1933, Nuthall and Freda James earned a default championship over Helen Wills Moody and Elizabeth Ryan.
Nuthall was introduced to tennis in suburban London. She won the Wimbledon Junior Championships in 1924, 1925, and 1926, and at age 15 played in the 1926 Wimbledon Ladies Singles Championship. She advanced to the second round before losing to Phoebe Holcroft Watson, 6-3, 6-0. She won the British Hardcourt Championships in 1927. Still two months away from turning 17, Nuthall advanced to the 1927 U.S. National Women’s Singles Championship, falling to the prolific Wills, 6-1, 6-4, who was in the midst of winning six championships in seven years.
Travel being a dicey, expensive, and lengthy proposition, Nuthall never played at the Australian Championships and only made five excursions to the French, advancing to the 1931 final where she lost to German Cilly Aussem, 8-6, 6-1. Paris wasn’t a total bust, however, as Nuthall captured the 1931 women’s doubles title with Whittingstall over Aussem and Ryan, 9-7, 6-2 and back-to-back mixed doubles championships in 1931 (with South African Patrick Spence) and 1932 (with fellow Brit Fred Perry). She enjoyed a nice two-year run in mixed doubles playing alongside George Lott at the U.S. Nationals, as the duo won titles in 1929 and 1931. Nuthall was ranked in the World Top Ten five times between 1927 and 1933. She played Wightman Cup for eight years between 1927 and 1939, winning the 1928 championship over the United States, 4-3.