Class of 2004
World No. 6 (1946)
Grand Slam Results
1-time major winner, 7-time finalist
Member of the Champion United States Wightman Cup Team 1937-1939
On the surface, it was an unlikely pairing. John McEnroe, the brash boy of tennis, presenting the Grand Dame of the sport, Dorothy “Dodo” Bundy Cheney, into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2004. But in reality, it made perfect sense. The two shared a bond of extreme competitiveness and success, and McEnroe had long championed her induction.
In an interview with journalist Bud Collins, Cheney sounded a lot like McEnroe. “At first I just loved to play,” Cheney explained in a 2004 Los Angeles Times article. “But the more I played, the more I loved to win.”
She won a lot – nearly three times as many championships as her closest rival and enough to make her the winningest male or female player in tennis history. At age 95, Cheney was still playing and competing and in May 2012 won her 394th gold ball, the accolade awarded by the USTA to winners of its national events. Her last victory came in the 90-and-over doubles event at the National Senior Women’s Hardcourt Championship.
Given her tennis genes, Cheney was destined for greatness. Raised in Santa Monica, California, her Hall of Famer mother, May Sutton Bundy, was the first American player, male or female, to win a singles title at Wimbledon in 1905, and repeated again in 1907. Her father Tom was a U.S. National Doubles Champion playing alongside Maurice McLoughlin in 1912, 1913, and 1914. Cheney won her first tournament at age 9 and her first adult tournament at 11. Sometimes lost is the hundreds of singles, doubles, and mixed doubles championships she won on every surface and in every age category from 35 to 90. In 1938 she became the first American woman to capture the Australian National Championship, defeating Aussie Dorothy Stevenson, 6-2, 6-3.
Cheney earned her nickname “Dodo” because her younger brother couldn’t pronounce “Dorothy.” She had an engaging, effusive personality, always bubbly and smiling, but had fierce determination on the court. Her game drove opponents mad, and they hardly ever left the court feeling the same as Cheney. The 5-foot-3 redhead didn’t have to power the ball to win matches; she had solid and reliable strokes that helped her advance to six major singles semifinals (French 1946, Wimbledon 1946, U.S. Nationals 1937, 1938, 1943, 1944). As she continued playing tennis as a USTA senior player, her game remained coy and cunning as ever. What made Cheney so good? She was athletic and quick; a stickler for running down every ball and her assortment of crafty drop shots, dinks, slices, cut shots, lobs, and unbreakable spirit led her to victory time and time again.
Cheney had a homemade style of tennis clothes, not one manufactured by a major tennis apparel company. On court she wore pearl necklaces and charm bracelets, lace blouses, pleated skirts, and bonnets that she made herself. “The girls today don’t look like girls when they’re on the court,” Cheney told the Washington Post in 1982. “For me, there’s never too much perfume or lace.”
Cheney ranked among the Top 10 U.S. female players from 1936 to 1946, reaching No. 6 in the world in 1946. She was a finalist in three major doubles events (1938 Australian, 1940 and 1941 U.S. Nationals) and four times a finalist in mixed doubles (1946 French and Wimbledon, 1940 and 1944 U.S. Nationals). Her tennis career catapulted to massive success, however, after she turned 55 year old. “I played Dodo in the Santa Monica Open when I was 10,” Hall of Famer Tracy Austin tweeted upon hearing of Cheney’s death. “Wow, that means she was 57 at the time. Now I understand why my dad was kinda rooting for Dodo.” Cheney competed in two or three groups at the same time, and racked up hundreds of tournament victories over the next 40 years, none perhaps more meaningful to Cheney than when she and daughter Christie Putnam won the national mother-daughter doubles championship in 1976. In 1981 alone, Cheney won 13 national championships.
“Dodo Cheney was one of the most prolific champions in the history of tennis and the personification of tennis truly being a lifetime sport,” then-USTA Chairman Dave Haggerty said in a statement following her death. “She played competitively into her 90s, and her remarkable grace, singular class and competitive spirit made her one of our sport’s greatest ambassadors.”
Cheney, a tennis player at Rollins College, class of 1945, was inducted into her alma mater’s College Sports Hall of Fame in 1983 and the ITA Women’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame in 1988. She won the USTA’s Sarah Palfrey Danzig Award in 1988. Sports Illustrated featured her in the August 9, 1982 magazine.
After her induction ceremony ended, the 87-year-old Cheney and McEnroe hit balls on the Center Court at the Newport Casino.
“I never practiced or trained,” Cheney said. “I just had a darn good time.”
Australian Championships: W 1938
French Championships: SF 1946
Wimbledon: SF 1946
U.S. Nationals: SF 1937, 1938, 1943, 1944
Australian Championships: F 1938
Wimbledon: SF 1946
U.S. Nationals: F 1940, 1941
Australian Championships: QF 1938
French Championships: F 1946
Wimbledon: F 1946
U.S. Nationals: F 1940, 1944