Class of 2013
World No. 1 (1936)
Grand Slam Results
4-time major champion, 5-time finalist
In her book Gallery of Champions, the legendary Helen Hull Jacobs ranked Hilde Krahwinkel as the third best player she ever faced, right behind only Helen Wills and Suzanne Lenglen. In Jacobs’s esteemed opinion, the German superstar was better than a fair crop of fellow Hall of Famers, including Alice Marble and Molla Mallory. Jacobs dedicated an entire 14-page chapter to Krahwinkel, one of the excerpts reading, “Height and limb were two of her greatest assets. Where the average woman player covered the baseline in five strides, Hilde covered it in three. To lob against her required a shot of sufficient height and depth to evade the reach of the average man; and to pass her along the sidelines meant eluding a racquet that appeared to extend across the alley.”
Krahwinkel is one of only four women to capture the French Championships three consecutive years (1935-1937), joining Wills (1928–1930), Monica Seles (1990–1992), and Justine Henin (2005–2007), but her game didn’t always impress even the most casual observers. Upon watching her play in 1938, Allison Danzig wrote, “She is one of the best yet most hopeless looking tennis players I have ever seen. Her game is awkward in the extreme, limited to cramped unorthodox ground strokes without volley or smash to aid her, yet she has been the most consistent winner in women’s tennis each year since 1934. She is another proof of that great tennis truth that it is where and when you hit a tennis ball, not how, that wins matches.”
Krahwinkel was regarded as an attacking counter-puncher who spent ten years ranked in the world’s Top 10 and rose to No. 1 worldwide in 1936. She got her indoctrination in how to play under pressure, falling in the 1931 Wimbledon Ladies final to fellow German Cilly Aussem, 6-2, 7-5. It spawned three consecutive French National Championships over homegrown favorite Simonne Mathieu in 1935, 1936, and 1937, all coming in straight sets. Krahwinkel’s specialty was clay, and her only loss on the soft surface from 1935 through 1939 interestingly came against Mathieu at a 1937 tournament in Beaulieu, France. It was Mathieu's only victory against Krahwinkel in 20 career matches.
Krahwinkel advanced to the Wimbledon final once more in 1936, downed by Jacobs who needed three sets in registering a 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 victory. Krahwinkel didn’t leave London empty-handed, however. She teamed with compatriot Gottfried von Cramm to win the 1933 mixed doubles competition, a 7-5, 8-6 nail biter against the team of Mary Heeley from the United Kingdom and South African Norman Farquharson.
Krahwinkel is widely recognized as the second best German female player in history – and the best until Steffi Graf burst onto the scene. She won six consecutive singles titles at the German Championships (1933-39), a record for victories that held firm for 50 years until Graf won nine times from 1986-96.
In 1933 she married Dane Svend Sperling and held dual citizenship in Germany and Denmark. Her last international singles title came at the 1950 Scandinavian Covered Courts Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark when she was 41 years old.
Krahwinkel never played in the Australian or U.S. Championship events, providing speculation on how many more titles she could have won had she played a full major championship schedule in her decade-long career.
“Hilde’s strokes were made in the same manner that the direction of the ball was concealed until it left her racquet,” said Helen Hull Jacobs. “Neither by footwork, body-position nor the position of the racquet was it possible to tell whether the shot would be crosscourt or down the line. I think that was one of the most disconcerting features about her game.”
French Championships: W 1935, 1936, 1937
Wimbledon: F 1931, 1936
French Championships: F 1935
Wimbledon: F 1935
French Championships: QF 1933, 1935, 1936
Wimbledon: W 1933