Class of 1978
World No. 2 (1923)
Grand Slam Results
7-time major champion, 10-time finalist
Gold Medal in Women’s Doubles at the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games (w/Winifred McNair)
Silver Medal in Mixed Doubles at the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games (w/Maxwell Woosnam)
Bronze medal in Women’s Singles at the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games
Silver Medal in Women’s Doubles at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games (with Phyllis Covell)
Bronze medal in Women’s Singles at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games
Member of Great Britain's Wightman Cup team 1923-1927
Member of the winning Wightman Cup team 1924, 1925
When Helen Wills Moody strolled onto the lush Centre Court grass at Wimbledon, she hardly ever walked away empty handed. In fact, Moody won eight Ladies Singles championships and wasn’t inclined to relinquish the dish. London’s own Kathleen (Kitty) McKane (Godfree) had other notions in the 1924 final against a player of immense worldwide stature. In fact, Moody was already planning her victory pose, up a set and leading 4-1 and 40-15 in the second set, when McKane was infused with the guts and fortitude to wage one of the biggest comebacks the All England Club has ever witnessed. She roared back with impassioned tenacity to not only stave off game point, but also win five straight games to even the match. In the third set, it was a battle royal of unyielding wills, but McKane had that extra je ne sais quoi to win 6-4 to snare the first of two Wimbledon singles titles.
Godfree, a talented and versatile athlete who excelled at lacrosse, skating, and badminton – she won the All England Badminton title four times – was one of the first female players to rush the net and employ volleying to end points quickly and win matches fastidiously. In 1923, she advanced to the Wimbledon singles final against another legend of enormous status, Suzanne Lenglen, who sent her back home with a 6-2, 6-2 drubbing. But McKane’s terrific hand-eye coordination from mastering other ball-and-racquet sports, was a skill that others of her generation lacked and it led her to another Wimbledon singles title in 1926 and an additional five major titles in doubles and mixed doubles.
In order to add major trophies to her mantle, Godfree had to dispatch either Lenglen or Moody at some juncture, not an enviable predicament. She faced Lenglen in the French National Championship in 1925 and the Frenchwomen held the upper hand again, winning 6-1, 6-2. At that summer’s U.S. National Women’s Singles Championship, Moody prevailed in three sets, 3-6, 6-0, 6-2. By advancing to the finals of the French and U.S. Championships in 1925, McKane became the first to reach three major finals in a career. She never played the Australian Championships.
Back on home soil with the 1926 Wimbledon singles title at stake, Godfree had to dig herself out from another deep hole, trailing Spain’s Lil de Alvarez 3-1 and game point in the third set to come back again, prevailing 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. When Godfree finally bid Wimbledon a fond adieu, her record was 38-11 in singles, 33-12 in doubles and 40-12 in mixed doubles.
When Olympic competition beckoned, Godfree represented Britain in true championship style; winning three medals at the 1920 Games played at Antwerp, Belgium –gold in doubles, silver in mixed doubles, and bronze in singles. At the 1924 Games in Paris, she won silver in doubles and bronze in singles; ending her Olympic career with five medals, currently tied for the most medals in tennis-event history.
In her biography (Kitty Godfree: Lady of a Golden Age by Geoffrey Green), Dan Maskell, a BBC commentator from 1951 to 1991 who watched McKane play in the 1920s, wrote the introduction: “Her victories sowed the seeds of (other British) Wimbledon wins. I feel she showed Britain the way in the world of tennis.”
In 1926, she married Leslie Godfree, the captain of England’s Wightman Cup team. She won a Wimbledon Mixed Doubles title defeating her future husband in 1924, and paired with him to win the championship in 1926, the only married couple to claim the title. The two were runners-up in 1927.
Godfree won two major doubles titles, both at the U.S. National Championships. The first came in 1923 with fellow Brit Phyllis Howkins Covell over Americans Hazel Hotchkiss and Eleanor Goss, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1. The last came in an All-Brit final in 1927 alongside Ermynturde Harvey over Betty Nuthall and Joan Fry, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4. In 1922 she played with her sister Margaret in the Wimbledon final, but were solidly defeated by Lenglen and American Elizabeth Ryan, 6-0, 6-4. Until the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, won the women’s doubles title in 2000, the McKane sisters were the only siblings to appear in a women’s doubles final at Wimbledon. Godfree also played for doubles titles at Wimbledon in 1924 and 1926 and at the French Nationals in 1925 and 1926.
Another mixed doubles title was won at the U.S. National Championships in 1925 with John Hawkes. In her three mixed doubles wins, McKane only lost one set (1924), the other titles were rapid-fire, straight set wins.
Godfree was part of the inaugural British Wightman Cup team that faced the United States in 1923 and she played until 1927. In 1924, she defeated her nemesis Moody, 6-2, 6-2 and the Brits won convincingly, 6-1. She was ranked in the world Top 10 from 1925-1927, reaching No. 2 in 1926.
In 2006, she was commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque at her former London Home at York Avenue in East Sheen, where she lived with Leslie for 56 years.
French Championships: F 1925
Wimbledon: W 1924, 1926
U.S. Nationals: F 1925
French Championships: F 1925, 1926
Wimbledon: F 1922, 1924, 1926
U.S. Nationals: W 1923, 1927
French Championships: SF 1926
Wimbledon: W 1924, 1926
U.S. Nationals: W 1925