Born: March 11, 1923
in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Died: February 3, 2014
Off the court, Louise Brough was calm and soft spoken and understated. But the second she stepped foot on a tennis court, the winner of 35 major titles – 29 earned in doubles competition – had the demeanor of a General heading into battle. “I had to attack,” Brough often said. “I didn’t feel very comfortable on defense.”
That attitude led Brough to earn the fifth most major championships in history, just behind the game’s demigods Margaret Court (62), Martina Navratilova (59), Billie Jean King and Serena Williams (39), and longtime doubles partner Margaret Osborne duPont (37). She is also tied with rival Doris Hart (35). Brough had magnificent talents on the court, earning a well-deserved reputation as having one of the best volleys in tennis history. As a premier serve-and-volley player, her twist serve that was loaded with a heavy dose of topspin, was a huge weapon that she disguised capably. “She got enormously high bounce on her serve,” longtime opponent Alice Marble once wrote. “Women are notoriously feeble in their effort to return it, especially on the backhand.” Her hard-charging game was perfectly suited for fast grass courts; she won 30 of her 35 majors on the surface, 17 of those coming at the U.S. National Championships.
Her doubles partnership with duPont places her in rarified air as dominant major champions and record holders. With Osborne securing the deuce side, the 5-foot-7 Brough was free to freelance from the ad side, and the duo amassed 20 major titles (12 U.S., five Wimbledon, three French), tied for first all-time with Navratilova and Pam Shriver.
Brough and duPont won 12 U.S. National Women’s Doubles Championships (1942-50, 1955, 1956-57), three times the amount of second place teams Navratilova-Shiver, Hart and Shirley Fry, and Sarah Palfrey and Marble, all of whom have four each; they won nine in a row (1942-50), which is the longest streak in any major event. Between 1946 and 1955, Brough appeared in 21 of 30 Wimbledon singles, doubles and mixed doubles finals, winning all three at the 1950 championships and a tidy 13 for her career.
Born in Oklahoma City, the Brough (pronounced “bruff”) family moved to Beverly Hills, California when she was 4-years-old. Like many of her fellow Hall of Famers who made California home, Brough learned to play on the public courts at Roxbury Park and became a winning junior, capturing U.S. 18-and-under titles in 1940 and 1941.
One year after those junior victories, Brough made a dramatic and profound debut at the U.S. Nationals, reaching the singles final and winning both the doubles and mixed doubles titles. She lost to Pauline Betz in a tight three-set match, 6-4, 1-6, 4-6 in the singles final, but regrouped with duPont to defeat Betz and Hart in doubles (2-6, 7-5, 6-0) and joined forces with Ted Schroeder to win the mixed doubles competition over Pat Canning Todd and Argentina’s Aleja Russell, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. Those victories fueled the explosion of 33 more major championships over the next 15 years.
Playing in Australia was not the norm for most Americans during this tennis era, and Brough made the excursion only once in 1950. She left Melbourne with both a singles and doubles championship and a semifinal appearance in mixed doubles. She upended Hart in a major singles final for a second time, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, and in doubles play she and Hart paired to defeat Nancye Wynne Bolton and Thelma Coyne Long, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, the only time Brough won a major without duPont in tow. She attended the French Nationals slightly more frequently, winning doubles titles with duPont in 1946-47 and 1949. Her attacking style was not well suited for the slow clay at Roland Garros, yet Brough did advance to the 1946, 1947 and 1950 semifinals.
Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals were Brough’s personal haven, the courts were she felt most comfortable and the championship victories flowed. She won four of her six major singles titles at the All England Club. In total, she reached 14 major singles championship matches, a finalist at five U.S. Nationals and three Wimbledons. Brough won Wimbledon singles titles over Hart in 1948 (6-3, 8-6), duPont in 1949 (10-8, 1-6, 10-8) and again in 1950 (6-1, 3-6, 6-1) and versus American Beverly Baker in 1955 (7-5, 8-6).
Brough made her last U.S. Championships singles appearance in 1957, losing in straight sets to Althea Gibson, 6-3, 6-2, a player whom she had vigorously supported to earn entrance into the event seven years earlier. The two first played in the second round in 1950, when the match was delayed by a lightning thunderstorm and resumed the following day. Brough won the match, 6-1, 3-6, 9-7, rallying from a 6-7 third set deficit. Gibson later said that she had “lost all sting” following the delay and “Louise beat me.”
In their 12 victories together at Forest Hills, Brough and duPont lost only five sets, and the 1947 championship against Canning Todd and Hart was a nail-biter and was won, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5.
Brough was major mixed doubles finalist 11 times, capturing eight titles with four different partners. In addition to her U.S. Championship victory with Schroeder in 1942, Brough won Wimbledon and the U.S. Championship with Tom Brown in 1946 and 1948; Wimbledon twice (1947, 1948) and the U.S. once with Aussie John Bromwich (1947); and the U.S. and Wimbledon with Eric Sturgess in 1949 and 1950. Most impressively, between 1948 and 1950, Brough won the Wimbledon singles and doubles competition three years in a row, and captured two mixed doubles events. Had she and Bromwich not fallen in the 1949 final to Sturgess and Sheila Summers, 9-7, 9-11, 7-5, Brough would have had won all three events in three consecutive years.
Brough was ranked in the world Top 10 from 1946 to 1957. In total, she spent 16 years ranked among the USLTA (later the USTA) top 10 female players, the third best streak in history behind Chris Evert (19) and King (18). Her acumen playing on the Wightman Cup team led to 11 championships, a 12-0 record in singles and a 10-0 mark in doubles.
Brough retired from competition after marrying dentist Dr. Alan Clapp, but continued to play in various 40-and-over tournaments.
“She had the most generous spirit and was the sweetest and most gracious individual I have ever met,” Gladys Heldman, founder and publisher of World Tennis Magazine told USTA Southern California. “She was very modest and never talked about her tennis. I once had her on the magazine cover with the Duke of Edinburgh. She has been everywhere, met everyone and has been nice to them all.”