Maureen Connolly

Maureen Connolly

Class of 1968

Recent Player

Career Achievements

Top Ranking     
World No. 1 (1952)

Grand Slam Results
12-time major champion, 6-time finalist

Citizenship: USA Born: September 17, 1934 in San Diego, California Died: June 21, 1969 Played: Right-handed

Tennis has had its share of teenage prodigies. Tracy Austin won the US Open in 1979 when she was 16 years old. As an unseeded 17-year-old, Boris Becker won the 1985 Gentlemen Singles championship at Wimbledon. Jennifer Capriati and Martina Hingis were teenage stars when they won Olympic Gold and the Australian Open respectively.

As lofty as those achievements were for the aforementioned Hall of Famers, nothing from a youthful brigade of tennis stars compares to what Maureen Connolly accomplished as a precocious 18-year-old in 1953: She became the first woman in history to win a calendar year Grand Slam. Only two other female players can boast the same – Margaret Court in 1970 and Steffi Graf in 1988.

It took 15 years after Don Budge earned his Grand Slam in 1938 for tennis to see another player win all majors in the same year. After winning the Grand Slam, Connolly was dubbed “Little Mo,” referring to the firepower of “Big Mo,” the USS Missouri.

Connolly had a magnificent career, winning 12 major titles in singles (9), doubles (2) and mixed doubles (1).  Her career lasted a scant four years (1951-54), ending in heartbreaking fashion a year after winning the Grand Slam. A car struck her while she was riding her horse known as Colonel Merryboy, severely crushing her right leg. Even without a prognosis from a doctor, which would later diagnose Connolly with a broken leg and crushed muscles and tendons, her intuition kicked in. “I knew immediately I’d never play again.” 

In 1969, at age 34, Connolly died from cancer, an illness she was diagnosed with three years prior. Her far-too-short life coupled with her far-too-short tennis career led many tennis historians to posture that had fate dealt Connolly a different hand, she’d likely be considered the best female player in history.

Connolly was a 5-foot-4 hard-swinging baseliner from San Diego, California. At age 10 she was groomed and coached by the legendary Eleanor Tennant – who turned Alice Marble into a multiple major champion – and four years later had become a national outdoor junior champion. Connolly struck the ball cleanly and forcefully, powering past her opponents with a game that relied heavily on groundstrokes and little on net play. Writing in the New York Times, esteemed tennis writer Allison Danzig said, “Maureen, with her perfect timing, fluency, balance and confidence, has developed the most overpowering stroke [forehand] of its kind the game has known.”

Despite her youth, which clearly didn’t impede her maturity on the tennis court, Connolly won the 1951 U.S. Women’s National Singles Championship at 16 years, 11 months and 19 days. She remained the youngest U.S. female champion until 1979 when Austin won the title at 16 years, 8 months and 28 days. In 1997, Hingis won her first US Open at 16 years, 11 months, 8 days, and now occupies the number two spot. The difference for Connolly, though, is that she won three-straight U.S. titles (1951, 1952, 1953), all before turning 19.

Connolly’s nine major singles titles, three each at Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals, two at the French and one at the Australian, would be a remarkable feat if earned over two decades. Connolly won them all in four years and nine consecutively after losing early in the 1949 and 1950 U.S. Nationals. Connolly was never a singles runner-up – a perfect 9-for-9 in championship matches, and in those victories she lost one set, that coming in 1951 when she defeated Shirley Fry, 6-3, 1-6, 6-4, at Forest Hills. The rest of her victories were straight-setters. She was unbeaten in 50 consecutive matches and compiled a 53-2 combined singles record at the majors. 

American Doris Hart was on the losing end of four matches against Connolly and three during her Grand Slam run; the 1952 U.S Championships (6-3, 7-5), the 1953 French Championships (6-2, 6-4), Wimbledon (8-6, 7-5) and the U.S. (6-2, 6-4). Connolly kicked started her Grand Slam journey by defeating Julie Sampson, 6-3, 6-2, at the Australian in 1953. She won her first and third Wimbledons over Louise Brough, 7-5, 6-3 in 1952 and 6-2, 7-5 in 1954. The only non-American Connolly defeated in her major singles triumphs was Frenchwoman Ginette Bucaille at the 1954 French, 6-4, 6-1.

Connolly wasn’t as perfect in women’s doubles, winning two championships in six attempts, the 1953 Australian alongside Simpson and the 1954 French with Nell Hall Hopman. Her one mixed doubles title came at the 1954 French with Aussie Lew Hoad.

As a member of the Wightman Cup team from 1951-54, Connolly led the U.S. to four straight championships and went undefeated (7-0) in singles. In 1973, the Maureen Connolly Challenge Trophy has featured the best female players 18 and younger from the United States and Great Britain.

Connolly’s life story, entitled “Little Mo,” was made into a television movie and first aired on NBC on September 5, 1978. Her autobiography, Forehand Drive, was published in 1957.

In 2017, Connolly was inducted into the Irish American Hall of Fame in Chicago under the sports category.

Grand Slam

Grand Slam Best Results

Titles

9 Singles | 2 Doubles

Singles
Australian Championships: W 1953
French Championships: W 1953, 1954
Wimbledon: W 1952, 1953, 1954
U.S. Championships: W 1951, 1952, 1953

Doubles
Australian Championships: 1953
French Championships: W 1954
Wimbledon: F 1952, 1953
U.S. Championships: F 1952

Mixed Doubles
Australian Championships: F 1953
French Championships: W 1954
Wimbledon: SF 1954
U.S. Nationals: SF 1952