Suzanne Lenglen

Suzanne Lenglen

Class of 1978

Master Player

Career Achievements

Top Ranking     
World No. 1 (1921)

Grand Slam Results
34-time major champion

Gold Medal in Women’s Singles at the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games
Gold Medal in Mixed Doubles at the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games     
Bronze Medal in Women’s Doubles at the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games


Citizenship: FRA Born: May 24, 1899 in Paris, France Died: July 4, 1938 Played: Right-handed

Tennis fans in Australia never had the chance to see Suzanne Lenglen play in person. In her 12-year career, the most polarizing women’s tennis player of her generation didn’t play at the Australian Championships. In America, she was an apparition, playing only once at the 1921 U.S. Nationals and was bounced from the championships after the second round.

The same couldn’t be said for the throngs of fans who saw Lenglen as the box office attraction at the French and Wimbledon Championships, where she won a combined 34 major titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. On the red clay at Roland Garros and green grass at the All England Club, the Frenchwoman filled the stands with her flamboyant brilliance on court and her eccentric personality that blurred the lines between superstar athlete and diva.

Lenglen was controversial, daring and dashing. In the September 13, 1982 issue of Sports Illustrated, the magazine profiled her with the headline: “The Lady in the White Silk Dress,” and wrote rhythmically, “Suzanne Lenglen drank, swore and had lovers by the score – and played tennis incomparably, losing once in seven years.”

Thanks to the research of Wimbledon librarian Alan Little in Suzanne Lenglen: Tennis Idol of the Twenties and cited in Bud Collins’s History of Tennis, Lenglen won 250 championships: 83 in singles (seven without the loss of a game), 74 championships, and 93 mixed doubles titles. Lenglen lost one singles match in eight years, and was unbeaten in 1919 and 1920, 1922 through 1926. During her career, she had winning streaks of 116 matches before the one defeat and ended her amateur career with 182 victories. Wimbledon was her haven – she won 90 of 92 matches (32-0 in singles, 31-1 in doubles, 27-1 in mixed doubles).

Lenglen’s worldwide popularity was twofold: First, she was a championship phenomenon at age 15 (winning the World Hardcourt Championships in Paris), who was groomed by her father for success and perfection. She was athletic and graceful, a relentless competitor who won the Wimbledon Ladies Singles and Doubles Championships five straight years and six of seven years (1919-1923, 1924). Had World War I not delayed Lenglen’s appearance until 1919, her victory total would have likely been higher. Secondly, her arrival on court was a theatrical and provocative production; she donned fur coats, was the first female player to eliminate bulky undergarments, wore her black hair in a short bobbed style, painted her nails and wore bright red lipstick.  Her silk tennis dresses were trimmed above her calf – a big taboo for women’s players at the time – and her sleeves were cut short too, displaying bare arms, another no-no on court. Lenglen fancied sucking on sugar cubes soaked in brandy or cognac between sets (tossed to her on court by her father from the stands) and often brought a flask with her for sipping those libations in between sets. She was glamorous, dramatic, unpredictable, prone to inexplicable mood swings, and through it all, a rare and fascinating champion.

At her Wimbledon debut in 1919, the 20-year-old Lenglen faced 40-year-old Dorothea Douglass Chambers, the seven time defending champion, in the finals. The contrast was striking, the difference between classical and rock ‘n roll music. Chambers was staid and traditional; Lenglen rebellious and trendsetting. With King George V and Queen Mary in attendance, Lenglen upset Chambers, 10-8, 4-6, 9-7, in a victory she had long said was her most difficult and rewarding. That triumph would lead to immortality at Wimbledon: victories over Douglass in 1920 (6-3, 6-0); Elizabeth Ryan in 1921 (6-2, 6-0), Molla Mallory in 1922 (6-2, 6-0), Kathleen McKane Godfree in 1923 (6-2, 6-2), and Joan Fry Lakeman in 1925 (6-2, 6-0). That reign of dominance was amped up in 1925, when Lenglen was simply invincible. She captured the French Championship losing just seven games throughout the entire tournament and crushed the Wimbledon draw, losing only five games while steamrolling over seven opponents.

Between 1919 and 1926, Lenglen lost only one match, a highly controversial default to Mallory at the 1921 U.S. Nationals. Lenglen had lost the first set badly, 6-2, and through fits of coughing and tears, alerted the chair umpire she could not continue. It was the only significant glitch in her career and one of two memorable matches that have been widely chronicled about Lenglen.

On February 16, 1926, Lenglen faced Helen Wills at the Carlton Tennis Club in Cannes. The match drew worldwide appeal; fans paying 50 francs ($12.50) for any available seat (some perched in trees, crowded the surrounding hotel and housetops, stood on ladders that leaned on fences).  It was billed as “The Match of the Century,” Lenglen was the best female player in the world and Wills was a 20-year-old who had already won three U.S. titles. Lenglen won, 6-3, 8-6, but a rivalry never unfolded: Wills had an emergency appendectomy during the 1926 French Championships, which caused her to default her second round match and also withdraw from Wimbledon. Lenglen became a professional in 1926 and the competition fizzled out. Accounts of that memorable match in France are chronicled in Larry Engelmann's novel, The Goddess and the American Girl.

Lenglen boosted her major championship portfolio with 12 doubles and 10 mixed doubles major titles. All six of her Wimbledon victories were alongside American Elizabeth Ryan. In an interview with sports writer Bob Considine that appeared in Sports Illustrated, Ryan said of Lenglen, “She owned every kind of shot, plus a genius for knowing how and when to use them. She never gave an opponent the same kind of shot twice in a row. She’d make you run miles … her game was all placement and deception and steadiness. I had the best drop shot anybody ever had, but she could not only get up to it but was so fast that often she could score a placement off it.”

At her home-major, the French Championships, Lenglen enjoyed immeasurable success. The tournament was only open to French competitors until 1925. During this time, Lenglen won 4 singles, 4 doubles, and 5 mixed doubles titles in Paris. Following the inclusion of players from the rest of the world, Lenglen won the French Championships triple (singles, doubles, and mixed in the same year) in 1925 and 1926.

Lenglen earned Olympic fame at the 1920 Games played in Antwerp. She captured a Gold Medal in singles, a Gold Medal in mixed doubles alongside with Max Decugis, and a Bronze Medal in women’s doubles with Elisabeth d’Ayen.

She was ranked World No.1 for six years (1921-1926). Lenglen turned pro in 1926. In the first women’s professional series, she defeated Mary K. Browne in 38 straight matches.

Said Ryan, “Sure she was a poser, a ham in the theatrical sense. She had been spoiled by tremendous adulation from the time she was a kid …But she was the greatest woman player of them all. Never doubt that.”

Her celebrity was enormous, becoming one of the most followed and well-known athletes in the world, her rise to stardom was meteoric. Tragically, Lenglen’s life ended in 1938 at age 39 when she died of pernicious anemia. But from age 15 when she made her debut at the 1914 French Championships – losing in the finals against compatriot Marguerite Broquedis – to her last championship at the French in 1926, Lenglen provided fans with a tennis experience akin to riding an amusement park roller coaster.

Grand Slam

Grand Slam Best Results


12 Singles | 12 Doubles | 10 Mixed Doubles

French Championships: W 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925, 1926
Wimbledon: W 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925

French Championships: W 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925, 1926
Wimbledon: W 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925

Mixed Doubles
French Championships: W 1914, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925, 1926
Wimbledon: W 1920, 1922, 1925