Suzanne Lenglen

  • Residence: France
  • DOB: 24 May 1899
  • Birthplace: France

Suzanne Rachel Flore Lenglen lived from 24 May 1899 – 4 July 1938 and was a French tennis player who won 31 Grand Slam titles between 1914 and 1926. A flamboyant, trendsetting athlete, she was the first female tennis celebrity and one of the first international female sport stars, named La Divine (the divine one) by the French press.

Only four years after her first tennis strokes, Lenglen played in the final of the 1914 French Championships, aged only 14. (The tournament was only open to members of French clubs until 1925.) She lost to reigning champion Marguerite Broquedis in the final 5–7, 6–4, 6–3. That same year, she won the World Hard Court Championships held at Saint-Cloud, turning 15 during the tournament. The outbreak of World War I at the end of the year stopped most national and international tennis competitions, and Lenglen's burgeoning career was put on hold for the next 5 years, until Wimbledon in 1919.

From 1919 through 1925, Lenglen won the Wimbledon singles championship every year with the exception of 1924. Health problems due to jaundice forced her to withdraw after winning her quarterfinal match. Lenglen was the last French woman to win the Wimbledon ladies singles title until Amelie Mauresmo in 2006.

From 1920 through 1926, she won the French Championships { both Ladies Singles and Ladies Doubles} six times each (three of which were at the World Hard Court Championships). She starred in an instructional film Tennis and How to Play It that was shown in newsreels in 1922.

Lenglen was criticized widely for her decision to turn professional, and the All England Club at Wimbledon even revoked her honorary membership. Lenglen, however, described her decision as "an escape from bondage and slavery" and said in the tour program, "In the twelve years I have been champion I have earned literally millions of francs for tennis and have paid thousands of francs in entrance fees to be allowed to do so.... I have worked as hard at my career as any man or woman has worked at any career. And in my whole lifetime I have not earned $5,000 - not one cent of that by my specialty, my life study - tennis.... I am twenty-seven and not wealthy - should I embark on any other career and leave the one for which I have what people call genius? Or should I smile at the prospect of actual poverty and continue to earn a fortune - for whom?" As for the amateur tennis system, Lenglen said, "Under these absurd and antiquated amateur rulings, only a wealthy person can compete, and the fact of the matter is that only wealthy people do compete. Is that fair? Does it advance the sport? Does it make tennis more popular - or does it tend to suppress and hinder an enormous amount of tennis talent lying dormant in the bodies of young men and women whose names are not in the social register?"

In June 1938, the French press announced that Lenglen had been diagnosed with leukemia. Only three weeks later, she went blind. She died of pernicious anemia on July 4, 1938. She is buried in the Cimetiere de Saint-Ouen at Saint-Ouen near Paris.

During her career, Lenglen won 81 singles titles, seven of which were achieved without losing a single game. In addition, she won 73 doubles titles and 11 mixed doubles titles. She won the Wimbledon singles, women's doubles, and mixed doubles championships in the same year on three separate occasions (1920, 1922, and 1925).