Born in: Centerville (now Fremont), California
Career: Tennis Player
Died on: January 1, 1998
Helen Wills Moody is considered to be one of the greatest female tennis players of all time. In her career as a tennis player, she won 31 Grand Slam titles (including singles, women's doubles, and mixed doubles titles). She was married twice - first to Frederick Moody (in December 1929) and later to Aidan Roark (in October 1939). She won around one-half of her major championships as Helen Wills and the other-half as Helen Wills Moody.
Helen Wills Moody was born on 6th October 1905, Centerville (now Fremont), California, near San Francisco. She lived with her family, in Point of Timber, a small river landing along Indian Slough, San Joaquin River, near Byron, California. She attended grammar school (1 to 8 grades) in Byron and learnt to play tennis at the Byron Hot Springs. For high school education, Wills attended Head-Royce School. She also attended the University of California, Berkeley, on an academic scholarship, but did not graduate. She received a degree in fine arts, along with a Phi Beta Kappa key, from the University of California
Over the course of her tennis career, Wills won 31 Grand Slam titles (singles, women's doubles and mixed doubles). She reached at least the final of each Grand Slam singles event she played, with the exception of defaults at the French Championships and Wimbledon, in 1926. She also won two Olympic gold medals in Paris, in 1924 (both singles and doubles). Wills was the US Girls' Singles Champion in 1921 and 1922 and also held the World No 1 position for eight years. She had a 158-match winning streak, from 1927 to 1932.
Wills won her first women's national title in 1923, at the age of 17, and became the youngest champion of that time. Over the entire course of her career, she met Suzanne Lenglen, six-time Wimbledon champion, only once, in the final of a tournament at the Carlton Club in Cannes. Owing to high public anticipation, the tickets of the match were sold at extremely high prices. The audience included the King of Sweden & Frederick Moody, who would later become Wills’ husband. Though Lenglen won the game, she avoided Wills for remainder of the spring.
During the 1926 French Championship, Wills had to undergo an emergency appendectomy, which resulted in her default from the Championship as well as Wimbledon. She even had to withdraw from that year's U.S. Championships. In 1927, Wills came back on field and began her streak of winning 158-matches, without losing a set, until the 1933 Wimbledon Championships. In January 1933, Wills defeated Phil Neer, the eighth ranked American male player, in an exhibition match in San Francisco.
Right from 1922 to 1938, she played at 24 Grand Slam singles events, winning 19 times, finishing second 3 times and defaulting twice. She also won seven U.S. Championships in a row, ultimately losing to Helen Hull Jacobs, in the 1933 final, mainly because of a back injury. However, Wills felt that she was treated harshly by the press as well as the fans and made her mind never to play at the U.S. Championship again. She took a year off from tennis, to recuperate from the back injury, and came back to win the 1935 and 1938 Wimbledon titles.
Through her career, Wills came across as a reserved and detached woman. When on court, she hardly displayed any emotion and was found ignoring her opponents as well as the crowd. She seemed to be a very private person, with extremely few friends. Wills’ unchanging expression earned her the nickname of "Little Miss Poker Face", bestowed by Grantland Rice, the American sportswriter. She was also called "Queen Helen" & "the Imperial Helen". On field, she always wore a white sailor suit, with a pleated knee-length skirt, white shoes and a white visor.
Wills’ first marriage was with Frederick Moody, which took place in December 1929, when she had already established herself as an outstanding tennis player. The alliance came to an end, with a divorce, in 1937 and two year later, in October 1939, Wills married Aidan Roark. However, she did not have any children from either of the marriage. She was a very good painter and often exhibited her paintings and etchings in New York galleries. Wills also indulged herself in the work of writing.
She wrote a coaching manual - Tennis (1928), her autobiography - Fifteen-Thirty: The Story of a Tennis Player (1937), and a mystery novel - Death Serves an Ace (1939, with Robert Murphy). She also used to write articles for the Saturday Evening Post and other magazines. She breathed her last on 1st January 1998, at the age of 92. Before leaving for the heavenly abode, Wills bequeathed US $10 million to the University of California, Berkeley, for the creation of a Neuroscience institute.
Wins (31 Grand Slam Titles)
- 8 Wimbledon Singles Titles
- 7 Singles Titles at United States Championships
- 4 Singles Titles at French Championships
- 12 United States, French and Wimbledon Doubles & Mixed Doubles Titles
- Gold Medals in Singles and Doubles, at the 1924 Olympics
- Named as Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1935
- Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, in 1959
- Inducted into the (San Francisco) Bay Area Athletic Hall of Fame, in 1981