Suzanne Lenglen, Tennis' First Enigmatic Superstar

October 28, 2021

Long before Serena Williams, Martina Navratilova, or Chris Evert, a Frenchwoman named Suzanne Lenglen took the world of women’s tennis by storm.

Lenglen thrilled crowds with many never seen before moves. (getty)

Not only did Lenglen dominate her fellow competitors to the tune of 241 titles and a career-winning percentage of 98, but she revolutionized the sport. From the way she played, the way she dressed, and how she comported herself, no one had ever seen a tennis player like Lenglen. Taking sips of Cognac during matches and refusing to bow to British royalty, no tennis player ever, man or woman, blazed a trail quite like Lenglen.

The Arrival Of Lenglen

Lenglen changed tennis for better and for always.

Usually, when a rookie enters the fray of sports, there’s a steep learning curve. Not so for Lenglen. At the precocious age of 20, she defeated Dorothea Lambert Chambers, a titan of sport, in the Wimbledon final of 1919. The performance shocked the crowd of 8,000, including King George V and Queen Mary. She also ruffled more than a few feathers along the way.

Sporting a one-piece cotton dress that scandalously revealed her forearms and ended above her calves, Lenglen announced her presence to the tennis world. During the stunning upset of Chambers, Suzanne took a swig of what was later to be revealed as cognac. Sitting courtside her father also tapped his umbrella “secretly”, coaching her during the match, a brazen sidestepping of the rules. Nevertheless, her 10-8, 4-6, 9-7 victory made her a hero in France.