OBITUARY : Sarah Danzig

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The Independent Online
Too many tennis champions have realised their highest ambitions while setting low ethical standards. They have berated officials and demeaned opponents, throwing tirades at umpires and embarrassing themselves in the process. They have always believed that there is no substitute for winning, no matter how it is achieved, regardless of what they reveal about themselves through their actions.

The graceful and gracious American Sarah Danzig had a different philosophy altogether. She was unfailingly courteous to all who surrounded her in the arena of competition. Her will to win was every bit as big as that of her rivals, but throughout her career and across her life she was a woman of immense dignity. She was enormously proud of her considerable accomplishments, but bolstered even more by how she arrived at them.

A native of Boston, she celebrated a remarkably consistent career. She was a cunning competitor with extraordinary strategic sense, and a first-rate player at the net who could volley magnificently off both sides. Of her 18 Grand Slam championship triumphs, 16 were achieved in doubles and mixed doubles. She joined forces with the most renowned champions of her era to take those titles.

In 1932, she won the United States Mixed Doubles Championships alongside Great Britain's greatest ever player, Fred Perry. Five years later she captured that same championship with the illustrious American Don Budge (the year before he became the first player to win all four major championships in a single season for a Grand Slam), and in 1941 she seized that crown with the great Jack Kramer as her partner.

Perhaps her most astounding accomplishment was winning the US National Women's Doubles Championship on nine occasions between 1930 and 1941, with four partners including the glamorous Alice Marble, the underrated Helen Jacobs, and the enterprising Margaret Osborne duPont. In representing the United States against Great Britain in the now defunct Wightman Cup team competition, Sarah Danzig played doubles with the incomparable Helen Wills Moody as well as Marble and Jacobs.

But the two moments which mattered most to her were when she secured the championship of her country in singles. She was a powerfully popular United States women's champion in 1941 and 1945, coming through calmly and confidently on the grass courts at Forest Hills, defeating her friendly rival Pauline Betz in both finals.

She did not have the same good fortune at Wimbledon on her own and never took the singles crown on Centre Court, but the fact remained that she was twice victorious in the doubles, sweeping back-to-back titles with Marble in 1938 and 1939.

Above and beyond all else, she endured. From 1929 until 1945, she was ranked among the top ten American women no less than 13 times, twice attaining the No 1 ranking in 1941 and 1945. In 1947, she turned professional and toured with Betz. They played in front of appreciative audiences in small towns across America, and made about $10,000 apiece for their honourable efforts.

Yet she did not bear any animosity toward modern players who made massive sums of money. She simply moved on in her life to other ventures. From 1965 until 1991, she worked as an advertising representative for World Tennis Magazine in New York. Having been previously married to the former Wimbledon doubles title holder Elwood Cooke, she married a New York communications executive, Jerome Danzig, in 1951, and spent the rest of her life with him.

Sarah Danzig stood for something substantial. She was a wonderful sportswoman who exhibited a spirit of extreme generosity both on and off the court. She followed the sport closely and enthusiastically long after her competitive days were over. She once said: "Tennis is the best game there is. It combines mental and physical qualities and is the sport for a lifetime. And there are many living examples at the age of 80 to prove it. So it is enough for us to know that tennis will remain, under whatever conditions, whether amateur or pro, the finest game there is for us, for our children, and our children's children."

Steve Flink

Sarah Palfrey Danzig, tennis player: born Sharon, Massachusetts 18 September 1912; married three times (one son, one daughter); died New York 27 February 1996.