Margaret Osborne duPont: Grand Slam tennis champion over decades

 

Margaret Osborne duPont, an all-American girl, dominated US and world tennis during the 1940s and 1950s, winning six Grand Slam singles and 31 doubles titles; she was among the most dominant doubles players of her era, and her doubles record ranked her all-time fourth, behind Margaret Court, Billie-Jean King and Martina Navratilova.

DuPont was a tour de force in the game, 156 weeks as the world's No 1, and featured in America's top five for 20 years, although she never played in the Australian Open. Her husband forbade it, believing it would be detrimental to his health.

She had style and panache on and off the court, and was admired for her tenacity, endurance, sportsmanship as well as desire to win: "I'm not sure why I loved the game so much. But I did. I just did. And I always have."

Her ability to handle pressure with poise, and her aggressive game, were visible when she clinched her first Grand Slam doubles title in the US Championships (US Open) in 1941, having lost the first set. She won a further 12 women's doubles crowns (10 in a row, 1941-50), nine mixed double and three singles titles at the US tournament: 25 titles, a record to this day. Her overseas victories included the 1947 singles title in 1947.

She was born Margaret Evelyn Osborne in the rural town of Joseph, Oregon, daughter of modest ranch owners. She showed natural athletic ability, horse-riding and playing baseball with her brother: "I could throw the ball like a boy." Because of her father's failing health, the family moved to Spokane, Washington where, at nine, she took up tennis. Two years later they moved to San Francisco where she played on public courts and competed in tournaments.

In 1936 duPont graduated from high school but was unable to fund further study, and so, aged 18, began a tennis career. She won the junior nationals singles and double titles in Philadelphia, then travelled the country. She trained for a year with the coach Tom Stow, who noted "a dazzling arsenal of shots, including low-flying spin volleys and gravity-defying lobs." During the Second World War she worked in a shipbuilding plant.

She met the tennis-loving William duPont Jr, heir to a chemical company fortune, and interrupted her career to marry in 1947, and again in 1952 for the birth of their son, Bill: she was one of the very few women successfully to juggle tennis with motherhood. The family lived at their Delaware estate, Bellevue Hall, where she could practise on nine tennis courts – grass, concrete and clay.

DuPont won six Grand Slam singles titles, saving match points in the finals of the 1946 French Open and in the 1948 US Championships, against her good friend Louise Brough. This match exemplified her physical endurance; it was the longest women's singles final ever played at the tournament (48 games); she won the last set 15-13. In the same tournament, she and Bill Talbert outlasted Gussie Moran and Bob Falkenberg in a 71-game, two day, mixed doubles semi-final, a record that stood for over 40 years. When she lost, it was rarely in straight sets.

Her most successful doubles partnership was with Brough. Together they held the record for most Grand Slam doubles titles, 20, until it was equalled in 1989. DuPont and Brough also had an unbeaten streak, from 1942 to 1950, and a monopoly on the US doubles crown, winning it in 12 out of 14 attempts. Her distinction as the oldest woman, at 44, to win a Wimbledon title, in 1962 with Neale Fraser, lasted until 2003. In 1962, duPont and Margaret Bloss defeated Britain in the Wightman Cup doubles; DuPont had an unblemished record, 19-0.

The duPonts divorced amicably in 1964 and she moved to Texas, where she shared a home with her former tennis partner Bloss. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1967 and had a "huge impact" on players such as Billie-Jean King, who said, "she was a great influence on my life … and her career wasn't just about winning matches, it was also about mentoring others."

DuPont continued to follow tennis: "Our game was more about finesse, not so much power as today." Because the stars of her day were not paid, they played "for the love of the game."

Martin Childs

Margaret Osborne duPont, tennis player: born Joseph, Oregon, US 4 March 1918; married 1947 William DuPont Jr (divorced 1964; one son); died El Paso, Texas 24 October 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Travel
travel
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SEO / Outreach Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a global marketin...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Negotiator - OTE £24,000

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An enthusiastic individual is r...

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - West Midlands - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?