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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
An iceberg in Ilulissat, Greenland; researchers have been studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and their long-term ramifications for the rest of the world (Getty)
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Jackman bears his claws and loses the plot in X-Men movie 'The Wolverine'
Arts and Entertainment
'Knowledge is power': Angelina Jolie has written about her preventive surgery
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing