Pauline Betz: Grand slam-winning tennis player banned for merely considering turning professional

Pauline Betz dominated women's tennis during the 1940s, winning five grand slam singles titles and one mixed doubles title. Blessed with powerful ground strokes, a rasping backhand, speed, unbounding stamina, athleticism and a killer instinct, Betz looked set to dominate for years to come in the same way that Martina Navratilova was to later. However, her amateur career was cut short in April 1947 when the US Lawn Tennis Association banned her from amateur matches – and therefore all grand slams, as professionals were only admitted in 1968.

Betz's crime was that along with Sarah Palfrey Cooke, another multiple Grand Slam winner, she considered the suggestion made by Cooke's husband that she turn professional, though no contract was signed. As the great Jack Kramer wrote in his 1979 memoir, "She was ruled out as an amateur on the basis of intent." He believed she was the second-best woman player he had seen, behind Helen Wills Moody.

Born in Dayton, Ohio in 1919, Pauline May Betz was raised in Los Angeles and was introduced to tennis at the age of nine by her mother, a PE teacher. She was soon winning tournaments throughout California, attaining her first national top-10 ranking at 19. She won a scholarship to Rollins College in Florida, where she graduated in economics in 1943. She played for the men's team at No 4, alongside Kramer.

Betz was still an undergraduate in 1942 when she won her first US singles title. Although shorter than most on the circuit, her steel and determination was exemplified in her semi-final against Margaret Osborne duPont, saving a match point at 5-3 down in the final set. The final saw her beat Louise Brough 4–6, 6–1, 6–4. The two met again the next year, with Betz again victorious in another gruelling three-set final.

Between 1941 and 1946, Betz fought her way to a record six consecutive US singles finals, winning on four occasions. In September 1946, the week she won her fourth US Open, she appeared on the cover of Time, which proclaimed her "the first lady of tennis."

In 1946, she won the women's Wimbledon singles title at the first time of asking without dropping a set, beating Louise Brough in the final 6-2, 6-4, and also played a key role in America's victorious Wightman Cup team. At the time of her suspension, in 1947, Betz was world No 1, undefeated in 39 matches, and the reigning Wimbledon and US Open champion. She immediately turned professional, enjoying a 13-year undefeated career on tour with such notables as Pancho Segura, Don Budge, Kramer and "Gorgeous Gussie" Moran.

In retirement Betz coached professionally, while motherhood did not diminish her on-court tenacity: in a 1959 exhibition, while five months pregnant, she beat Althea Gibson, the first black woman to win a Grand Slam title. Betz played tennis until 2003 and was also an excellent golfer, table-tennis player and tournament bridge player.

Martin Childs

Pauline Betz, tennis player: born Dayton, Ohio 6 August 1919; married 1949 Bob Addie (died 1982; five children); died Potomac, Maryland 31 May 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power