Dorothy “Dodo” Cheney: Tennis player who reached world No 6, carried on into her nineties and won a record 391 US national titles

‘They look too tough,’ she remarked of today’s female players. ‘For me, there’s never too much perfume or lace’

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The Independent Online

Dorothy “Dodo” Cheney knew that she would never scale the same heights as her mother, who was the first American woman to win Wimbledon, but she made her mark on tennis in other ways.

Cheney, who has died at the age of 98 after a brief illness, won a total of 391 national titles in the US, nearly three times as many as the second player on the all-time list.

Cheney was a fine player at her peak and reached No 6 in the world rankings, but it was in her latter years that she earned her greatest fame. She entered tournaments on all surfaces, indoors and outdoors, at junior, amateur, professional and senior levels. The last title she won was in the 90-and-over doubles at the national senior women’s hard-court championships only two years ago. It was a wonder that she found time for anything else, but she raised three children, loved fishing and was a keen gardener and sharp poker player.

Cheney, who was called Dodo after a younger brother struggled with her first name, was born into what became known as the “First Family of American tennis”. Her mother, May Sutton, won the US Championships in 1904 and Wimbledon in 1905 and 1907 before marrying Thomas Bundy, who was runner-up at the US Championships in 1910 and won the national doubles title in 1914 and 1915. Three of Cheney’s sisters were also good players.

Having taken up the sport at the age of eight, Cheney won her first trophy, at the Southern California Junior Championships, when she was 11. She played in the Wightman Cup at 20 and in 1938 became the first American woman to win what is now the Australian Open. She won her first US title, the indoor doubles, with Pauline Betz in 1941 and three years later claimed her first national singles title at the clay-court championships.

In 1946 she married Art Cheney, who was a pilot for Western Airlines. They had three children, but there was no way that family life was going to get in the way of her tennis. Art set her up with a lifetime pass on Western Airlines and for the next 50 years she travelled to tournaments all over the country.

She could doubtless have won even more titles if she had entered more tournaments for her own age group. In search of better competition, however, she often preferred to play against younger opponents. In her most productive year, 1981, she won a remarkable 13 national titles. Cheney was only 5ft 1in but had a strong forehand and a fine touch. Quick and athletic, she had a reputation for chasing shots down and sneaking into the net, where she would finish off points with clever angles and drop shots. Her only fitness problems were calluses caused by lengthy gardening sessions and arthritis in her fingers, which she treated with home-made remedies.

However, it was her competitive streak that was perhaps Cheney’s greatest quality. “I tell you, she’s the competitor from hell,” her regular doubles partner, Corky Murdoch, told the Los Angeles Times. “No matter how far behind she gets, she’ll always come back because she doesn’t know when to give up.”

Cheney was always meticulous in her appearance. She made her own tennis clothes, which were adorned with lace, and wore a pearl necklace in matches. “The girls today don’t look like girls when they’re on court, they look like men,” she once told Sports Illustrated. “The players look too tough. For me, there’s never too much perfume or lace.”

In 2004 Cheney was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame at Newport, Rhode Island. She was introduced at the enshrinement ceremony by John McEnroe, who later had a hit with her on the Hall of Fame’s grass courts. She was 87 at the time.

Dorothy Bundy, tennis player: born Santa Monica 1 September 1916; married 1946 Arthur Cheney (three children); died Escondido, California 23 November 2014.

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