Obituary: Helen Jacobs

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The Independent Online
Helen Jacobs, the great American tennis player, was always known as "Helen II". She was overshadowed by an even greater Californian, Helen Wills Moody. They were the great rivals of the 1930s, competition between them dubbed "The Battle of the Helens" by the US press.

Jacobs - three years the junior - was forced to play second fiddle to Moody, who beat her in four Wimbledon finals between 1929 and 1938. However Jacobs did claim the Wimbledon crown in 1936 when she defeated Hilde Sperling, of Denmark, 6-2, 6-4, 7-5. Jacobs was also runner-up to Dorothy Round in 1934.

Jacobs won only one of her 11 head-to-head meetings with Moody and that was in the US national final at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in 1933. It was tainted by controversy when Moody retired with a back injury when trailing 8-6, 3-6, 3-0. It was her first defeat since 1926.

Jacobs went on to win four successive US titles, from 1932 to 1935, and in 1936 was ranked No 1 in the world. She should have beaten Moody in the 1935 Wimbledon final where she held a match point in the deciding set but everything went against her. She lost the point and the next three games for the match.

Stockily built, Jacobs was a great fighter. She had a powerful service and smash and a sound backhand, but she never learned to hit a flat hand drive, despite her friendship, and some coaching, from the great tennis player Bill Tilden.

Jacobs played a big part in the US run of successes over Great Britain in the now-defunct Wightman Cup from 1927 to 1939. Such was her popularity at home that she was named America's best sportswoman in 1943. She was a pioneer of female players wearing shorts; having been refused permission to wear them at the Wightman Cup in 1933, she appeared in shorts later that year at the US championships.

During the Second World War, Jacobs joined the US navy intelligence service and reached the rank of commander, one of only five women to do so. In 1947 she became a professional player. She also became a prolific writer of tennis books and schoolgirl stories, a farmer and a sportswear designer. She was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1962.

Bill Edwards

Helen Hull Jacobs, tennis player: born Globe, Arizona 6 August 1908; died Easthampton, New York 2 June 1997.