Little Mo's Legacy a blueprint for celebrity children

Books for Christmas: Tennis
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The Independent Online

Steffi Graf was born in 1969, the year Maureen Connolly died. The world of tennis, like most things, has changed so much over the decades that it seems impertinent to suggest that Steffi and her husband, Andre Agassi, dip into Little Mo's Legacy for a few pointers on how to bring up their baby. But it would do no harm.

This charming little book (published by Tapestry Press, Irving, Texas, $19.95), not only evokes memories of Maureen Connolly's brilliant, sadly brief career, but also serves as a useful guide for celebrity parents. It was written by Cindy Brinker Simmons, the older of Little Mo's two daughters, in collaboration with Robert Darden.

The narrative reminds us that the diminutive American won Wimbledon in 1952, 1953 and 1954 and that in 1953 she was the first woman – and still the youngest – to have accomplished the Grand Slam, winning the Australian, French, Wimbledon and United States titles in a calendar year. A freak riding accident ended her career in 1954. She was not yet 20. She died of cancer, aged 34.

"I was born in 1957 and never saw her play competitively," Cindy writes. "I didn't even know that she was famous until I was 10 years old. She died when I was 12. Often, when faced with heartache, tragedy, or trauma, shock sets in. Sometimes you can forget the memories. God does that to preserve and to protect us. But I remember my mom...she was the typical mum. She was always there for me, with school, with tennis, with life."

Maureen and her husband, Norman Brinker, wanted their daughters, Cindy and Brenda, who was born in 1959, to be normal, happy youngsters. "Any burning desire to be the best, at anything, must come from them alone," Maureen said.

Frustrated at her inability to hit a ball over the net when she first started tennis lessons, aged 10, Cindy came home and threw down her racket in the kitchen, startling her mother, who was reading a book. "Mommy," Cindy said, "when you were number one in the world, did you stop taking tennis lessons?" "Honey," mother replied, "the day I would have stopped taking tennis lessons would have been the day I would have stopped being number one in the world."

Cindy played tennis well enough to be ranked in the top ten in the United States as a junior. On graduating from university, she spent one season in Europe playing on the professional tour, before concluding that business was her forte. She is the head of Brinker Communications, a PR company in Dallas, and serves on the boards of Children's Health Services of Texas and Dallas Theological Seminary, as well as being a trustee of the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation.

Venus Envy, by L Jon Wertheim (Harper Collins, £17.99), encapsulates a season on the high-velocity, mega-buck, feud-enhanced women's tour of today. Some of the most fascinating passages go to the heart of the Williams sisters phenomenon, recounting Venus and Serena's upbringing in California and Florida and the foibles of their father, Richard Williams, part screwball, part savant.

Rick Macci, a coach in Florida, tells Wertheim of a practice season in which Richard Williams positioned Venus, 13, and Serena, 12, six feet apart on opposite sides of the net and ordered them to whack balls at each other. "I want you to take her eye out," Macci recalls Williams saying. After a few near misses, Venus pelted Serena in the chest. "As Serena tried to hide her tears, Richard nodded approvingly."

At the same time, Macci gives Richard Williams credit for nurturing two prodigiously talented, well-adjusted champions: "Virtually everything he prophesied for his daughters has come to pass. And he did it all without making tennis the focal point of their lives. Venus and Serena's horizons extend far beyond the baseline."

Two contrasting personalities who fascinated the crowds are called to mind in Golden Boy: The Life and Tennis Times of Lew Hoad, a Tennis Legend, by Larry Hodgson and Dudley Jones (DSM Publishing, £12.99 paperback), and Please Play On: A Biography of John McEnroe, by James Harbridge (Central Publishing, West Yorkshire, £12.99 paperback).

The Official Wimbledon Annual 2001 (Hazleton Publishing, £20) is an outstanding souvenir of a memorable championships. Edited with loving care by John Parsons, aided by the photographic skills of Clive Brunskill, Gary M Prior and Alex Livesey, the pages are alive with breathtaking action and emotions, including Tim Henman's third stumble on the threshold of the final and Goran Ivanisevic's glorious moment of fulfilment.

Tennis tome of the year – make that years – is Wimbledon: The Official History of the Championships, by John Barrett (Collins Willow, £25). This second edition of Barrett's book, first published in 1986 to mark the 100th Championship meeting, is bigger and better, retaining the flair and flavour of the original and presenting comprehensive coverage of subsequent events.

The 2001 Wimbledon Compendium, edited by Alan Little (Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, £10) answers what you want to know about the Championships, down to every drop of rain. Tennis's Strangest Matches, by Peter Seddon (Robson Books, £8.99), will help keep you amused, rain or no rain.