Maureen Connolly: Fierce and fabulous

maureen-connollyON THIS DATE in 1953, eighteen-year-old Maureen Connolly became the first woman to complete a tennis Grand Slam when she defeated Doris Hart 6-2, 6-4, in the U.S. Open women’s final.

Known as “Little Mo,” Connolly’s other nickname, “Killer,” better described her. Cheerful and engaging off the court, she confessed in her 1957 autobiography Forehand Drive to playing tennis with “a blazing, virulent, powerful, and consuming hate” of her opponents. People noticed: In 1952 TIME described “an unladylike grimness about Connolly’s playing that shocked most proper Britons” during that year’s Wimbledon tournament.

3Maureen Connolly-5Connolly’s on-court ruthlessness served her well during the greatest three-year stretch by any teenage tennis player. From 1951’s U.S. Nationals to 1954’s Wimbledon competition, the San Diego native won nine straight Grand Slam (the Australian, French, and U.S. championships, plus Wimbledon) tournaments. Her dominance resulted in three straight Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year awards (1951 to 1953), a feat matched only by golfers Babe Didrikson Zaharias (1945 to 1947) and Annika Sorenstam (2003 to 2005).

After winning her third straight Wimbledon title in 1954, Connolly was thrown from a horse and slammed against a cement truck, resulting in a broken fibula that ended her career at age nineteen.

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