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Throwback Thursday: Wills Moody achieves a first for 30s

Helen Wills-Moody wins Wimbledon in 1938
by Leigh Walsh
Thursday 22 May 2014

Our Throwback Thursday series continues as Helen Wills Moody wins her eighth Wimbledon title in 1938, becoming the first player aged in their 30s to win The Championships. Wimbledon.com goes back in time...

If power in the modern game is generated from the legs, in the 1930s it was all about the arm, and Helen Wills Moody had the strongest one going.

Like her idol Suzanne Lenglen before her, Wills Moody trained with the men. One of her regular hitting partners, former Wimbledon champion Don Budge, says no woman hit the ball harder, at least until Steffi Graf broke through almost half a century later.

Her female peers were more victims than opponents. With her trademark visor pulled down just above her eyes, the American’s ice-cool persona was matched only by the fire she unleashed upon a generation powerless to halt her.

The 19-time Grand Slam singles champion was built from the right ingredients: raw power, an insatiable appetite for success, unwavering intensity and most importantly, belief. She was a commander of the court, in total control of her game, her opponent, the match and ultimately, the outcome. From 1927 to 1933, Wills Moody didn’t drop a single set, winning 180 matches in a row.

Fast forward some 80 years and the same words could be used to describe another world No. 1 nurtured in California, Serena Williams. Similarly to Williams, Wills Moody thrived amid the surroundings of the All England Club.

When Lenglen won a record sixth Wimbledon crown in 1925, many believed the record would remain for decades to come.

It stood alone for just eight years. By 1935, it was broken. And by 1938, Wills Moody had set the record at eight Wimbledon titles – which would last until Martina Navratilova won her ninth in 1990.

Little Miss Poker Face, as she was known, arrived in London in 1938 with 18 Grand Slams to her name. The outbreak of World War II was just a year away and the bombing of Centre Court would occur a little over two years later. But that summer the eyes of the world were on Wills Moody, who was the first female athlete to be labeled as a celebrity in America.

At 32, she was bidding to become the first player aged 30 and over to win The Championships. Her opponent in the final that year was Helen Jacobs, who went to the same Californian school as her. Jacobs was the player who suffered most during her compatriot’s reign, losing to her in four Wimbledon finals. She did, however, get her hands on the title in 1936, taking full advantage of Wills Moody’s absence.

Seeded No.1, Wills Moody moved somewhat comfortably through the draw without ever really reaching the peak of her powers. But by the time Jacobs was staring back at her on the other side of the net, she produced a standard of tennis that would rival some of her finest work, winning 6-4, 6-0 to claim a record eighth title at Wimbledon – becoming the first player in their 30s to win at SW19.

It was the last time Wills Moody graced a tennis court on the major stage as she retired from the game after the landmark win. A fitting end for the great American, who bowed out with 19 majors and a decorated legacy intact.


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