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1950s / Maureen Connolly - Tragic Tennis Star
You can watch tennis for the next hundred years and you'll never witness anyone match the dominance that Maureen (Little Mo) Connolly had at the majors between 1951 and 1954. She entered nine Grand Slam singles events--and won every one. Connolly first took up tennis at the age of 10 at San Diego's public courts. Although she was naturally left-handed, her first coach, Wilbur Folsom, converted Connolly to a right-hander. She became an excellent baseline player who, despite her small 5'5" frame, could strike powerful shots with either her backhand or her forehand. By the time Connolly was 14, she was the junior (under 18) female champion of the United States. She began competing in adult events shortly thereafter. Connolly won Forest Hills (the amateur-era forerunner of the US Open) just before her 17th birthday in 1951. In 1952 Connolly won both Wimbledon and Forest Hills. She didn't enter the French or Australian championships. In 1953, however, Connolly entered all four major championships and took them all, becoming the first female to achieve the calendar Grand Slam--a feat that's only been equaled twice in all the years since. In capturing the Grand Slam, Connolly lost just a single set in the four tourneys (to Susan Chatrier in a quarterfinal match in Paris). Entering the 1953 Wimbledon final, Connolly had only dropped eight games in five matches! At the Australian Championships, Connolly only lost 10 games in six matches before the final! Connolly began 1954 just as strongly. She successfully defended both her French and Wimbledon titles. Sadly, about two weeks after her third successive Wimbledon triumph, Connolly was badly injured in a horseback riding mishap when her horse was spooked by a passing cement truck. Her right leg was so badly fractured that it was nearly amputated. She was not quite 20 years old but her tennis career was over. In her nine Grand Slam singles finals, Connolly dropped just one set--and that was in her first one. Shortly after announcing her retirement from competitive tennis in 1955, Connolly married Norman Brinker, who had been a member of the American equestrian team at the 1952 Olympics. They had two daughters. Connolly was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1966. She battled the disease for three years before succumbing to it on June 21, 1969. She was just 34 years old.