Suzanne Lenglen (1899-1938)
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Undated portrait of Suzanne Lenglen. © Staff / AFP
At the start of the twenties, she revolutionised the women's dress code, wearing shorter skirts for playing better. © AFP
Suzanne Lenglen started playing tennis at the age of twelve with a racket given to her by her father to play on the family clay court in Marest-sur-Matz, a little village in the Oise, not far from Compiègne. Trained by her father and going on the play at the Tennis Club de Nice, she reached the final of the Championnat de France (Roland-Garros) in 1914 at the age of fifteen and won the World Clay Championships in Saint-Cloud. But here career was interrupted by the First World War.
Now aged 20, Suzanne Lenglen reappeared in 1919 in the Wimbledon finals, watched by King George V and Queen Mary. To everyone's surprise, she won the match, and went on to win a series of finals until 1926, also winning the French singles championships six times.
The legend had begun. This was because, beyond her sporting success, the Lenglen style caused a sensation through the grace and speed of her movements. At the start of the twenties, she also revolutionised the women's dress code, wearing shorter skirts for playing better and becoming the new muse for Jean Patou, who launched a knee-length silk skirt and the famous tulle head-band.
In seven years, she won 241 tournaments, including 81 singles, three Olympic medals (two golds), and a series of 171 consecutive wins. In 1926, having turned professional, she opened a tennis school in 1927, but was cut down by raging leukaemia at the age of only 39.