Betz, Pauline May

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BETZ, Pauline May

(b. 6 August 1919 in Dayton, Ohio), renowned tennis star during World War II who won the U.S. Championship in 1942, 1943, 1944, and 1946 and the 1946 Wimbledon Championship.

Betz's family moved from Dayton to Los Angeles when she was eight years old, and she grew up in a climate that enabled her to play sports year-round. It was her mother, a high school physical education teacher, who introduced her to the game of tennis. An energetic tomboy and athlete, Betz attended championship matches in California and later claimed that the American tennis great Don Budge inspired her backhand. At the age of fifteen she began formal tennis lessons; however, due to the family's limited financial resources, Betz was not able to play East Coast tennis matches such as the National Junior Championships. She resigned herself to playing, and often winning, statewide tournaments.

In 1939 Betz received a tennis scholarship to Rollins College in Florida, where she studied economics. There, her tennis career ascended when she made it to the finals in the 1941 U.S. Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) Championships, losing the match to Sarah Palfrey Cooke. While still an undergraduate, Betz won her first U.S. Championship (now called the U.S. Open) singles title at Forest Hills, New York, defeating Louise Brough in 1942. She repeated her performance in 1943, once again overcoming Brough. That same year Betz began graduate school at Columbia University, balancing her tennis career with her studies.

In 1944 Betz defeated Margaret Osborne for her third U.S. Championship singles title. Although Betz's streak came to an end 2 September 1945, when she lost in three sets to Cooke, she reclaimed the title of National Champion in 1946 when she defeated Patricia Canning. From 1942 to 1945 Betz, along with her tennis partner Doris Hart, also made it to the finals of the U.S. Championship women's doubles, each time defeated by the team of Brough and Osborne.

During World War II only the United States continued top-level competitive play. With the enlistment of many male tennis players into the armed forces, women players took center court. Betz was one of a host of female players who gained international recognition for their game. In 1946 she was a member of the Wightman Cup team that traveled to England for championship play, along with Brough, Osborne, and Hart. Soon deemed the "Betz club" because of Betz's outstanding performances (she won both her singles and doubles championships), the Wightman team defeated Great Britain by a score of 7–0. That same year, at the age of twenty-six, Betz won the prestigious All England Club singles championship at Wimbledon, again beating Brough. But the formidable team of Brough and Osborne defeated Betz and Hart in the final round of the Wimbledon women's doubles.

After winning another U.S. Championship in 1946, Betz considered ending her amateur status and turning professional. Unfortunately, the decision was made for her when the USLTA got word that Betz and Cooke were considering organizing a professional tour for themselves. In 1947 the association suspended both Betz and Cooke from amateur play, forcing them to turn professional. The suspension highlighted a double standard for women's tennis: when Don Budge decided to turn professional in 1938, he was allowed to finish the season by competing both at Wimbledon and in the Davis Cup matches.

Although Betz was disappointed, she did not challenge the USLTA's decision. Instead, she and Cooke embarked on a professional tour in 1947, only the fourth professional tour ever for women. Driving from city to city on the grueling nonstop tour, Betz and Cooke dressed up and staged skits to teach college and high school level players. Betz estimated that they made approximately $10,000 on their one-year tour, a vast improvement from the average $12 a day on the amateur route. From 1947 to 1951 Betz toured America and Europe with well-known tennis stars such as Budge, Bobby Riggs, Jack Kramer, Pancho Segura, and Gertrude "Gussy" Moran.

In 1950 Betz married Bob Addie, a sportswriter for the Washington Post. Raising their five children left Betz little time for professional tennis, although she did consider returning to Wimbledon in 1968. She wrote three books on the sport—Wings on My Tennis Shoes (1949) , Tennis Is Fun, and Tennis for Everyone (1966)—and started her own tennis club in Stuart, Florida. Later in her career Betz taught tennis at the Cabin John Indoor Tennis Courts in Bethesda, Maryland. In 1965 she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Betz, along with the many great women players of the period, inspired a generation of up-and-coming female players. Her stunning backhand, her amazing agility, and her quick ground strokes were admired by her fans and peers alike. Out of thirty-seven matches played at Forest Hills, Betz won thirty-three. She held nineteen U.S. singles titles and, along with Billie Jean King, was one of the only women to win two triple sweeps at the Indoor Championship, winning singles, doubles, and mixed doubles (1941 and 1943). In 1946, the year she won her Wimbledon championship, Betz appeared on the cover of Time, having become an American tennis sensation.

Betz was one of the women who kept tennis alive during World War II, when sports became a much-needed diversion for Americans and male athletes were scarce. Along with the other members of the Wightman team, she demonstrated the talent of American women athletes. Her strong will and determination marked her as one of the sport's greatest female athletes. Although her competitive career spanned only a few years, Betz's character, athletic ability, and speed on the court assured her a place in tennis history.

There is no full-length biography on Betz, but she is often included in general surveys of tennis history. Owen Davidson and C. M. Jones, Great Women Tennis Players (1971), contains a chapter that serves as a collective biography of Betz, Osborne, Brough, and Hart, a grouping that is often used to exemplify the women players of the World War II period. Angela Lumpkin, Women's Tennis: A Historical Documentary of the Players and Their Game (1981), and Billie Jean King, We Have Come a Long Way: The Story of Women's Tennis (1988), offer some of the best biographical information on Betz. Stan Hart, Once a Champion: Legendary Tennis Stars Revisited (1985), has an account of the author's tennis match with Betz in her later years.

Stefanie Decker