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Mallory, Molla (1892–1959)

Mallory, Molla (1892–1959)

Norwegian tennis player who won eight U.S. singles tennis championships, more than any other woman in history . Name variations: Anna Margrethe Bjurstedt; Molla Bjurstedt; Mrs. Franklin Mallory. Born Molla Bjurstedt in 1892 in Norway; died in 1959 in Norway; married Franklin Mallory (a stockbroker), in 1919 (died 1934).

Born Anna Margrethe Bjurstedt in Norway in 1892, Molla Mallory was an athletic child who took up tennis at an early age. Competing throughout Europe, she won the Norwegian National championship eight times. By the time she visited the United States in 1914, she was already known as the first lady of Norwegian tennis. Mallory found herself smitten with America and decided to settle in New York City. Five years later, she married stockbroker Franklin Mallory.

What she lacked in some areas of her game, Mallory made up for with her sheer determination to win, a powerful forehand, and excellent mobility. Among the holes in her game were her serve, which was surprisingly weak, a backhand that was used almost exclusively defensively, and an unwillingness to play close to the net unless forced to by a drop-shot. Of course, all these weaknesses quickly fall by the wayside, considering the formidable record of wins that Mallory posted both in Europe and in the United States. In her initial bid for the U.S. National tennis championship in 1915, Mallory defeated Hazel Wightman . A sports writer of the day described Mallory as "a panther stalking her prey."

Molla Mallory was one of the first female tennis players to hit the ball hard; her powerful returns influenced women players to concentrate on passing shots rather than on returning volleys. Known for her fast-paced backcourt style of playing (Billie Jean King called her "a thunderous backcourt player"), she was the essence of the fighting spirit. "I find that the girls generally do not hit the ball as hard as they should," said Mallory. "I believe in always hitting the ball with all my might, but there seems to be a disposition to 'just get it over' in many girls whom I have played. I do not call this tennis." She took a somewhat less stringent approach to training; she smoked and particularly enjoyed a night out dancing, even if one of those nights happened to be the eve of a big match. Athletically built and sporting a perpetual tan, she was described by fans and rivals alike as the "fighting Norsewoman."

Mallory was a major factor in women's tennis for 15 years and won the singles championship in 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1920, 1921, 1922, and 1926. Every year between 1915 and 1929, she made it at least as far as the quarterfinals. Playing with Eleanora Sears , she won the doubles championship in 1916 and 1917. In mixed doubles, she shared the championship with Ian Wright in 1917, and again in 1922 and 1923, with Bill Tilden. All of Mallory's major titles were won in the United States, although she did compete in several international tennis competitions. She also played for the United States five times in the Wightman Cup and came in second in the World Hard Court championship of 1921.

Mallory's court mien was described by a former president of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association, Bob Kelleher: "She walked around in a manner that said you'd better look out or she'd deck you. She was an indomitable scrambler and runner. She was a fighter." The high point of her tennis career occurred at the 1921 Nationals in Forest Hills, New York. Mallory faced undefeated French champion and media celebrity Suzanne Lenglen in the first round. A sellout crowd of 8,000 filled the stands at the West Side Tennis Club. Lenglen had been ill with a recurrence of chronic asthma before leaving France, but newspapers reported (as they reported almost anything about her) that she looked healthy and confident on the day of her match with Mallory. From the outset, however, she played tentatively, while Mallory attacked with a vengeance. Already trailing, Lenglen began to cough. Mallory won the first set decisively, 6-2. Lenglen served in the first game of the second set and soon fell behind, love-30. She then double-faulted, something that happened no more than ten times in her entire career. She eventually approached the umpire's chair to say she was too ill to go on. As she was helped off the court, weeping, many in the crowd expressed their disapproval by hissing. The match ended in a victory by default for Mallory, although amidst the enormous publicity which ensued most commentators opined that Mallory almost certainly would have won had the match continued. The victory made Mallory the only woman to beat the French champion from the time Lenglen first won at Wimbledon in 1919 until 1926. (In 1922, Lenglen defeated Mallory in straight sets at Wimbledon.)

Mallory, who had lived a life of luxury while married to her successful stockbroker husband, fell on harder times when he died in 1934, and worked for the government to make ends meet. She also sold all but one of her hundreds of trophies. In 1958, she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame at Newport, Rhode Island. She died the following year while on a visit to her native Norway.

Tennis champion Helen Hull Jacobs dedicated her 1944 book Gallery of Champions (which chronicled the accomplishments of such women tennis stars as Mallory, Lenglen, Alice Marble, Louise Brough , and Pauline Betz ) to Mallory with these words: "To Molla Mallory, whose domination of American women's tennis was less important than the legacy she left to those who came after her. Her great driving game was the beginning of an era of hard-hitters among women players. … [H]er courage and sportsmanship and, above all, her will to win were a contribution of unforgettable value."

sources:

Hollander, Phyllis. 100 Greatest Women in Sports. NY: Grosset & Dunlap, 1976.

King, Billie Jean, with Cynthia Starr. We Have Come a Long Way: The Story of Women's Tennis. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1988.

Don Amerman , freelance writer, Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania

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