Sperling, Hilde (1908—)

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Sperling, Hilde (1908—)

German tennis star who was a greatly respected player on the international tennis circuit in the 1930s. Name variations: Hilde Krahwinkel. Born Hilde Krahwinkel in 1908; married Sven Sperling (a Danish tennis star).

Won the French (three times) and Swiss championships; was runner-up at Wimbledon (1931).

Hilde Sperling had several strikes against her on the international tennis circuit. She was tall and ungainly, with an unusual style of play. Her grip was even more unusual, for an early injury to the ligaments in the fourth and fifth fingers of her right hand made it difficult for her to hold a racquet. "She is one of the best yet most hopeless looking tennis players I have ever seen," commented American champion Bill Tilden. "Her game is awkward in the extreme, limited to cramped unorthodox ground strokes without volley or smash to aid her, yet she has been the most consistent winner in women's tennis each year since 1934. She is another proof of that great tennis truth that it is where and when you hit a tennis ball, not how, that wins matches."

Sperling rose in the ranks in German tennis in the early 1930s and soon placed third behind Cilly Aussem and Marie Louise Horn . Her style made her appear an easy match, but more than one player discovered this was not the case. As American star Helen Hull Jacobs learned to her sorrow, Sperling was full of surprises. Her pace was slow but steady, gradually wearing down her opponent. She did not execute volleys or smashes in the traditional style, but her shots were well placed and her net returns excellent. Reporting on one of Jacobs' unexpected losses to Sperling, the Associate Press wrote, "The unexpected defeat of Miss Jacobs was largely the American's own fault and the result of her inability to employ her best high-powered tennis against an opponent who stood on the baseline and with a slight movement to either side or a step forward appeared to cover the whole backcourt … 20, 30 and even 50 stroke rallies were reeled off in the grim, rather uninteresting struggle." The struggle was dull to everyone except Sperling.

Although her height might have been a disadvantage, Sperling used it as an asset. She often had to take only three steps to her competitor's five, which eventually tired more than one player. Many on the tennis circuit adored Sperling for her humor. Once after a long championship match against Jacobs at Wimbledon, both players had blistered and swollen feet. Jacobs eventually prevailed, winning the match and the tournament. That night, she received a telegram from Sperling. "Wish I could be with you," it read, "but even my husband's shoes are too small for me tonight."


Jacobs, Helen Hull. Gallery of Champions. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1970.

Karin Loewen Haag , Athens, Georgia