28/08/2014

Legends of the game # 7 - Margaret Osborne duPont

Career

In 1936 duPont graduated from high school but was unable to fund further study, and so, aged 18, began a tennis career. She won the junior nationals singles and double titles in Philadelphia, then travelled the country. She trained for a year with the coach Tom Stow, who noted “a dazzling arsenal of shots, including low-flying spin volleys and gravity-defying lobs.” 

Tennis became an obsession and only the Second World War, which saw her working in a munitions factory in Sausalito, CA, interrupted her full playing schedule. 

Her singles career included Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon in 1947, at the French Championships in 1946 and 1949, and at three consecutive US Championships (which were then played on grass at Forest Hills) between 1948 and 1950. 

As a singles player, Osborne duPont was relentless in her pursuit of victory. Her longest duel came against Louise Brough in the 1948 US final, which she won 6-4, 4-6, 15-13 – the longest women’s singles final ever played at that tournament (48 games). In the same tournament, she and Bill Talbert outlasted Gussie Moran and Bob Falkenberg in a 71-game, two day, mixed doubles semi-final, a record that stood for over 40 years.   

It was with Louise Brough that she would have her great success in doubles. DuPont and Brough won nine consecutive titles at the U.S. Championships from 1942 through 1950 and again three more times from 1955 to 1957. They won the tournament 12 of the 14 years they entered as a team. Their 12 titles is an all-time record for a women’s doubles team at the U.S. Championships. DuPont had also an earlier success in 1941 winning the US doubles with Sarah Palfrey Cooke. All told, DuPont and Brough won 20 Grand Slam titles, a total which was eventually equalled by Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver in 1989. 

DuPont won more mixed doubles titles at the U.S. Championships than any other player. She won nine titles, including four with William Talbert (a record for a mixed doubles team at the U.S. Championships) and three with Australia’s Neale Fraser. She won her final Grand Slam title with Fraser taking out the Mixed Doubles at Wimbledon in 1962 at the age of 44.

From 1938 through 1958, DuPont also went undefeated in ten Wightman Cup** competitions, winning her ten singles and nine double matches. She also captained the U.S. team nine times, winning eight. 

“I watched Margaret play many times, and she was really just an outstanding player and in particular, a fantastic doubles player, as is clear to see by her record. I always found her to be a genuinely nice person and to have great sportsmanship. She has been a terrific representative of our sport.” Tony Trabert.

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Personal Life

In 1947, Osborne married William duPont, heir to a chemical company fortune. As an avid fan of the game himself, he was extremely supportive of her tennis career but, suffering from breathing problems that were alleviated by living in California during the winter months, he insisted his wife stay with him feeling it would be detrimental to his health to be separated, with the result that she never played in the Australian Championships. “They didn’t start to invite people down there and pay their expenses until I got married, and that was wintertime and Will’s vacation time, and I just never got to go. He threatened to divorce me if I went to Australia, so I never went. He had that respiratory trouble, and he wanted me to come to California with him. He thought I should be with him. That was that.”

She gave birth to a son, William, in 1952 and immediately resumed her tennis career, becoming one of the few players to win Grand Slam titles after having children. The family lived at their Delaware estate, Bellevue Hall, where she could practice on the nine tennis courts – grass, concrete or clay.

The duPonts divorced amicably in 1964 and, although she stayed in the east initially so that young William could be near his father, she did not linger when her ex-husband died a year later.

Margarets

After her husband’s death duPont formed a life partnership with fellow player Margaret Varner Bloss. She and Varner Bloss had reached the Wimbledon doubles final together in 1958, losing to the legendary Althea Gibson and Maria Bueno. In 1962, duPont and Bloss defeated Britain in the Wightman Cup doubles; DuPont had an unblemished record, 19-0, in that competition.

Margaret Varner Bloss (b.1927) could win with any racquet becoming the first person to represent the U.S. in world competitions in three racquet sports: tennis, squash and badminton. In addition to the runners-up trophy at Wimbledon in 1958 she was also the US Badminton Champion in 1956; All-England (World) Badminton Champion in 1955 and 1956; and was the US Women’s Singles Squash Champion from 1960-1963. Bloss also authored books on badminton, squash and table tennis.

Together they moved to a ranch near El Paso, Texas, Varner Bloss’s home town, where they bred thoroughbred horses, giving them names such as ‘Super Set’, ‘Tie-Breaker’ and ‘Net Effect’. The DuPont-Bloss Stables was ranked as a Top 20 Thoroughbred Racehorse Owner by Thoroughbred Times in the mid-1990s. 

 “Margaret duPont was a giant in tennis and had a huge impact in my career,” said Billie Jean King in a statement. “She was one of my she-roes and was a great influence on my life both on and off the court. I hope today’s players and any boy or girl who dreams of a career in tennis will go to the history books and read about Margaret, because her career wasn’t just about winning matches. It was also about mentoring others.” 

Margaret Osborne DuPont was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1967. In 2010, she was inducted into the US Open Court of Champions. 

Osborne duPont continued to follow the game until the end. ”The game has changed so much,” she told the El Paso Times in 2012. “We played with wooden rackets. The balls were not as hard. Our game was more about finesse, not so much power as today.” As the stars of her day were not paid, they played “for the love of the game.” 

Margaret Osborne duPont died on October 24, 2012, aged 94.

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GRAND SLAM TITLES (37) 

  • French Championships (5)
    • Singles champion (2): 1946, 1949
    • Women’s Doubles champion (3): 1946, 1947, 1949
    • Women’s Doubles runner-up: 1950
  • Wimbledon (7)
    • Singles champion: 1947
    • Singles runner-up (2): 1949, 1950
    • Women’s Doubles champion (5): 1946, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1954
    • Women’s Doubles runner-up (3): 1947, 1951, 1958
    • Mixed Doubles champion: 1962
    • Mixed Doubles runner-up: 1954
  • U.S. Championships(25)
    • Singles champion (3): 1948, 1949, 1950
    • Singles runner-up (2): 1944, 1947
    • Women’s Doubles champion (13): 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1955, 1956, 1957
    • Women’s Doubles runner-up (2): 1953, 1954
    • Mixed Doubles champion  (9): 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1950, 1956, 1958, 1959, 1960
    • Mixed Doubles runner-up (3): 1948, 1949, 1954     
  • Australian Championships  (0) – never played and missed the opportunity of completing the Grand Slam in Women’s Doubles in both 1946 and 1949.

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** The Wightman Cup was a team tennis competition for women contested from 1923 through 1989 (except during World War II) between teams from the United States and Great Britain.

U.S. player Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman wanted to generate international interest in women’s tennis the way Davis Cup did for men’s. In 1920, she donated a sterling vase to the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) as a prize for an international team competition. Initial efforts to involve teams from all over the world, and in particular France with Suzanne Lenglen, proved unsuccessful due to financial constraints. The USLTA decided to invite Great Britain to challenge for the prize. Each match consisted of seven ‘rubbers’: five singles rubbers and two doubles. The top two players from each team would face each other in singles, with the matches then reversed. A third singles player from each team would play each other once. Two doubles teams would compete, but no player could play more than one doubles match. The cup always ended with the doubles match played between the two top pairs from each team.

The USTA and the Lawn Tennis Association jointly announced on February 20, 1990, that the competition would be suspended indefinitely, citing low interest following years of American domination. The US won 51 of the 61 Cups contested. The last Wightman Cup in 1989 featured a 13 year old Jennifer Capriati who won her singles 6-0, 6-0. A short newsreel from the 1948 Wightman Cup played at Wimbledon featuring duPont is HERE.

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1958 Cup – duPont & Althea Gibson 1967 US Team with Hazel Wightman(centre)
Wightman1981 Wightman1989
1981 US Wightman Cup Team 1989 US Wightman Cup Team

 

 

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