24 MAY 2016 • 5:38PM
Suzanne Lenglen: The original tennis diva of the 1920s who brought the women’s game alive
Before the Williams sisters, Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova, there was Suzanne Lenglen, the original tennis celebrity of the 1920s whose antics would still raise a few court-side eyebrows today.
Lenglen, a brandy-sipping, uninhibited Parisian prima donna who was prone to weeping on court, dominated women’s tennis from the end of the First World War until 1927.
But more than simply being a champion, Lenglen popularised the women’s game in a way that nobody had done before. Throwing off the sport’s formalities, including a dress sense that bordered on the (for the time) eccentric, her flamboyant nature and dazzling play drew huge crowds.
Lenglen was a wonderful player, with a flowing exciting style that wowed spectators. But she was famous for more than that.
She would enter the court wearing full make-up, and a full-length white ermine or mink coat, and would play in much shorter skirts than spectators were used to as well as a tight-fitting top. This was in stark comparison to the traditional ladies attire at the time, which still consisted of ankle-length frocks and corsets.
Lenglen’s outfits, as one observer recalled, “clearly revealed her unmistakable female form and glimpses of naked thigh”. Bill Tilden, a US tennis star, once said that “her costume struck me as a cross between a prima donna’s and a streetwalker”.
And rather than the bottles of energy drink or water that today’s stars keep at courtside, Lenglen was partial to sipping from a flask of brandy at changeovers. READ MORE