1920’s Tennis Diva Suzanne Lenglen

THE TELEGRAPH

By  Telegraph Reporters

24 MAY 2016 • 5:38PM

Suzanne Lenglen: The original tennis diva of the 1920s who brought the women’s game alive

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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