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Helen Wills - Early Years

Famous Sports StarsTennisHelen Wills Biography - Early Years, Center Court, Chronology, Retirements And Comebacks, "little Miss Poker Face", "every Woman Who Goes Into Athletics Owes Something To Her"

Early Years

The story of how Wills learned to play tennis has always been a part of her legend. Her father, a prominent surgeon in Berkeley, California, gave her her first racket when she was thirteen, and at age fourteen he got her a membership at the Berkeley Tennis Club, which was a prestigious institution. Wills never took formal lessons; instead, she learned by watching and playing against other members, both men and women. Hazel Wightman, women's tennis champion of the 1910s, was also a member of the club. Wightman worked with Wills on her game, trying especially to improve her speed. It was less than two years after she joined the club that Wills became a tennis champion, winning her first U.S. girls' singles championships at the age of fifteen. At age seventeen she became the youngest person ever to win the U.S. women's singles title.

Helen Wills

Wills and Wightman eventually went on to become a formidable doubles team, winning the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, and the Olympics in their best year together, 1924. They were never defeated when playing together. Despite this record, Wightman never ceased trying to improve Wills's speed, which plagued her throughout her career. In fact, when the two played in doubles together, Wightman often shouted, "Run, Helen!" However, Wills was so dominant at the baseline, and was so good at anticipating where the ball would go next, that she was not often required to run very fast.

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