Parents Couldn't Afford Riding
Tennis was actually a backup recreational activity for Connolly, whose divorced mother could not afford horseback riding. Connolly first wielded a racket at age ten and after her first coach, Wilbur Folsom, switched her to right-handed play, she went under the tutelage of Eleanor "Teach" Tennant, who had influenced the Hall of Fame careers of Helen Wills (later Helen Wills Moody, eight-time Wimbledon champion) and Alice Marble. Tennant would not let Connolly talk with other women's tennis players. "Maureen approached tennis with an intense hatred for her opponents, a trait that Tennant encouraged," the Gale Group's Women's History Month Web site wrote. "Maureen believed that she could not win if she did not despise her opponent. Winning became a singleminded pursuit for the talented youngster."
After sweeping tournaments in Southern California, Connolly came to New York and won the U.S. junior titles in 1949 and 1950. She reached the second round of the mainstream U.S. Open tournaments both years.
A sportswriter nicknamed her "Little Mo" for her powerful, accurate strokes, in reference to "Big Mo," the U.S. battleship Missouri. She was not overly strong and disdained the volley, but compensated with a methodical baseline game. "Sportswriters raved about her engaging blend of teenage charm and killer instinct on the court." the Women's History Month web site reported. "Fueled by her intense passion to win, her drive and energy on the court swept her past all of the best women players of her day. Later in life she remarked about the fear that drove her and the talent that she displayed."