Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman

Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman


(From “The Bud Collins History of Tennis” book by Bud Collins)


“Lady Tennis” as she came to be known, remembered herself as a shy, somewhat awed and fascinated college girl when she arrived at the Philadelphia Cricket Club in 1909 for the U.S. Championships. A Californian, Hazel Virginia Hotchkiss hadn’t played on grass, but with her attacking style and rock-ribbed volleying-she was the first woman to rely so heavily on the volley. A 22-year-old Hazel, a right-hander, scythed through the field to lift the title effortlessly (6-0, 6-1) from 39-year-old Maud Barger Wallach in the challenge round, and won the doubles and mixed as well.

Losing only one set (in the all-comers final over Louise Hammond), she was the first of three triple-triple winners in U.S. annals. Repeating singles, doubles and mixed titles in 1910-11, Hazel was emulated by Mary K. Browne (1912-13-14) and Alice Marble (1938-39-40). Hazel had no trouble with Hammond in the 1910 challenge round, but an old West Coast rival, May Sutton, the champion in 1904, pushed her hard in 1911 in a 8-10, 6-4, 9-7 final-round scoreline. In 1910, at Seattle, she blitzed a Miss Huiskamp in the only recorded “golden match,”  6-0, 6-0, outscoring poor Huiskamp 48 points to zero.

Marrying Bostonian George Wightman in 1912, she didn’t defend. But, responding to a challenge from her father to win after becoming a mother, a U.S. first, she reappeared in 1915 to lose the singles final to Molla Mallory but win the doubles and mixed. But papa’s wish came true for the spunky 125-pound 5-footer in another comeback in 1919. At 32, she won her fourth singles title. She lost only one set, beating Marion Zinderstein, 6-1, 6-2, in the final, and reaching the doubles final. Thereafter here long-lived and unapproached success (U.S. adult titles between 1909 and 1943) was confined to doubles, at which she was one of the supremes.

Hazel, devoted to the game in all aspects, generously instructed innumerable players, at no charge, throughout her life, and was able to win important titles with two of her protégés who would join her in the Hall of Fame: Wimbledon, U.S. and Olympic doubles with Helen Wills in 1924 and the U.S. Indoor doubles with Sarah Palfrey from 1928 through 1931. Her second Olympic gold in 1924 came in the mixed with Dick Williams.

She envisioned a team tournament for women similar to the Davis Cup, and offered a silver vase as prize. In1923, British women were the strongest apart from Americans, and Julian Myrick of the USTA decided that a U.S. vs. Great Britain competition would be in order for the Wightman Cup. The event, with Hazel captaining and playing for a winning U.S. side, opened the newly constructed stadium at Forest Hills. A treasured series, it lasted through 1989, disbanded unfortunately with the Brits no longer able to offer competition.

The last of Hazel’s record 34 U.S. adult titles was recorded in 1943 as she, 56, and Pauline Betz, 23, won the U.S. Indoor doubles over Lillian Lopaus and Judy Atterbury, 7-5, 6-1. Though short, she anticipated and moved extremely well and competed fiercely though undemonstrably. She perfected her volleying early, hitting the ball against the family home in Berkeley, where she grew up and graduated from the University of California. She refused to let the ball bounce because the yard was so uneven. She used to play against her four brothers and then the proud and spiky Sutton sisters, outlasting them by recording 11 U.S. senior (over 40) doubles titles between 1940 and 1954, the last at age 67.

As the Bostonian Mrs. Wightman, she was in the U.S. Top Ten in 1915, 1918 and 1919, No. 1 the last. She was born Dec. 20, 1886 in Healdsburg, Calif., and died Dec. 5, 1974, in Chestnut Hill, Mass. She entered the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1956.

MAJOR TITLES (17)—U.S. singles, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1919: Wimbledon doubles, 1924: U.S. doubles, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1915, 1924, 1928; U.S. mixed. 1909, 1910, 1911, 1915, 1918, 1920. OTHER U.S. TITLES (18)—Indoor singles, 1919, 1927; Indoor doubles, 1919, 1921, 1924, 1927, with Marion Zinderstein Jessup; 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1933, with Sarah Palfrey; 1943, with Pauline Betz; Indoor mixed, 1923, with Burnham Dell; 1924, with Bill Tilden; 1926, 1927, with G. Peabody Gardner Jr.; 1928, with Henry Johnson. Clay mixed, 1915, with Harry Johnson. WIGHTMAN CUP—1923, 1924, 1927, 1929, 1931; 3-2 doubles. SINGLES RECORD IN THE MAJORS— Wimbledon (2-1), U.S. (22-4).