TENNIS – FORMER PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Doris Hart

Similar to my previous Former Player Spotlight article on Cary Middlecoff, I have chosen for us to take a closer look at an athlete who overcame physical limitations to become one of the greatest champions of her era.

Her sport of choice: Tennis.

Her major accomplishment:  The first woman to win singles, doubles and mixed doubles in each of the four Grand Slam tournaments, referred to as a “career boxed set”.  Only 2 other women have attained the same feat (Margaret Court and Martina Navratilova).  No male player has ever achieved this.

Her Story

Doris Jane Hart was born on June 20, 1925 in St. Louis Missouri.

Her early life was riddled with health scares.

Barely over a year old, she contracted an infection in her right knee after a fall which spread up her leg.   Originally misdiagnosed as polio, specialists wanted to remove Hart’s leg for fear of paralysis, but her parents (Robert & Anna) refused.  She finally received the correct diagnosis of osteomyelitis, an inflammation of the bone & bone marrow caused by bacteria.  At that point, doctors feared the infection would spread to her heart, so an emergency operation was performed to remove the bacteria from her knee.  The surgery took place on the family kitchen table without anesthetic.

Later, Hart endured a bout of scarlet fever and mastoid operation which combined with her leg infection caused her to be almost bedridden through much of her childhood.

During one of Hart’s recuperation periods after surgery at a hospital in Coral Gables, Florida (where the family moved to), she saw children playing tennis outside her window at a nearby park.  It sparked her interest in the game and right then and there she decided she would “become the best player possible”.

Embolden by her older brother Bud, Hart started playing shortly after her recovery despite permanent damage to her right leg which became bowed.  As a result, she couldn’t run as fast as the other players.

These issues never held her back.

In fact, she got to be so good at tennis that she was entered in junior tournaments as a teen and even began playing major tournaments in 1940 at 15 years old.

In 1942 and 1943, Hart won the national girls’ singles championship and doubles titles (1940 and 1943) and by age 16 she was ranked as one of America’s top 10 women players.  By age 21, she was ranked as one of the World’s top 10 women players.

As a college student at the University of Miami (1947-1949), Hart helped the US Wightman Cup team beat the British team and won her first major in 1947 with Patricia Todd (Wimbledon Ladies Doubles Championship).

After college, Hart’s career really took off.  From 1949-1955, she won 35 major titles in 66 opportunities (stats from Wikipedia):

  • Australian Championships (4)
    • Singles champion: 1949
    • Singles runner-up: 1950
    • Women’s Doubles champion: 1950
    • Women’s Doubles runner-up: 1949
    • Mixed Doubles champion(2): 1949, 1950
  • French Championships (10)
    • Singles champion(2): 1950, 1952
    • Singles runner-up (3): 1947, 1951, 1953
    • Women’s Doubles champion(5): 1948, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953
    • Women’s Doubles runner-up (2): 1946, 1947
    • Mixed Doubles champion(3): 1951, 1952, 1953
    • Mixed Doubles runner-up: 1948
  •  Wimbledon (10)
    • Singles champion: 1951
    • Singles runner-up (3): 1947, 1948, 1953
    • Women’s Doubles champion(4): 1947, 1951, 1952, 1953
    • Women’s Doubles runner-up (4): 1946, 1948, 1950, 1954
    • Mixed Doubles champion(5): 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955
    • Mixed Doubles runner-up: 1948
  • US Championships (11)
    • Singles champion(2): 1954, 1955
    • Singles runner-up (5): 1946, 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953
    • Women’s Doubles champion(4): 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954
    • Women’s Doubles runner-up (9): 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1955
    • Mixed Doubles champion(5): 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955
    • Mixed Doubles runner-up (2): 1945, 1950

In Sum

Hart won 325 titles during her career including 6 singles major championships, 14 women’s doubles major championships, and 15 mixed doubles major championships.

She ranked world No. 1 in 1951 and was in the Top 10 for 10 straight years (1946-1955).

Perhaps Hart’s greatest year was 1951 when she won 7 major championships including all three major Wimbledon titles in one day.  (Due to a weather delay, all 3 were scheduled back to back).  She also lost only 1 set through the entire fortnight.

In 1952, she swept all French championships and repeated it in 1954 when she also earned the “Career Grand Slam”.

According to the Tennis Hall of Fame, Hart was so dominant against other outstanding female players of the time because she had finesse, intelligence, variety and superb racquet control.  She was also known for a good serve and her wicked drop shots which she could hit from behind the baseline.

All that, even with a leg impairment.  Incredible.

In 1955, Hart retired at age 30.  She went on to work as a tennis pro in south Florida for 28 years and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1969.

Late in her life she publicly denounced the hard hitters of modern tennis and chose to revere the tennis of yesteryear for its requirement of “strategy”.

Hart died on May 29, 2015.

Final Thoughts

I find Doris Hart’s life and career astounding.

How she could have had such dominance with a physical disability and still beat some of the best players ever in the history of tennis (including men) is beyond unbelievable.

How she could have had such bravery and determination to face the odds is remarkable.

Her story goes to the heart of why I love to look back at forgotten players in the history of sports.  It’s important that we keep her memory alive and learn from that powerful combination of talent and tenacity.

Never feel sorry for yourself.  The only antidote for the poison of self-pity is faith, courage and patience ~ Doris Hart

 

 



Source : Doris Hart Profile - International Tennis Hall of Fame

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