Helen Wills Moody

Helen Wills Moody Biography

Coach, Athlete, Tennis Player (1905–1998)
Helen Wills Moody was a champion tennis player in the 1920s and '30s. She won 19 Grand Slam singles titles during her career, including eight wins at Wimbledon.


Helen Wills Moody was born Helen Newington Wills in Centerville, California, on October 6, 1905. She was a world champion tennis player in the 1920s and '30s (she competed as Helen Wills Moody after her first marriage). Wills won 31 Grand Slam titles and two Olympic medals. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1959. On January 1, 1998, at age 92, Wills died in Carmel, California.

Early Life

Helen Wills Moody was born Helen Newington Wills in Centerville, California, on October 6, 1905. She grew up in northern California, where her father first taught her how to play tennis. When she was 14, she joined the Berkeley Tennis Club. There, she honed the determination that would help her become a champion.

Tennis Career

From the start of her career, Helen Wills took tennis extremely seriously. While playing, she maintained an intense focus, which led to her being dubbed "Little Miss Poker Face." As she often practiced with men, her own serve and strokes were very powerful. Wills also refused to play in the impractical long skirts that were common at the time, instead opting for a shorter skirt that allowed her more freedom on the court.

After succeeding in junior and regional competitions, Wills won the U.S. championship in 1923. The following year, she received Olympic gold in both singles and doubles tennis. In 1927, Wills won her first Wimbledon title, an achievement she would repeat seven more times. These successes turned Wills into an international star who drew large crowds almost everywhere she competed.

Over the course of her career, Wills won a total of 19 Grand Slam singles titles—in addition to her victories at Wimbledon, she had seven wins in the United States and was a four-time champion in France. She won another 12 Grand Slam titles in paired competitions. After her final win at Wimbledon in 1938, she retired from tennis.

Personal Life

In 1926, Wills faced off in Cannes against another champion tennis player, Suzanne Lenglen. Though Lenglen won the match, Wills was happy to meet Frederick Moody afterward. Wills and Moody married in 1929 (Wills competed as Helen Wills Moody afterward). The two divorced in 1937. Two years later, Wills married again, this time to Aidan Roark. By the early 1970s, her second marriage had also ended.

Writing and Painting

While still competing, Wills took occasional work as a journalist, and also put out a tennis instruction manual. In 1937, she penned an autobiography: 15-30: The Story of a Tennis Player. After retiring, she co-wrote a mystery novel, Death Serves an Ace (1939), with Robert W. Murphy.

Wills had studied fine arts at the University of California, Berkeley, and continued to paint and draw for the rest of her life. Some of her illustrations appeared alongside her writing. Other pieces she created were exhibited in galleries. Diego Rivera also used Wills as a model for his mural "The Riches of California."

Later Life and Death

In 1959, Wills was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Still living in California, she continued to play tennis until she was 82. She died in Carmel on January 1, 1998, at the age of 92.

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