The 2024 French Open is underway in Paris, France. The premier clay court tournament, home to some of the sport’s greatest champions, has also been witness to many great ITA Hall of Fame members, including Helen Wills. 

With her unrivaled concentration and driving attack from the baseline, the California native dominated the women’s tennis world in the 1920s and 30s, becoming an international sensation during her match against French champion Suzanne Lenglen at the 1926 French Open. Lenglen narrowly defeated the young star in a close 6-3, 8-6 match but the loss only sparked a fire for Wills, as she would go on an 161 consecutive match winning streak the following year that would last until 1933. During that time, she won 14 of her 19 major women’s singles championships, including four French Open singles titles (1928, 1929, 1930, 1932) and two French Open doubles titles (1930, 1932). 

By the end of her career, Wills captured a total of 31 Grand Slam titles (19 in singles, 9 in doubles and 3 in mixed doubles), and a career record of 398-35. She was also ranked No. 1 in the world on nine various occasions and was a member of the U.S. Wightman Cup team from 1923-25, 1927-32 and in 1938. During her time on the team, she and her teammates won the cup six times. 

Wills won seven U.S. Open, five Wimbledon, and four French Championships without losing a set and became the first female to win Wimbledon (1928) since May Sutton in 1907, and was the first American female to win the French. She was also the first female to win three majors (French, Wimbledon, U.S.) in the same year. 

Prior to her time on tour, Wills was a student at the University of California, Berkeley several decades before the founding of the women’s tennis program in the early 1970s. During her time at Cal, Wills studied fine arts and graduated with a Phi Beta Kappa key in 1927. While still a student, Wills earned Olympic gold medals in singles and in doubles, with fellow Cal alumna Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman, in 1924. 

Wills was introduced to the game by her father, Dr. Clarence Wills who taught her to play at the age of nine. At the age of 14, she received a membership to the Berkeley Tennis Club and by 17, she won her first of seven U.S. National Women’s Singles Championships, now known as the U.S. Open, by defeating Molla Bjurstedt Mallory 6-2, 6-1. 

Aside from tennis, Wills was passionate about art, painting and writing. She authored Tennis (1928), an introduction to the sport, and Fifteen-Thirty: The Story of a Tennis Player (1937), a memoir published a year before her retirement. Wills continued playing tennis until she was 82 years old and when she passed away at age 92, Wills left her $10 million fortune to her alma mater, Cal Berkeley, where she is remembered by the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. For her trailblazing and dedication to the sport, Wills was inducted into the ITA Women’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame in 1995. 


About the ITA Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame – The Intercollegiate Tennis Association Men’s and Women’s Halls of Fame aspire to preserve and celebrate the history and further the development of intercollegiate tennis through the collection of historic memorabilia and with inductions of notable players, coaches, and contributors.

About the ITA – The Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) is the governing body and coaches association of college tennis, both an advocate and an authority for the sport and its members. Comprised of 1,260 colleges and universities, 20,000 student-athletes, 1,700 varsity programs, 3,000 coaches, and 1,350 college tennis officials, the ITA empowers college tennis coaches at all levels to deliver vibrant tennis programs that are vital to their college communities and transformational to their student-athletes. Follow the 2023-24 college tennis season on the ITA website and ITA social channels on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube.

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