Tramlines

On This Day in 1953: Connolly starts Grand Slam miracle run

Maureen Connolly won the first of her record four tennis Grand Slams in a year after scooping the Australian Open on this day in 1953.

The American 18-year-old, who was nicknamed Little Mo, went on to also earn the singles titles at Wimbledon and the French and US Opens.

In doing so, she became the first and only woman to win all four Grand Slams within a calendar year.

And between 1952 and 1953, she won six consecutive major tournaments – a feat only matched by Martina Navratilova during 1983 and 1984.

But 5ft 5in Little Mo’s run ended when she failed to win the Australian Open again in 1954.

The media darling, whose appeal was also boosted by her good looks, earned two more Grand Slams before a horse riding accident ended her tennis career at age 19.

In total she won nine major tournaments – and, apart from in her native America, seemed most at home on the hallowed turf of Wimbledon, which she won three times.

A British Pathé newsreel shows Connolly, whom the reporter described as a “ruthless, hard-hitting machine”, winning the British championship in an electrifying final.

Little Mo struggled to break fellow American Doris Hart’s serve – but still managed to beat her opponent in straight sets - 8-6, 7-5 – to win the match.

But her early exit from the sport sparked questions over whether she could have topped her Australian successor Margaret Court’s grand slam record of 24 titles.

Yet, despite a compound fracture to her right calf bone robbing her of the possibility of being the greatest ever champion, Connolly remained magnanimous.

When she finally retired in February 1955, she insisted she was glad to be liberated by the weight of responsibility.

Connolly said: “I have always believed greatness on a tennis court was my destiny, a dark destiny at times, where the court became my secret jungle and I a lonely, fear-stricken hunter.

"I was a strange little girl armed with hate, fear, and a Golden Racket.”

She remained involved in tennis and, despite her injury, the San Diego native, who later moved to Dallas, mainatained a love of horse riding as well.

In 1955, she married Norman Brinker, a member of the 1952 US Olympic equestrian team, with whom she had two daughters.

She later coached the UK team in the Wightman Cup, the former women’s equivalent of the Davis Cup in which Little Mo had won all seven of her matches as a player.

She also worked as a tournament correspondent for some British and US newspapers as well as setting up the Maureen Connolly Brinker Foundation for junior tennis.

But, just as her playing career ended tragically early, so too did her life.

She was diagnosed with cancer in 1966 and on June 21, 1969 she died following a third operation for a stomach tumour. She was just 34 years old.