Maureen Catherine Connolly, Mrs. Brinker (September 17, 1934 – June 21, 1969) known as "Little Mo", was an American tennis player, the winner of nine Grand Slam singles titles in the early 1950s. In 1953, she became the first woman to win all four Grand Slam tournaments during the same calendar year. The following year, a horseback riding accident injured her right leg and ended her competitive tennis career at age 19.
Born in San Diego, California, she loved horseback riding as a child, but her mother was unable to pay the cost of riding lessons. So, she took up the game of tennis. Connolly's tennis career began at the age of 10 on the municipal courts of San Diego. Her first coach, Wilbur Folsom, encouraged her to switch from a left-handed grip to right and she soon became a baseline specialist with tremendous power, accuracy, and a strong backhand. After Folsom she was coached by Eleanor Tenant who had also previously coached Alice Marble the Wimbledon champion of 1939. At age 14, she won 56 consecutive matches and the following year became the youngest ever to win the U.S. national championship for girls 18 and under.
Connolly won Wimbledon and successfully defended her U.S. title in 1952. For the 1953 season, she hired a new coach, the Australian Davis Cup captain Harry Hopman, and entered all four Grand Slam tournaments for the first time. She defeated Julie Sampson Haywood in the Australian Championships final and Doris Hart in the finals of the French Championships, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Championships to become the first woman, and only the second person, to win the world's four major titles in the same year, commonly known as a "Grand Slam". She lost only one set in those four tournaments.
In 1954, Connolly did not defend her title at the Australian Championships but successfully defended her French and Wimbledon championships. Two weeks after she won her third straight Wimbledon title, she was horseback riding in San Diego on July 20. A passing cement mixer truck frightened her horse, Colonel Merryboy, which pinned Connolly between the horse and truck. She was thrown off and suffered a compound fracture to her right fibula, which ultimately ended her tennis career at age 19. She had intended to become professional after the 1954 U.S. National Championships. She officially retired from tennis in February 1955.
Grand Slam singles results for Connolly's 11 appearances:
Australian Championships – 1 time: Winner 1953
French Championships – 2 times: Winner 1953, 1954
Wimbledon – 3 times: Winner 1952, 1953, 1954
U.S. Championships – 5 times (1949–1953): Winner 1951, 1952, 1953
Connolly won the last nine Grand Slam singles tournaments she played, including 50 consecutive singles matches. During her Wightman Cup career from 1951 through 1954, she won all seven of her singles matches. Connolly's achievements made her the darling of the media and one of the most popular personalities in the U.S.; she was named Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press for three straight years, from 1951 through 1953. However, Connolly recognized the downside of her tennis career, saying, “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.”
In June 1955, Connolly married Norman Brinker, a member of the 1952 Olympicequestrian team for the United States, who shared her love of horses. They had two daughters, Cindy and Brenda, and she remained partially involved in tennis, acting as a correspondent for some U.S. and British newspapers at major U.S. tennis tournaments. Connolly was a coach for the British Wightman Cup team during its visits to the U.S. In Texas, where the couple lived, and established the "Maureen Connolly Brinker Foundation" to promote junior tennis.
According to John Olliff and Lance Tingay of The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, Connolly Brinker was ranked in the world top ten from 1951 through 1954, reaching a career high of World No. 1 in those rankings from 1952 through 1954. Connolly was included in the year-end top ten rankings issued by the United States Lawn Tennis Association from 1950 through 1953. She was the top ranked U.S. player from 1951 through 1953.
NH = tournament not held.
R = tournament restricted to French nationals and held under German occupation.
A = did not participate in the tournament.
SR = the ratio of the number of Grand Slam singles tournaments won to the number of those tournaments played.