Maureen Connolly

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Maureen Connolly
Maureen Connolly 1953.jpg
Maureen Connolly in 1953
Full nameMaureen Catherine Connolly
Country (sports) United States
Born(1934-09-17)September 17, 1934
San Diego, California, U.S.
DiedJune 21, 1969(1969-06-21) (aged 34)
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
Height5 ft 5 in (1.65 m)[1]
Turned proAmateur
RetiredFebruary 1955 (age 20)[2]
PlaysRight-handed (one-handed backhand)
CollegeSouthern Methodist University
Int. Tennis HoF1968 (member page)
Highest rankingNo. 1 (1952)
Grand Slam singles results
Australian OpenW (1953)
French OpenW (1953, 1954)
WimbledonW (1952, 1953, 1954)
US OpenW (1951, 1952, 1953)
Grand Slam doubles results
Australian OpenW (1953)
French OpenW (1954)
WimbledonF (1952, 1953)
US OpenF (1952)
Grand Slam mixed doubles results
Australian OpenF (1953)
French OpenW (1954)
WimbledonSF (1954)
Team competitions
Wightman Cup(1951, 1952, 1953, 1954)

Maureen Catherine Connolly-Brinker (née Connolly; September 17, 1934 – June 21, 1969), known as "Little Mo", was an American tennis player, the winner of nine major singles titles in the early 1950s. In 1953, she became the first woman to win a Grand Slam (all four major tournaments during the same calendar year). She is also the only player in history to win a title without losing a set at all four major championships. The following year, in July 1954, a horseback riding accident seriously injured her right leg and ended her competitive tennis career at age 19.

Early years[edit]

Maureen was born in San Diego, California on September 17, 1934, the first child of Martin and Jessamine Connolly.[3] Her parents divorced when she was three years old and she was raised by her mother and an aunt.[4] 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[5] and she soon became a baseline specialist with tremendous power and accuracy, and a strong backhand. When she was 11, Maureen was dubbed "Little Mo" by San Diego sportswriter Nelson Fisher, who compared the power of her forehand and backhand to the firepower of the USS Missouri, known colloquially as "Big Mo".[3][6] In 1948, Folsom was replaced as her coach by Eleanor Tennant, who previously coached Alice Marble and Bobby Riggs, both Wimbledon and U.S. singles champions.[3] 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.[citation needed]

Playing career[edit]

At the 1951 U.S. Championships, the 16-year-old Connolly defeated Shirley Fry to become, at that time, the youngest ever to win America's most prestigious tennis tournament.[1][7] Her coach at the time was Eleanor Tennant.[8]

Connolly won her first Wimbledon title in 1952, defeating Louise Brough in the final. She had arrived at the tournament with a shoulder injury but refused to withdraw when Tennant instructed her to do so. The ensuing argument resulted in the end of their partnership.[5] Connolly was seeded first at the 1952 U.S. Championships and successfully defended her title with a victory in the final against Doris Hart.[9] 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 tennis player after Don Budge, to win the world's four major titles in the same year, commonly known as a "Grand Slam."[10] She lost only one set in those four tournaments.[11]

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.[12] In 1954, Connolly did not defend her title at the Australian Championships, but successfully defended her French and Wimbledon championships.

Later life[edit]

Horseriding accident[edit]

Two weeks after she won her third-straight Wimbledon title, she was horseback riding in San Diego on July 20, 1954. A passing concrete mixer truck frightened her horse Colonel Merryboy, which pinned Connolly between the horse and truck. She was thrown and suffered a compound fracture to her right fibula, which ultimately ended her tennis career at age 19.[13] She had intended to turn professional after the 1954 U.S. National Championships.[14] She officially retired from tennis in February 1955 when she announced her impending marriage to Norman Brinker.[2][6] Connolly retained Melvin Belli as counsel and sued the concrete mixer company.[14] On December 17, 1957, the Supreme Court of California unanimously affirmed a $95,000 jury verdict in her favor; the opinion was signed by Chief Justice Phil S. Gibson.[14]


In June 1955, Connolly married Norman Brinker, a member of the 1952 Olympic equestrian team for the United States, who shared her love of horses.[15] They had two daughters, Cindy and Brenda,[13] 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, she established the Maureen Connolly Brinker Foundation to promote junior tennis.[13]

In 1957, she published an autobiography titled Forehand Drive.[16] Connolly recognized the downside of her tennis career, writing "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."[17]


In 1966, Connolly was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.[18] On June 4, 1969, she underwent a third operation for a stomach tumor at Baylor Hospital in Dallas.[13] She died nearly three weeks later on June 21, at the age of 34.[19]


According to John Olliff and Lance Tingay of The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, Connolly was ranked in the world top 10 from 1951 through 1954, reaching a career high of world number one in those rankings from 1952 through 1954.[20] Connolly was included in the year-end top-10 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.[21]

Connolly was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1969 and the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1956, she was inducted by the San Diego Hall of Champions into the Breitbard Hall of Fame honoring San Diego's finest athletes both on and off the playing surface.[22]

Since 1973, the Maureen Connolly Challenge Trophy is played, a yearly competition between the best female tennis players age 18 and younger from the United States and Great Britain.[23][24]

Brinker Elementary School in Plano, Texas is named in honor of her. The school was dedicated on November 20, 1988.[25]

Connolly was portrayed by Glynnis O'Connor in Little Mo, a television movie that initially aired on September 5, 1978.[26][27]

In 2019, the United States Postal Service released a commemorative Forever stamp in her honor.[28]

Grand Slam finals[edit]

Singles: 9 (9 titles)[edit]

Result Year Championship Surface Opponent Score Ref
Win 1951 U.S. Championships Grass United States Shirley Fry 6–3, 1–6, 6–4 [29]
Win 1952 Wimbledon Grass United States Louise Brough 6–4, 6–3 [30]
Win 1952 U.S. Championships (2) Grass United States Doris Hart 6–3, 7–5 [29]
Win 1953 Australian Championships Grass United States Julia Sampson 6–3, 6–2 [31]
Win 1953 French Championships Clay United States Doris Hart 6–2, 6–4 [32]
Win 1953 Wimbledon (2) Grass United States Doris Hart 8–6, 7–5 [30]
Win 1953 U.S. Championships (3) Grass United States Doris Hart 6–2, 6–4 [29]
Win 1954 French Championships (2) Clay France Ginette Bucaille 6–4, 6–1 [32]
Win 1954 Wimbledon (3) Grass United States Louise Brough 6–2, 7–5 [30]

Doubles: 6 (2 titles, 4 runner-ups)[edit]

Result Year Championship Surface Partner Opponents Score Ref
Loss 1952 Wimbledon Grass United States Louise Brough United States Doris Hart
United States Shirley Fry
6–8, 3–6 [30]
Loss 1952 U.S. Championships Grass United States Louise Brough United States Doris Hart
United States Shirley Fry
8–10, 4–6 [33]
Win 1953 Australian Championships Grass United States Julia Sampson Australia Beryl Penrose
Australia Mary Bevis Hawton
6–4, 6–2 [34]
Loss 1953 French Championships Clay United States Julia Sampson United States Doris Hart
United States Shirley Fry
4–6, 3–6
Loss 1953 Wimbledon Grass United States Julia Sampson United States Doris Hart
United States Shirley Fry
0–6, 0–6 [30]
Win 1954 French Championships Clay Australia Nell Hall Hopman France Maude Galtier
France Suzanne Schmitt
7–5, 4–6, 6–0

Mixed doubles: 3 (1 title, 2 runner-ups)[edit]

Result Year Championship Surface Partner Opponents Score Ref
Loss 1953 Australian Championships Grass United States Hamilton Richardson United States Julia Sampson
Australia Rex Hartwig
4–6, 3–6 [35]
Loss 1953 French Championships Clay Australia Mervyn Rose United States Doris Hart
United States Vic Seixas
6–4, 4–6, 0–6
Win 1954 French Championships Clay Australia Lew Hoad Australia Jacqueline Patorni
Australia Rex Hartwig
6–4, 6–3

Grand Slam singles tournament timeline[edit]

(W) winner; (F) finalist; (SF) semifinalist; (QF) quarterfinalist; (#R) rounds 4, 3, 2, 1; (RR) round-robin stage; (Q#) qualification round; (DNQ) did not qualify; (A) absent; (NH) not held; (SR) strike rate (events won / competed); (W–L) win–loss record.
Tournament 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 SR W-L Win %
Australian Championships A A A A W A 1 / 1 5–0 100%
French Championships A A A A W W 2 / 2 10–0 100%
Wimbledon A A A W W W 3 / 3 18–0 100%
U.S. Championships 2R 2R W W W A 3 / 5 20–2 91%
Win–loss 1–1 1–1 6–0 12–0 22–0 11–0 9 / 11 53–2 96%


  1. ^ a b "Maureen Connolly wins amateur tennis crown". Wilmington (NC) Morning Star. United Press. September 6, 1951. p. 9.
  2. ^ a b "Maureen Connolly to wed; gives up tennis comeback". The Day. New London, CT. Associated Press. February 23, 1955. p. 17.
  3. ^ a b c Joey Seymour (Spring 2008). "San Diego's Sweetheart: Maureen Connolly" (PDF). The Journal of San Diego History. 54 (2).
  4. ^ King, Billie Jean; Starr, Cynthia (1988). We Have Come a Long Way : The Story of Women's Tennis. New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 83. ISBN 978-0070346253.
  5. ^ a b "Heroes and villains: Maureen Connolly". The Guardian. June 5, 2005.
  6. ^ a b "1955: American Tennis Star 'Little Mo' to Quit". BBC.
  7. ^ "Maureen Connolly youngest net champ in history". Pittsburgh Press. United Press. September 6, 1951. p. 49 – via Google News Archive.
  8. ^ Snider, Steve (September 7, 1951). "Maureen Connolly planning to be 'real tennis player'". News and Courier. Charleston, SC. United Press. p. 2B – via Google News Archive.
  9. ^ Chandler, John (January 11, 1953). "Maureen Connolly named female athlete of the year". News and Courier. Charleston, SC. Associated Press. p. 4D – via Google News Archive.
  10. ^ "Maureen Connolly, tennis star, dies". The New York Times. June 22, 1969. Retrieved January 7, 2014.
  11. ^ Norcross, Dan (September 2, 2013). "Little Mo's magic year". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved January 7, 2014.
  12. ^ "Little Mo named top female athlete 3rd time". Toledo Blade. Associated Press. January 8, 1954. p. 30 – via Google News Archive.
  13. ^ a b c d "Tennis great Mo Connolly dies in Texas". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. June 22, 1969. p. 4–sports.
  14. ^ a b c Connolly v. Pre-Mixed Concrete Co., 49 Cal. 2d 483, 319 P.2d 343 (1957).
  15. ^ Bell, Norman (June 11, 1955). "Maureen Connolly, tennis queen, becomes a bride". The Day. New London, CT. Associated Press. p. 15.
  16. ^ Forehand Drive. WorldCat. OCLC 717415275.
  17. ^ Fein, Paul (2003). Tennis Confidential : Today's Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books. p. 242. ISBN 978-1574885262.
  18. ^ G. Brinker, Nancy (2010). Promise Me : How a Sister's Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer (1st pbk. ed.). New York: Three Rivers Pr. p. 169. ISBN 978-0307718136.
  19. ^ "Cancer beats 'Little Mo'". The Age. Melbourne, Australia. June 22, 1969. p. 34.
  20. ^ Collins, Bud (2008). The Bud Collins History of Tennis: An Authoritative Encyclopedia and Record Book. New York, NY: New Chapter Press. pp. 695, 702. ISBN 978-0-942257-41-0.
  21. ^ United States Tennis Association (1988). 1988 Official USTA Tennis Yearbook. Lynn, Massachusetts: H.O. Zimman, Inc. p. 261.
  22. ^ Maureen Connolly. San Diego Hall of Champions
  23. ^ "U.S., Britain to compete in 2012 Maureen Connolly Challenge Trophy". USTA. August 21, 2012.
  24. ^ "The Maureen Connolly Challenge Trophy". Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation.
  25. ^ "Brinker Elementary School website". Archived from the original on March 21, 2016. Retrieved March 16, 2016.
  26. ^ Bowden, Robert (September 5, 1978). "Glynnis O'Connor pours self into portrayal of 'Little Mo'". St. Petersburg Times. p. 1D.
  27. ^ Little Mo,; accessed January 2, 2014.
  28. ^ "USPS to issue "Little Mo" stamp to honor 1950s tennis champ". United States Postal Service. March 14, 2019. Retrieved November 2, 2020.
  29. ^ a b c Collins, Bud (2010). The Bud Collins History of Tennis (2nd ed.). [New York City]: New Chapter Press. p. 471. ISBN 978-0942257700.
  30. ^ a b c d e Barrett, John (2014). Wimbledon: The Official History (4th ed.). Vision Sports Publishing. ISBN 9-781909-534230.
  31. ^ "Honour Roll – Women's Singles". Australian Open. Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  32. ^ a b Collins (2010), p. 394
  33. ^ Collins (2010), p. 480
  34. ^ "Honour Roll – Women's Doubles". Australian Open. Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  35. ^ "Honour Roll – Mixed Doubles". Australian Open. Retrieved June 20, 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Mcclintock, Walter, ed. (1951). Current biography yearbook. H W Wilson. OCLC 948815801.

External links[edit]