July 3, 1925: Sport's first female superstar rewrites the rules on Centre Court

Suzanne Lenglen of France made history winning her sixth ladies' title at Wimbledon.

On this day in 1925, Suzanne Lenglen of France made history by picking up an unprecedented sixth ladies' title at Wimbledon in the space of just seven years.

As detailed in the video above, Lenglen won no less than 81 singles titles during her career, seven of which were achieved without losing a single game.

[September 21, 1973: Billie Jean King beats Bobby Riggs in tennis' Battle of the Sexes]

She also won 73 doubles titles and 11 mixed doubles titles, and carried off the Wimbledon singles, ladies' doubles and mixed doubles titles in the same year on three separate occasions.

But her astonishing achievements transcend the chalked borders of tennis. She was bigger than the game; she was bigger than sport.

For a country haunted by the horrors of the First World War, Lenglen was the embodiment of a resurgent France – proud, glorious, cocky, obstinate and ever so slightly vain.

She shocked and appalled the British when she had the temerity to serve over-arm – like a man – on her way to her first Wimbledon title in 1919. But her countrymen saw only Marianne in her radical action. There she was, the symbol of the French Republic, leading her people over the vanquished with the Tricolor held high.

But her ground-breaking style was the least revolutionary thing about her. Having worked as a nurse during the war, she showed women that peace need not herald their return to the shadows of domesticity.

In the eyes of the French press, she was Joan of Arc reborn. They called her 'The Divine One' – she preferred 'The Goddess'.

Head swathed in a flamboyant bandana and sipping cognac at the change of ends, she delighted in flouting societal and sexual norms, and her every smash and volley was a victory for women's lib.

[July 5, 1975: Arthur Ashe beats Connors to be crowned first black king of Wimbledon]

And then there was the temper. She'd often critique a duff shot by tossing her racket into the net. Today it would earn a reprimand for racket abuse – then, it sent a frisson of excitement through the crowd. Here was a woman who expected only the best from herself; here was a woman who would not demur.

Indeed, Lenglen's popularity was based exclusively on her ability and her very 'modern' temperament. Unlike many of her successors, her looks would never win her any income –  she became sport's first female professional on merit and on merit alone.

[June 24, 2010: Isner and Mahut serve up the longest tennis match ever at a weary Wimbledon]

But her decision to go pro didn't go down too well with the game's dour administrators - the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club revoked their serial champion's honorary membership.

Again, Lenglen would not acquiesce. Her return-shot fizzed with a call for parity for all, regardless of gender. Her decision to abandon amateurism was not about money: she called it “an escape from bondage and slavery.”

She said: “Under these absurd and antiquated amateur rulings, only a wealthy person can compete, and the fact of the matter is that only wealthy people do compete.

“Is that fair? Does it advance the sport? Does it make tennis more popular - or does it tend to suppress and hinder an enormous amount of tennis talent lying dormant in the bodies of young men and women whose names are not in the social register?”

Game, set and match, Miss Lenglen - a trailblazer in the history of female emancipation and social equality.

Video credit: Pathe

Photo credits: REX/Shutterstock

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