Doris Hart

* 02-06-1925     29-05-2015

Obituaries & biographies, 89 Years

Tennis star who overcame childhood illness to be ranked world No 1 and achieve a 'career boxed set’

Doris Hart, who has died aged 89, was an American tennis star of the 1950s who triumphed in all four grand slam events in singles, doubles and mixed doubles (an achievement known as a career boxed set), winning 325 titles altogether, 35 of them in grand slam events; yet as a child she had suffered an infection that was so serious that doctors considered amputating her right leg.

As a result she was slightly bow-legged, with one limb noticeably thinner than the other, and was not as nimble on the court as her rivals. What she lacked in mobility, however, she made up for in finesse and tactical mastery, specialising in aggressive serve and volley play, crisp groundstrokes and deadly drop-shots.

“Slim and wiry, she packs a deceptive wallop and she can really power the ball on her first serve,” observed an ABC commentator. For the British tennis coach turned commentator Dan Maskell, she was simply “one of the most outstanding women ever to grace a tennis court”.

Ranked world No 1 in 1951, Doris Hart won six grand slam singles titles, beginning with the 1949 Australian crown when she defeated Nancye Wynne Bolton 6-3, 6-4. She went on to win the 1950 French championship and had her finest tournament at Wimbledon the following year when she won three titles on a single day, dropping only one set during the entire two-week tournament.

In a match described as “one of the worst beatings in the tournament’s history”, she defeated her friend Shirley Fry 6-1, 6-0 in the singles final in just 34 minutes. The two women then teamed up to win the women’s doubles and Doris Hart went on to partner Frank Sedgman to win the mixed doubles.

She achieved the triple crown again in France the following year, and yet again in 1954 in the US, where she beat the formidable Louise Brough 6-8, 6-1, 8-6 to take the singles title. The following year she again won the US singles title, after which she retired to become a tennis coach.

Doris Jane Hart was born on June 20 1925 in St Louis, Missouri, and was only 15 months old when her parents noticed that she was walking with a limp. She had fallen over and hurt her right knee, which had then become infected. Misdiagnosed as rheumatism, the infection spread rapidly up her right leg, triggering severe cramps. When specialists recommended that the leg be amputated, her parents refused, and by the time the problem was correctly diagnosed by the Harts’ family doctor as osteomyelitis — an inflammation of the bone and bone marrow caused by bacteria – there was an imminent danger that the infection could spread to her heart. As a result the doctor performed an emergency operation, on the family kitchen table, to draw the poison on her knee. As the doctor had no anaesthetic, Doris’s father and a nurse had to hold down her arms and legs.

As a result of this and other health problems, including a bout of scarlet fever which required a mastoid operation, Doris Hart spent much of her early life in bed at home or in hospital. It was assumed that she would never be able to participate in active sport.

In 1929 the Harts moved to Coral Gables, Florida, where, aged 10, Doris underwent surgery for a bilateral hernia at the Victoria Hospital in Miami. As she recuperated in the hospital, from the window of her room she could see children playing tennis in a nearby park. She decided that when she recovered she would learn to play the game.

She started playing with her older brother and was soon taking part in junior tournaments. At Gesu Catholic High School in Miami she won the national girls’ championship and by the age of 16 was ranked in the American top 10 women players. In 1946 she had reached the world’s top ten, where she remained for the next decade.

Doris Hart attended the University of Miami and was still a student when she first travelled to Britain as a member of the US Wightman Cup team which thrashed the British team by 7-0. The following year, with Pat Dodd, she won her first Wimbledon title – in the women’s doubles. As well as her grand slam titles she played in 10 Wightman Cup competitions against Britain, from 1946 to 1955, winning 14 out of 14 matches in singles and eight of nine in doubles.

After she retired, Doris Hart published an autobiography, Tennis With Hart, in 1955, and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1969. She worked as a tennis coach at a club in Pompano Beach, Florida, until neck trouble forced her to give up in 1993. Although she continued to watch matches on television, she did not think much of the fast-paced modern game. “There’s really not much strategy involved,” she said. “It’s not that appealing to watch, I don’t think.”

She was unmarried.

Doris Hart, born June 2 1925, died May 29 2015

Source: The Telegraph

Published on: 01-06-2015