Suzanne Lenglen (left) and Helen Wills
Suzanne Lenglen's 6-3, 8-6 victory over Helen Wills in the finals of relatively small 1926 event in Cannes, France, is important for one reason: It was the only time the era's two stars met in a singles match.
Lenglen never lost a completed Grand Slam tournament match on the court. She won six Wimbledon titles and eight Grand Slam events from 1919 to 1926 and did not lose more than four games in any of her last five Wimbledon finals.
Wills was equally dominant, winning 19 Grand Slam singles events between 1923 and 1938.
Starting with her U.S. Championship victory in 1924 and ending with her Wimbledon victory in 1938, Wills never lost a completed match on the court in a Grand Slam singles event. She did not play Wimbledon in 1925, and an appendectomy kept her out of Wimbledon in 1926.
Lenglen and Wills had avoided meeting for a variety of reason, until they got together in a small tournament at the Carlton Club in Cannes, France.
A 1962 Sports Illustrated article described the buildup with the following paragraph:
The most eagerly awaited and universally talked about tennis match ever played did not take place at Wimbledon, Forest Hills, Melbourne or Sydney. Tilden didn't play in it, neither did Budge, Vines, Cochet, Lacoste, Perry, Kramer, Sedgman, Hoad or Gonzalez. Matched instead were two young women, Suzanne Lenglen of France and Helen Wills of California.
The match produced a circus atmosphere as spectators, some sitting in trees and on rooftops, were often loud, according to the Sports Illustrated report.
An Associated Press story, as printed in The New York Times, said Wills had a double set point at 5-4, 40-15, in the second set, when a bad call by a linesman cost her the set.
The Sports Illustrated account said Lenglen had a match point at 6-5, when a deep ball hit by Wills was called out by the crowd, but not by a linesman. The players, assuming the crowd's call was the official one, shook hands and had photos taken. When they were informed the ball officially had been ruled in, they went back on the court, and Wills won the game to tie it at 6-6.
Nonetheless, Lenglen won the next two games to complete the victory.