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 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, in July 1954, a horseback riding
accident seriously injured her right leg and ended her competitive tennis career at age 19.
Maureen was born in San Diego
on September 17, 1934, the first child of Martin and Jessamine Connolly.
Her parents divorced when she was three years old and she was raised by her mother and an aunt. 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 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".
[ 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.] [ 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.
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.
Her coach at the time was Eleanor Tennant.
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. Connolly was seeded first at the 1952 U.S. Championships and successfully defended her title with a victory in the final against Doris Hart. 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." She lost only one set in those four tournaments.
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.
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 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.
She had intended to turn professional after the 1954 U.S. National Championships. She officially retired from tennis in February 1955 when she announced her impending marriage to Norman Brinker.
Connolly v. Pre-Mixed Concrete Co.
', 49 Cal. 2d 483, 319 P.2d 343 (1957).
Connolly retained Melvin Belli as counsel and sued the concrete mixer company. 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.
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.
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, she established the Maureen Connolly Brinker Foundation to promote junior tennis.] [
In 1957, she published an autobiography titled ''Forehand Drive''. 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."
In 1966, Connolly was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. On June 4, 1969, she underwent a third operation for a stomach tumor at Baylor Hospital in Dallas.
[ She died nearly three weeks later on June 21, at the age of 34.]
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. 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.
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.
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.
Brinker Elementary School in Plano, Texas is named in honor of her. The school was dedicated on November 20, 1988.
Connolly was portrayed by Glynnis O'Connor in ''Little Mo'', a television movie that initially aired on September 5, 1978.
In 2019, the United States Postal Service released a commemorative Forever stamp in her honor.
Grand Slam finals
Singles: 9 (9 titles)
Doubles: 6 (2 titles, 4 runner-ups)
Mixed doubles: 3 (1 title, 2 runner-ups)
Grand Slam singles tournament timelines
SR = the ratio of the number of Grand Slam singles tournaments won to the number of those tournaments played.
Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation Inc.
Texas State Historical Association
– Brinker, Maureen Catherine Connolly
Category:American female tennis players
Category:Australian Championships (tennis) champions
Category:Deaths from cancer in Texas
Category:Deaths from ovarian cancer
Category:French Championships (tennis) champions
Category:Sportspeople from San Diego
Category:International Tennis Hall of Fame inductees
Category:Tennis people from California
Category:United States National champions (tennis)
Category:Wimbledon champions (pre-Open Era)
Category:Grand Slam (tennis) champions in women's singles
Category:Grand Slam (tennis) champions in women's doubles
Category:Grand Slam (tennis) champions in mixed doubles
Category:Burials at Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery
Category:Southern Methodist University alumni
Category:20th-century American women