Home » HEADLINES AND FEATURES, Lead, Top Stories » Daughter of Maureen Connolly Talks Serena Williams; Her Mom’s Grand Slam




by Ashley Brownstein

@Brownstein26

 

It’s been seven weeks since Serena Williams captured the Wimbledon singles title and ever since then all we’ve ever heard in the tennis world are the two words – “Grand Slam.” The “Serena Slam” doesn’t count as much in the record books – Grand Slams do. She will try to join an elite group of only five other players to ever complete this; Don Budge in 1938, Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969, Margaret Court in 1970, Maureen Connolly in 1953 and Steffi Graf in 1988.  To accomplish this fete to win a major let alone four within a calendar year is a different level.  I had the pleasure to speak to Cindy Brinker-Simmons, the daughter of late Maureen Connolly to get a perspective on the ultimate achievement in tennis.

 

Ashley Brownstein: Nowadays many people often confuse winning a major as the same as winning the “Grand Slam.” Does your mom remember that term being used in her day?

Cindy Brinker-Simmons: Yes absolutely. She was the first woman to accomplish this in 1953 but Don Budge was the first in 1938 to win all four of the major’s Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in the same year.

AB: Did she ever talk about any pressure going into the US Open trying to complete the Grand Slam? Was there any hype afterwards?

CBS: She had immense pressure because the competition was so fierce and there were constantly players nipping at her heels; Louise Brough, Margaret Osborne DuPont and Shirley Fry were all very rigorous and competitive. But Mom was like a predator on the court; she was absolutely going on the court to win. She used to tell me “Cindy everybody goes on the court wanting to win but you approach it one of two ways: either you go on the court going to win or fearing to lose.” So that’s just how she played, she was going to win and because of that she played fearlessly. A writer for the daily telegraph once told me that while watching mom play at Wimbledon she hit the line 22-24 times in one set! But of course she did feel tremendous pressure but she overcame that by just keep going and not letting a missed shot or a busted play or a missed opportunity control you let it roll off your back. She was so mentally tough and always thinking five points ahead. She also was about ten years younger than her competition so she felt a huge responsibility to win. There was definitely hype after she won the US Open and completed the Grand Slam but mom was so humble it took your breath away. As a matter of fact in 1951 when she won her first major at Forest Hills they were about to do the trophy presentation and they couldn’t find her. They searched everywhere including the bathroom, locker room, lounge and then starting to panic. All of a sudden they hear the slap of tennis balls coming from the backcourts so they follow it and there was mom on one of the courts with her coach practicing her overheads because she thought they weren’t up to standard. She was so dedicated to her practice and never took any short cuts.

AB: How do you feel about Serena Williams trying to join your mother in history this week?

CBS: Serena has been so dominant this year not that there aren’t good players just not good rivalries. But she has a mighty groundstroke, she’s a great competitor and great mental toughness. If she plays the game that we know that she can play than it stand to reason that she is the favorite at the Open. We don’t want any injuries but we do want people to rise to the occasion to give her a challenge. I hope that player’s rally to play their best tennis to take on Serena and give us some really great matches. But that’s the greatest thing about tennis because it is such a major culmination to do this last one the mental toughness, staying focused and bringing your best game. All the different court surfaces have eluded so many people from completing the Grand Slam.

AB: The Maureen Connolly Brinker Foundation is such an amazing way to carry on your mother’s legacy; what is it about the Foundation that makes you the most proud?

CBS: The initial response when people hear The Maureen Connolly Brinker Foundation is always what an amazing foundation. The fact that it has such World Wide respect among the Tennis Community, USTA, coaches makes me so proud. To stand with such an endearing, respected, sterling, and distinctive class reputation worldwide truly makes me so proud. The Foundation embodies excellence and the integrity that my mom honored. We always discuss my mom this way as a remarkable woman who just happened to be a very good tennis player. I am just so proud that it hasn’t faltered over the years because characteristics can begin to erode and get caught up in doing things or just falter but I am so proud that for 47 years that hasn’t happened. I respect the longevity of the foundation since it’s start in 1968 and maintaining such a high standard of excellence.

AB: What do you see for the future of the Foundation and for the sport of Tennis?

CBS: Today our road to Little Mo National is in California, Forest Hills, and Florida and they are all outstanding. It is incredibly special to me that I can come back to The West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills and just feel the presence of mom and what it felt like to win there. It still gives me goose bumps standing on the court where she beat Doris Hart in the US Open final in 1953 and won the Grand Slam. That’s why we came to Forest Hills as a site for the Little Mo Tournament because it is so important to the history of tennis and it is such a precious and special place. There really are no words to express the emotional sense of awe and gratitude and amazement that we are playing our Little Mo National Tournament on the same site where mom won her last Grand Slam final match. I am hoping to develop more partnerships internationally in the future but we are very integrity driven and been very careful about our partnerships. But most importantly we want to make our tournaments fun and help young players really master the skill of living. Yes the focus is on competition but we also want them to develop being gracious winners and losers, which is why we have the Mo coins that we give out for great sportsmanship and kindness. We want them to know that they have a duty to give back to the game and to those who help them along the way including their community, parents, and coaches. We want them to develop beyond just a tennis player because as we all know so few actually make it to the Pro Level. And let me say this, I feel like if mom were here today she would say if all we’re doing is churning out top tennis players and that who we attract are just the elite; a small sliver of the population to junior tennis, then we have failed. So we want our future and present pro’s to be gracious, responsible ambassadors of the game and give back with their time and engage with their audience. I’ve found that life is relational and what makes anything work is the power of the relationship.

Maureen Connolly- The First Woman To Win The Grand Slam

Maureen Connolly- The First Woman To Win The Grand Slam

I think that we’re in a bit of a lull in professional tennis because there aren’t as many rivalries and there just aren’t as many matches on the scene or Americans competing for the majors. Yes we have Serena, but rivalries are important to the sport of Tennis and right now it seems like there are more on the men’s side than the women’s. I think we need to get excited for these draws and for these players and support the sport in any way we can.

AB: What I got from this interview is more than I could have imagined. But after speaking with Cindy I feel like I still have a question left, what will Serena do with her legacy? Is she going to do what Cindy has done for her mom; in a way go back to the beginning of tennis and really teach the game the way her Mom played? Go beyond the competition; make sure you build relationships, your character your morals. Or will she be satisfied just leaving her name in the record books. It’s easy to be a great winner it’s not so easy to be a great loser. But I guess I am getting a little ahead of myself; she still has to win those seven matches to achieve tennis immortality.

Ashley Brownstein is a 2009 Marist Graduate with a major degree in Communications: Radio/TV/Film and minor in Business. A former junior USTA player and currently working for the West Side Tennis Club as an Administrative Assistant in Marketing& Social Media as well as Tennis Reporting.

 



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Randy Walker is a communications and marketing specialist, writer, tennis historian and the managing partner of New Chapter Media – www.NewChapterMedia.com. He was a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Tennis Association’s marketing and communications division where he worked as the press officer for 22 U.S. Davis Cup ties, three Olympic tennis teams and was an integral part of USTA media services team for 14 US Opens. He is the author of the books ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY and THE DAYS OF ROGER FEDERER

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