History Makers: Betty Nuthall

15/09/2021

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Emma Raducanu made history in New York - becoming the first British Grand Slam women's singles champion since Virginia Wade in 1978. 

As we reflect on Emma's unbelievable success - we take a look back at another British player who created a legacy of her own in the States - Betty Nuthall.

In 1930, 19-year-old Nuthall became the first Briton to win the United States women’s tennis championship and the first non-American since 1892 – when Ireland’s Mabel Cahill won the title.

To this day, Nuthall is one of only three British women to have lifted the US Open singles trophy – the others being Virginia Wade following her famous win over Billie Jean King in the 1968 final and of course Emma's title this year.

This would be Nuthall’s one and only Grand Slam singles title, but she also enjoyed a successful doubles career, including eight championships in both the women’s and mixed doubles.

All great stories have to start somewhere and in the case of Nuthall’s career, it all began in London where she first picked up a racket at the age of seven. Her passion for the game was inspired by her Dad – a competitive player himself – who first taught Nuthall how to play the game.

Her talent was evident from a young age. At just 13, she won the junior British Championships and retained the title for three years on the spin from 1924-1926.

In 1926, she made the leap to the women’s game and debuted at Wimbledon and a year later, aged 16; she made history by becoming the then youngest singles finalist at the US Championships. Arguably the most impressive part of her run was that she served underarm all the way to the final.

Nuthall lost the final to seven-time champion Helen Wills, 6-1, 6-4, but at such a young age, the Brit had truly announced herself as a serious contender on the world tennis scene.

That year, Nuthall also made her debut in the British Wightman Cup team – the annual team competition between Great Britain and United States top women’s stars.

She won her first match against Helen Jacobs but couldn’t prevent USA taking the cup that year. She then returned in 1928 and was part of the third British side to lift the trophy.

Roll forward to 1930 and Nuthall was back at the US Championships ready to mount another challenge for the singles title. Renowned for her powerful forehand and pinpoint accuracy, Nuthall fought her way to the final once again.

No one was going to stop her from winning the title – she brushed aside Anna McCune Harper 6-1, 6-4 in just 36 minutes to write her name in the history books.

Her unique style and qualities earned the plaudits of many members of the media. One reporter at the New York Times described Nuthall as, “resourceful and enterprising in the range of her strokes, strong in endurance and agile in her movement.

In 1931 she swept the doubles events at both the US Open and French Open and also reached her only other Grand Slam singles final in Paris. In one of only five appearances at the French Open, Nuthall lost the singles final to top seed Cilly Aussem.

Nuthall’s doubles success saw her win three US Open women’s doubles (1930, 1931, 1933) and two mixed doubles titles (1929, 1931), as well as one French Open women’s doubles (1931) and two mixed doubles trophies (1931, 1932).

Despite her success overseas, Nuthall never quite managed to replicate her form on home soil – she only reached the fourth round of the singles at Wimbledon on four separate occasions.

With a career high ranking of World No.4, Nuthall retired from singles action at the start of World War II. During that time she continued to live in the United States, and helped found the Union Jack Clubs for British servicemen. 

Nuthall was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1977 and passed away on 8 November 1983, of a coronary arrest.

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