50 Years, 50 Heroes: Maureen Connolly, 1980

by: Cindy Shmerler | December 03, 2018

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Maureen Connolly's career and life were cut short, but her legacy lives on. (AP)

For our sixth annual Heroes Issue, we’ve selected passages from the last 50 years of Tennis Magazine and TENNIS.com—starting in 1969 and ending in 2018—to highlight 50 worthy heroes. Each passage acknowledges the person as they were then; each subsequent story catches up with the person, or highlights their impact, as they are now. It is best summed up with a quote from the great Arthur Ashe, that was featured on the cover of the November/December issue of this magazine in 2015: “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”


Maureen Connolly d. Doris Hart, 8–6, 7–5; 1953 Wimbledon final. This technical gem was the centerpiece of Connolly’s Grand Slam and “the best tennis I ever played in my life,” she said. - Tennis Magazine / July 1980

Never was a nickname more appropriately bestowed. A local San Diego sportswriter saw two lethal weapons—Maureen Connolly’s forehand and backhand—and likened them to the big guns that protruded from the World War II battleship USS Missouri. The ship, known as “Big Mo,” prompted Nelson Fisher to dub the teenage tennis sensation “Little Mo.” The moniker stuck through Connolly’s extraordinary but sadly short life.

Many wonder if Connolly would have been the greatest ever had her career not been halted by a horseback-riding accident when she was just 19. She won her first U.S. Nationals at Forest Hills at 16, and she would win all nine major singles tournaments she entered between 1951 and ’54. In 1953, Connolly became the first woman to complete the calendar-year Grand Slam, losing just one set and a total of 82 games against 22 opponents.

Two weeks after winning Wimbledon in 1954, Connolly’s right fibula was shattered when the horse she was riding collided with a truck. She never played another major.

Connolly would marry businessman and U.S. Olympic equestrian George Brinker, had two daughters, became a newspaper reporter and founded the Maureen Connolly Brinker Foundation. Now in its 50th year, the foundation sponsors junior tennis competitions and programs, including the “Little Mo” Internationals at Forest Hills.

Connolly Brinker died of ovarian cancer in 1969 at just 34. While her career and life were cut short, her legacy lives on.

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