Durr reaches for a forehand during her quarterfinal match against Billie Jean King at Wimbledon. (1970)

Born 79 years ago on Christmas Day in Algiers, Algeria, French tennis star Francoise “Frankie” Durr built a tremendous tennis career, crafting a playing style based on tactical acuity that included more than a few traces of technical idiosyncrasy.

Most notably, Durr’s right index finger pointed its way up the racquet handle for her backhand. “Later, when I had a coach, he tried to correct this – but it was too late to change,” Durr said in a 2020 WTA website story written by Adam Lincoln. “I could not feel the ball on the racquet, so I kept the same grip, even though it meant I would practically kneel or even sit on the court to hit some shots! My backhand, with a bent wrist, was one of my best shots since no one could read where the shot would go.”

Added to this was a deft touch in all parts of the court, including pinpoint volleys, unfailing lobs and deft drop shots. As Durr’s fellow Hall of Famer, Rosie Casals, once said, “She drove us crazy with her unorthodoxy.”

Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2003, Durr’s resume includes 12 Grand Slam titles – the singles at Roland Garros in 1967, as well as six women’s doubles titles and five in mixed. Between 1966 and ’76, Durr finished the year in the world’s Top 10 nine times, reaching a career-high ranking of No.3 in ’67. All told, she won 26 singles and 60 doubles titles.

Durr’s penchant for the unconventional also surfaced in two groundbreaking choices she made. In April 1968, just as tennis’ Open era was arriving, Durr signed a two-year, $40,000 contract. Alongside Casals, Billie Jean King and Ann Jones and six top male players, Durr was part of the National Tennis League, a group of professionals that played a series of one-night events all over the world. The contract called for ten months a year of matches. It was a demanding and often sleepless way to earn a living, but in large part laid the groundwork for what was to come – and yet another major Durr decision.


Headshot of the French player taken in 1968

Headshot of the French player taken in 1968

The fall of 1970 marked the start of the Virginia Slims Circuit, the first full-fledged women’s professional tennis tour. Though a commitment in Europe had kept Durr from joining the “Original Nine” at the start of the circuit that autumn, once the tour began in early 1971, Durr was front and center.

As Durr said in the WTA story, “We started the Virginia Slims Circuit with 16 players and nobody to replace one of us if anyone was sick. I can remember standing outside a supermarket in Detroit with Billie Jean King and Betty Stove, giving away free tickets! People did not know women’s tennis, but if we could get them in once, they would usually come back. Most of the club players, even the men, liked to see the women play because they could relate to playing like us.”

In the tour’s first year, 1971, Durr earned $50,000, third behind King and Casals. Two years later, when the WTA was formed, Durr became the new organization’s co-secretary. Though it’s uncertain if she held a pen similarly to a tennis racquet, what is known is that Durr in 1972 began to travel with a dog, an Airedale she named Topspin – a tip of the hat to the one spin Durr did not impart to a tennis ball. A frequent sight in those years was Topspin, carrying Durr’s racquets to the court. “She was the first pet in the dressing room,” Durr recalled, “and I had to put a headband on her saying ‘please do not feed me’ because the players always wanted to give her cookies!”

Such was the entourage of a true tennis original.