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Tennis Great Helen Wills Moody Dies

January 2, 1998

CARMEL, Calif. (AP) _ Tennis great Helen Wills Moody, who won eight Wimbledon titles and was one of the premier figures in America’s golden era of sports in the 1920s and ’30s, has died. She was 92.

Known in recent years as Helen Wills Moody Roark, she died Thursday at Carmel Convalescent Hospital.

Moody, nicknamed ``Little Miss Poker Face″ and ``Queen Helen,″ hit the ball harder than any woman she faced, and her trademark white eyeshade became an enduring tennis fad.

She won 31 major titles. Besides Wimbledon, she captured seven singles U.S. crowns and four French championships. She won her first U.S. women’s tournament in 1923 and retired after winning Wimbledon in 1938.

She was 18-2 in singles matches at the Wightman Cup, a women’s team event between Britain and the United States.

Her game drew her many admirers, including Charlie Chaplin, who when asked to name the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, said: ``The movement of Helen Wills playing tennis.″

Moody played a power game, slamming both forehand and backhand shots the length of the court. Her serious demeanor led to her ``poker face″ nickname.

``She never showed any expression on the court. Nobody knew what she was thinking,″ said Margaret Osborne duPont, a Wimbledon singles winner in 1947.

Moody followed tennis closely in her later years, watching matches on television.

``She admired Martina Navratilova greatly as a tennis player who broke her (Wimbledon) record,″ Los Angeles tennis historian Jeanne Cherry said. ``I once asked her how she felt about Martina breaking her record, and she said, `Well, you know, she pumps iron.‴

Moody, a surgeon’s daughter born in Centerville in Alameda County, learned the game without ever taking a lesson, picking it up from watching players at the Berkeley Tennis Club.

``Children are great imitators,″ she said in a 1984 interview with The Monterey County Herald. ``I watched the seniors play and the visiting Australian champions.″

One year after she started playing at age 14, she won the first of her two girls national titles. She was just 17 in 1923, when she won the U.S. women’s singles championship _ the youngest champion at the time.

She won an Olympic gold medal in Paris in 1924, the last time tennis was an Olympic sport until it returned at the 1988 Seoul Games. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1959 and was The Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1935.

Moody led a reclusive life after she retired, causing tennis great Alice Marble to dub her the ``Greta Garbo of tennis.″

She wrote three books, including her autobiography ``15-30: The Story of a Tennis Player,″ published in 1937. In the 1920s, she also wrote a tennis instruction book and a mystery, ``Death Serves an Ace.″

Last year, she donated all of her trophies and memorabilia to the University of California at Berkeley, her alma mater.

She divorced in 1937 and two years later remarried and took the name Helen Wills Moody Roark. She was also an accomplished artist, with her drawings and paintings exhibited in the United States and abroad.

She divorced her first husband, Frederick Moody, in 1937 and married Irish polo player Aiden Roark two years later.

There are no survivors. Her ashes will be scattered at sea and there will be no service.

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