For six years running, 1941 through 1946, she reached the final round of the U.S. Open — then called the U.S. National Championship — and won four times. She was the top-rated player in the country.
In 1946, the only year she played at Wimbledon, she won the women’s title without losing a set in the entire tournament, defeating fellow American Louise Brough in the final. In September that year, the week she won her fourth U.S. Open, Mrs. Addie appeared on the cover of Time magazine, which pronounced her “the first lady of tennis.”
Tennis great Jack Kramer wrote in his autobiography that Mrs. Addie was the second-best female player he ever saw, after only Helen Wills Moody, who won 19 Grand Slam titles in the 1920s and 1930s. Mrs. Addie possessed a powerful backhand and remarkable speed on the court.
“I can’t believe any woman who ever lived could keep up with Pauline Betz,” Kramer wrote. “On the court she was the best athlete I ever saw in women’s tennis.”
She was the reigning Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion in 1947 and at the peak of her athletic powers, but she would never appear in a major tournament again. When it was learned that she had explored the possibility of turning professional, she was banned from amateur competition because of “intent” and was not allowed to defend her championships.
Professional players were not allowed to participate in the four major Grand Slam events — Wimbledon and the U.S., French and Australian opens — until 1968. This year, the men’s and women’s champions at Wimbledon will receive $1.8 million apiece.
But when Mrs. Addie competed during the wooden-racket era, the code of amateurism was so strictly enforced that the world’s most prestigious tennis tournaments awarded no prize money.
“I remember that even after I’d already won the nationals I was still working as a waitress,” Mrs. Addie told the Washington City Paper in 2005. “That’s just the way things were.”
Cast adrift from the leading showcases of her sport, Mrs. Addie embarked on a peripatetic professional career, touring the country from 1947 to 1951 with men’s stars Kramer, Bobby Riggs and Pancho Segura. She was most often matched with “Gorgeous” Gussie Moran, who had scandalized the tennis world in the late 1940s when her tennis skirt rose up to reveal lace-trimmed underwear.
Mrs. Addie defeated Moran so often in their exhibition matches that she was told to take it easy.
“I wasn’t about to let them cancel the tour,” she said in 2005. “So let’s just say Gussie Moran got better all of a sudden, and the tour continued. I studied economics in college.”