Australian pioneers Maude Margaret Molesworth and Joan Hartigan will be inducted into the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame today at a special ceremony at the Rod Laver Arena.
Immortalized in bronze, their statues will join the many Australian tennis legends in Melbourne Park’s Garden Square, home of the Australian Open.
Internationally regarded as two of the greatest players to compete for World War II, both women dominated the national circuit and, as opportunities opened up for women, they were recognized in both official and unofficial top 10 rankings.
Queenslander Molesworth, who died in 1985 at the age of 90, was 27 when she won the inaugural women’s singles title at the 1922 Australasian Championships, held in Rushcutters Bay, Sydney, and successfully defended her title the following year.
She was known for possessing a wide range of shots and for hitting the ball as hard as a man, her strength improved by practicing with male players.
“I practiced and trained as hard as any boy and loved every minute of it,” Molesworth said on the 60th anniversary of that first final. Esna Boydwhich she won 6-3 10-8.
Taught to play by her Scottish born father Alexander MutchoMolesworth’s first success came when she won Brisbane’s metropolitan singles and doubles titles in 1913, putting her name on both trophies for the next 25 years.
Her young career was put on hold during the First World War, adding the NSW women’s singles in 1919, the Victorian and South Australian titles the following year and the Queensland Championships in 1921, all leading to her ultimate Australian status. champion in 1922.
Married to educator and radio broadcaster Bevil Hugh Molesworth in 1918 and with her son, HughBorn in 1925, she continued to dominate Australian tennis throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
She also forged a successful doubles career, winning three Australian titles with fellow Queenslander Emily Westacott along with 15 state doubles and mixed doubles titles.
Like most sportswomen of her day, Molesworth had few opportunities to test her skills in Europe, but she reached the last 16 of the French Championships in 1934 at the age of 40.
Before the age of computer rankings, she was regarded by esteemed English tennis correspondent Wallis Myers of the Daily Telegram.
After retirement, Molesworth became Australia’s first female professional tennis coach and founded a successful tennis, squash and table tennis business from the family home in Lindfield, NSW.
A gold coin depicting Molesworth has been used for coin tosses at AO matches this year as part of the celebration of 100 years of women’s event.
Molesworth’s legacy lived on long after her tennis achievements, and her great-granddaughter is named Maude in honor of her legendary ancestor.
“When I was younger I knew she was an Australian tennis champion and over the years I learned more about her and especially who she was as a woman. She was a pioneer for women in the sport and I can say it is an even greater honor to be named after Maude,” said her great-granddaughter Maude Molesworth.
“She would say today that you don’t have to be a tennis champion to be great, you are already great and it feels like that’s who she was.”
18 years younger than Molesworth, Joan Hartigan was Australia’s No. 1 in singles between 1933-36.
Born in Sydney in 1912, Joan paid her own way to Europe in 1934 and 1935, where she reached a world ranking of 8th place at the age of 21 after a run to the Wimbledon semi-finals in 1934.
Invited to tour with the Davis Cup team, she won the Australian singles title in 1933, 1934 and 1936.
Powerful, athletic and tall, Hartigan was another charismatic and engaging player who hit a hard ball from both sides. She also teamed up with the 1930 Australian Men’s Singles Champion Edgar Moon to win the 1934 Australian mixed title.
Hartigan enlisted in the Australian Army in 1943, but was discharged in September of that year. She married after the war Hugh Moxon Bathurstprivate secretary to Labor politician Senator James Fraser, who served as health minister under Prime Minister Ben Chifley.
The couple spent a few years in England and returned in 1950 with their two-year-old son, Thomas Frederick Bathurstwho was appointed Chief Justice of the NSW Supreme Court in 2011.
“She was always talking about winning the Australian Championships and she won it three times,” Bathurst said.
“A lot of people talked about her Wimbledon successes, but she loved the Australian Championships and it was her crowning achievement.
“The women’s tour is now the headliner at the Australian Open and she would have liked that very much, as she only played ten years after they were allowed to play. She would mumble gloomily about equal pay, but she was happy with its advance.