’40s Tennis Star Louise Clapp Dies in Calif.
Louise Brough Clapp, a tennis player who began competing on public courts in California and became one of the most celebrated athletes in the sport in the 1940s and ‘50s, a heyday for women’s tennis around the world, died Feb. 3 at her home in Vista, Calif. She was 90.
The International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum in Newport, R.I., announced her death but did not cite a specific cause.
Brough — fans from the era knew her by her maiden name, pronounced “Bruff” — was one of the most successful women’s tennis players of her generation. She was ranked the No. 1 player in the country in 1947 and No. 1 in the world in 1955, according to the Hall of Fame, and amassed a total of 35 titles at the Grand Slam tournaments.
A dynamo in both singles and doubles, she played with or against Margaret Osborne duPont, Doris Hart, Pauline Betz, Althea Gibson and other leading athletes of the day.
Watching their graceful athletic prowess provided a welcome respite from wartime and postwar concerns, especially in Europe and particularly at the fabled Wimbledon championship in London.
“I remember going back to England in 1948 and having to play on different courts because of all the war damage,” Brough told the Los Angeles Times. “Center court couldn’t be used because it was bombed out.”
Air raids had destroyed almost 14,000 houses in the Wimbledon neighborhood. “But the sunny disposition of Brough and her fellow Americans, with their swept-back hairstyles and terribly modern shorts, helped lift the gloom and enabled the championships to kick-start a new era with a sense of style and optimism,” the London Guardian wrote in its obituary for her.
She was a fixture of the Wimbledon finals in the decade after World War II and scored in 1950 what the Hall of Fame described as a “rare triple” — titles in singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles.
Brough was particularly known for her games with duPont — her rival in singles, partner in doubles and close friend off the court. Together they won 20 titles at majors.
In its announcement of her death, the Hall of Fame, where Brough was inducted in 1967, described her as “one of the greatest volleyers in the history of the sport.”
Althea Louise Brough was born on March 11, 1923, in Oklahoma City and grew up in Beverly Hills, Calif., where as a young woman she trained at the public courts. She initially disliked tennis because an aunt required her to wear a white dress while playing.
“I was hating every minute of it,” she wrote, according to the reference guideA to Z of American Women in Sports.
By her teenage years, Brough had begun training with coach Dick Skeen. She won the 18-and-under titles in the United States in 1940 and 1941, according to the Hall of Fame, and received a bachelor’s degree in marketing and merchandising from the University of Southern California in 1944. When she was not studying or competing, she played for soldiers through the USO.
In 1958, Brough married Alan Clapp, a dentist. She scaled back her competition but gave tennis lessons for many years, and she continued playing the sport until age 81, said her nephew, Bill Clapp.
Her husband died in 1999, and she had no immediate survivors.
For all the titles yet to come, Brough achieved one of her most impressive accomplishments as a teenager.
In 1939, she played in both the national junior championship in Philadelphia and the U.S. women’s national championships in Queens, N.Y., which because of unexpected weather conditions took place at the same time.
Brough’s aunt drove her from one city to another. When their car blew a tire mid-route, the tennis player resorted to hitchhiking. A trucker stopped and drove her the rest of the way to the court.