Jacobs had a powerful serve and overhead smash and a sound backhand, but she never learned to hit a flat forehand, despite her friendship, and some coaching, from Bill Tilden. Like both her Wightman Cup coach Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman and her archrival Helen Wills Moody, she grew up in Berkeley, California, learned the game at the Berkeley Tennis Club, pursued her undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley and was inducted into the Cal Sports Hall of Fame.
Jacobs won five Grand Slam singles titles and was an eleven-time Grand Slam singles runner-up. Six of those losses were to Helen Wills Moody. Jacobs's only victory over Moody was in the final of the 1933 U.S. Championships. Moody retired from the match with a back injury while trailing 3–0 in the third set to a chorus of boos from the audience who believed that Moody quit the match merely to deny Jacobs the satisfaction of finishing out her victory. It was reported by many witnesses after the match that Moody still planned to play her doubles match later that afternoon but was advised against it because she was "injured" after all. Years later, Moody confirmed her injury, saying, "My back is kind of funny. The vertebra between the fourth and fifth disk is thin. When the disk slips around it's intolerable. It rained the whole week before that final match. I lay in bed, and that was bad because it stiffened worse. I just couldn't play any longer, but I didn't say anything because it would look like an excuse." Jacobs almost defeated Moody again when she had match point at 6–3, 3–6, 5–4 in the 1935 Wimbledon singles final but lost the match. In the 1938 Wimbledon final against Moody, Jacobs turned her ankle at 4–4 in the first set and hobbled around the court for the remainder of the match, with Moody winning the final eight games and the second set lasting a mere eight minutes. When asked after the match why she did not accept Hazel Wightman's on-court advice to quit the match after the injury, Jacobs said that continuing was the sporting thing to do so that Moody could enjoy the full taste of victory, an obvious allusion to Moody's retirement from the 1933 U.S. final. Moody said, "I was very sorry about Helen's ankle. But it couldn't be helped, could it? I thought there was nothing I could do but get it over as quickly as possible." In total, Jacobs lost 14 of the 15 career singles matches she played against Moody.
©Leslie Jones (1886-1967)/Courtesy of the Boston Public Library. Helen Jacobs and Helen Wills, between 1917 and 1934 (©17)
Helen Jacobs was a World No. 1 American female tennis player who won ten Grand Slam titles. Jacobs won five Grand Slam singles titles and was an eleven-time Grand Slam singles runner-up. Six of those losses were to Helen Wills Moody. Jacobs's only victory over Moody was in the final of the 1933 U.S. Championships. In 1933, Jacobs became the first woman to break with tradition by wearing man-tailored shorts at Wimbledon. Long known to have been lesbian, her lifelong companion was Virginia Gurnee.
Jacobs won four Grand Slam women's doubles titles and one in mixed doubles. She was the runner-up at six Grand Slam women's doubles tournaments and one Grand Slam mixed doubles tournament. She won the singles and women's doubles titles at the Italian Championships in 1934.
According to A. Wallis Myers and John Olliff of The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, Jacobs was ranked in the world top ten from 1928 through 1939 (no rankings issued from 1940 through 1945), reaching a career high of World No. 1 in those rankings in 1936. With the exceptions of 1930 and 1938, Jacobs was included in the year-end top ten rankings by the United States Tennis Association from 1927 through 1941. She was the top ranked U.S. player from 1932 through 1935.
Jacobs was a member of the U.S. Wightman Cup team from 1927 through 1937 and again in 1939. Her lifetime record was 19–11.
In 1933, Jacobs became the first woman to break with tradition by wearing man-tailored shorts at Wimbledon.
While she was still playing tennis, Jacobs became a writer. Her first books were Modern Tennis (1933) and Improve Your Tennis (1936). She also wrote fictional works, such as Storm Against the Wind (1944). Her autobiography Beyond the Game appeared in 1936.
Jacobs was named Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1933. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1962.
Jacobs served as a commander in the U.S. Navy intelligence during World War II, one of only five women to achieve that rank in the Navy.
Jacobs died of heart failure in East Hampton, New York on June 2, 1997.
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Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Amazon: Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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