Darlene Hard, a tough and willful Californian with a power play who won 21 Grand Slam tennis championships as one of the last stars of the amateur era, died on December 2 in Los Angeles. She was 85 years old.
Anne Marie McLaughlin, spokesperson for the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI, who inducted Hard in 1973, confirmed the death but did not give a cause.
Hard flourished in the late 1950s and early 1960s when tournament tennis was the domain of amateurs. Along with her, the female game featured stars such as Althea Gibson and a young Billie Jean King, Maria Bueno of Brazil and Margaret Court of Australia, all future Hall of Fame members.
Among Grand Slam tournaments, Hard won US amateur titles in 1960 and ’61 and the French title in 1960. She reached the United States final in 1958 and 1962 and the Wimbledon final in 1957 and 1959. She also won 13 Grand Slam championships in women’s doubles with eight different partners, and five in mixed doubles, often associated with Rod Laver.
It was ranked No. 1 in the United States from 1960 to 1963, and No. 2 in the world in 1960 and 1961.
Gibson played with more power than many women before or since, and Bueno was known for her grace, but Hard’s aggressive play – big serve, strong above, and punishing volley – made her a winner. At 5ft 5Â½ inches tall and 140 pounds, his main success came on the grass courts, where three of the four Grand Slam tournaments were played. (The French Open was, and still is, played on a clay surface).
Hard was unusually outspoken at a time when most of the top players lacked the confidence some are showing today. She once said of the dominant Australian tennis officials: âThey don’t treat you like a player but like a puppet. Between tournaments, I was not asked to play in exhibitions – I was ordered to play there. It wasn’t “Miss Hard, would you mind playing?” It was ‘Miss Hard, you are going to play.’ “
Hard belonged to four winning teams in the Wightman Cup, the annual competition between British and American tennis players. She then showed her independence of mind, arousing the irritation of the captain of the American team, Margaret Osborne duPont.
DuPont called Hard a “disruptor” in an official 1962 report. “She insisted on training her own way instead of following the captain’s wishes and those of the rest of the squad,” he said. declared duPont.
Hard took part in a game that made tennis history on July 6, 1957, losing In the final who made Gibson the first African-American woman to win Wimbledon (by a score of 6-3, 6-2). Before the match, as usual, the two players bowed to a young Queen Elizabeth II. Afterwards, the Queen spoke to them for a few minutes. Then Gibson, following protocol, stepped back. An over-enthusiastic Hard, however, in a violation of etiquette, turned his back on the Queen and jumped for the locker room.
Darlene Ruth Hard was born January 6, 1936 in Los Angeles and raised in the nearby town of Montebello, California. His father introduced him to football, basketball, baseball and softball. His mother, a good amateur player, taught him tennis on public courts.
After high school, Hard spent four years on the tennis circuit. Then she said later, âI decided I didn’t want tennis for a lifetime, so I went to college. I wanted to be in pediatrics. I guess I always wanted to be a doctor.
She went to Pomona College in California and in 1958 she won the first intercollegiate women’s tennis championship. She graduated in 1961.
At Pomona, Hard had a punching session with a 13-year-old who had shown some promise: Billie Jean King.
âDarlene Hard has been a major influence on my career, as an athlete, teammate and friend,â King said. was quoted as saying on the Hall of Fame website. The two went on to play doubles together in the inaugural Federation Cup in 1963, the first international women’s team tennis competition. King – for whom the cup is now named – recalled how they overcame two match points to win the final, a highlight of both careers, she said.
Hard returned to tennis after graduating and worked as a waitress between tournaments. In 1964, with only $ 400 in the bank, she turned professional and took part in a South African tour with Bueno. She quickly began teaching tennis in the Los Angeles area, leaving tournaments behind.
But in 1969, the year following the acceptance of the pros in major tournaments, she returned briefly to international competition, teaming up with FranÃ§oise DÃ¼rr to play doubles at the US Open. Down 0-6, 0-2 in the final, they rallied to win the title, 0-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Hard returned to teaching tennis and owned two tennis stores. One of his tennis students, the director of student publications at the University of Southern California, offered him a job in the office in 1981. Hard remained there for almost 40 years.
Information on his survivors was not immediately available.
In âWe’ve Come a Long Way: The History of Women’s Tennisâ (1988), which King wrote with Cynthia Starr, Hard described her dedication to the sport.
âI didn’t do it for the money,â she said. âI was the last of the amateurs. I won Forest Hills and got my plane ticket from New York to Los Angeles. Oops. âShe continued,â But we always went for our titles. We went for the glory. I was happy. I liked it. I loved tennis.
Frank Litsky, longtime sports reporter for The Times, died in 2018. Daniel J. Wakin and Jordan Allen contributed reporting.