The 1960 Women’s Tennis Season, When Quality Topped Quantity

Our dive into the history of women’s tennis keeps getting deeper. Tennis Abstract now includes hundreds of events and thousands of matches from the 1960 season, which you can browse here.

1960 was the year of the first major title for Margaret Court, when the 17-year-old proved that, if nothing else, she was a glutton for punishment. But she didn’t travel abroad, which made her a non-factor for the rest of the season. With Althea Gibson out of the picture on the pro tour*, the field was open for stars such as Maria Bueno, Darlene Hard, and the largely forgotten Zsuzsa Kormoczy. Bueno won Wimbledon and narrowly lost to Hard in the finals at Forest Hills, spending most of the year at number one in the Elo rankings.

* I’m collecting pro results when I come across them, but the return so far is sparse. Most professional women’s matches were one-offs, akin to today’s exhibitions, and were generally played among a very small group of competitors.

For sheer endurance, the 1960 crown should go to Ann Jones. She played over 120 matches, won 106 of them, and took home 15 titles. (15.5, actually, as she reached the Montego Bay final, which was rained out.) Yet according to Elo, those eye-popping numbers weren’t quite enough to overtake Bueno. Amateur era tennis is full of tricky comparisons like this, with one elite player opting for a shorter schedule against top-flight competition, and another choosing to play almost every week, which out of necessity included weaker regional tournaments. Jones might be the best exemplar of the second category. I now have records of her playing over 1,300 career matches, and that figure is almost certainly missing some early-round tilts.

In 1960, Bueno played exactly half as many matches (evenly splitting her eight meetings with the Brit), yet narrowly edged Jones in the year-end Elo race, 2240 to 2237. The Brazilian held the number one position all year except for four weeks in May and June. That was to Kormoczy, who played an even more selective schedule. But while the 36-year-old Hungarian stayed home for most of the year, she reeled off a 19-match win streak on the Riviera circuit, capped by a win over Jones in the Rome final.

You can take your own look at the 1960 women’s season here. The linked page includes a full calendar of events, year-end Elo rankings, season stats, head-to-heads, and country comparisons.

The raw data, along with that of every season from 1961 to the present, is available in my GitHub repo. I’ve also recently added thousands of matches from second-tier events and qualifying in the early Open Era. This project owes a huge debt to the contributors at tennisforum.com’s Blast From the Past, who have been moving tennis data from dusty annuals and newspaper archives to the internet for the last decade.