Obituary: Darlene Hard | ITF

Obituary: Darlene Hard

03 Dec 2021

Darlene Hard, the American 21-time Grand Slam singles and doubles champion, member of USA’s inaugural Federation Cup-winning side and International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee, has died after a brief illness in California at the age of 85.

A powerhouse in the late days of the amateur game, Hard won the US Championships singles title in 1960 and 1961 and the French Championships in 1960, reaching four further singles Grand Slam finals, including the 1957 Wimbledon Championships won by Althea Gibson.

Hard was famed for her aggressive serve-volley game and first-strike approach to finishing points, attributes that made her a formidable doubles partner. She won 18 Grand Slam doubles titles in all: three at Roland Garros, four at Wimbledon and six US Championships, along with two mixed doubles titles at the French Championships and three at Wimbledon – two with Rod Laver.

“I’d go on court with her and I’d tell the other team that I wouldn’t have to hit any overheads. Darlene would hit them all,” Laver told the Los Angeles Times. “They’d start hitting hard shots at her at the net and she would get them all back. Pretty soon, the word was out. You better hit the ball at Laver.”

A fixture in the American top-10 rankings between 1954 and 1963, Hard was ranked the world No. 2 in 1960 and 1961. A four-time winner of the Wightman Cup for the US against Great Britain, in 1963 she teamed up with Carole Caldwell and Billie Jean Moffitt – later Billie Jean King – to win the inaugural Federation Cup at Queen’s Club in 1963, the competition now named after her junior teammate.

“Darlene Hard had a major influence on my life as an athlete, teammate and friend,” King wrote in tribute. “She was the best doubles player of her generation. We were teammates and won the first Federation Cup in 1963. This was something we would both remember always. I will miss her.”

In 1964, Hard left the amateur game to teach tennis, briefly returning to competition in the early days of the Open era. She won the last of her Grand Slam doubles titles aged 33 at the 1969 US Open alongside France’s Francoise Durr, and in 1973 she became a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

A private person away from the court, Hard was offered a position at the University of Southern California by one of her tennis students that she accepted in 1981. She continued to work at the institution until recently, a fixture in the publications department.

Hard is survived by her sister, Claire Brundage. The thoughts of all at the ITF go out to her family and friends at this sad time.