U.S. Champion, Hall of Famer Darlene Hard Passes Away
December 8, 2021
American tennis great Darlene Hard, a 1973 International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee and the winner of 21 major titles, died on December 2 at the age of 85.
Hard was a lifelong Los Angeles area resident, having learned the sport from her mother on the public courts there, and then returning to teach tennis in the area after she retired from competition.
A skilled serve and volleyer, Hard had a precise game and technical aptitude that resulted in a remarkable array of accomplishments. Her 21 major titles were comprised of 13 in women’s doubles, five in mixed doubles, and three in singles, having won the 1960 and 1961 U.S. National Championships and the 1960 French Championships. She was a Wimbledon finalist in 1957 and 1959. Her 13 women’s doubles titles came partnered alongside eight different partners, and in mixed doubles, she frequently played with Hall of Famer Rod Laver, who has credited her for much of the success in their three titles together.
Additionally, Hard was a member of four winning Wightman Cup teams and was a member of the 1963 United States Fed Cup championship team in the competition’s inaugural year.
Between 1954 and 1963, she was ranked in the U.S. top-10 every year, and rose to No. 1 four times from 1960-63. In world rankings, Hard was among the top-10 nine times and No. 2 globally in 1960 and 1961.
Despite her unassuming nature, Hard’s legacy shines in tennis’ history books and inspired future generations of players at all levels.
Hall of Famer Billie Jean King reflected, “Darlene Hard had a major influence on my career, as an athlete, teammate and friend. I was fortunate to hit with her when I was 13 years old and she was playing at Pomona College. She was the best doubles player of her generation and when she asked me to be her doubles partner at the 1960 US National Clay Courts, when I was 16 years old, she boosted my confidence immensely.”
Hard was one of the last great competitors of tennis’ amateur era, with the majority of her success coming prior to the dawn of the Open Era in 1969, save for her last major title, which came at the 1969 US Open. Hard traveled to the event intending to compete in doubles with one of her students who she had promised she would play with if the student qualified. Upon arrival, they realized they could not play together because the student was an amateur and Hard was a teaching pro. Hard paired up with fellow future Hall of Famer Francoise Durr instead, advancing to the finals versus Margaret Court and Virginia Wade. Hard and Durr were heavily down in the match, 0-6, 0-2, when Hard commented that they had to at least win one game to avoid embarrassment. The new pairing went on to win 12 of the next 17 games, ultimately winning the title and securing Hard’s 21st and final major title, six years after she had retired from frequent competition.