TIME Sports

Meet the Women’s Wimbledon Champion Who Was Also a Spy

Alice Marble won 18 Grand Slam championships -- but her life off the court was as fascinating as her tennis career was impressive

Alice Marble’s tennis career was enough to make her a legend. She was the No. 1 female player in America between 1936 and 1940, a winner of 18 Grand Slam championships, an International Tennis Hall of Famer and the first woman to adopt the serve-and-volley style of play. Her aggressive nature on the court led some to say (critically) that she played like a man.

But it’s the fascinating life Marble lived off the court that makes her more than just a memorable athlete. By the time her career got underway, Marble had overcome a great deal of adversity. In her second autobiography, Courting Danger, she recounted being raped by a stranger when she was 15, a trauma that she hid from her mother out of shame. Then, as her career was taking off in her early 20s, she fell ill with tuberculosis and required a year of recuperation.

After putting her decorated tennis career behind her, Marble made a bit of a career pivot. DC comics approached her to solicit—as they did from many notable athletes—an endorsement for their new superhero, Wonder Woman. Instead of offering a sentence of support, she became an associate editor of the comic, establishing a new weekly feature called “Wonder Women of history…as told by Alice Marble,” in which she told the stories of women like Florence Nightingale in comic form.

World War II brought new adventures, although for Marble they began with a double tragedy that led to a failed attempt to take her own life. Days after she miscarried a pregnancy, her husband Joe Crowley, a fighter pilot, was killed in action. Inconsolable, Marble reported in her memoir that she accepted without hesitation when the government approached her about operating as a spy in Switzerland—a mission revealed only after Marble’s death, when her book was published. “I felt I had nothing left to lose but my life,” she wrote, “and at the time I didn’t care about living.”

Marble’s mission to obtain Nazi financial information was cut short when she was shot in the back by a Nazi operative.

But the story doesn’t end there: after recovering and reestablishing herself in the U.S, she set her sights on a new cause, the racial integration of tennis. Her July 1950 editorial in American Lawn Tennis Magazine advocated for fellow player Althea Gibson to be allowed to play in U.S. Lawn Tennis Association competitions; it was the first major public challenge to the establishment’s practice of segregation. “If tennis is a game for ladies and gentlemen, it’s also time we acted a little more like gentlepeople and less like sanctimonious hypocrites,” she wrote. Marble’s letter was a major contributing factor in Gibson’s invitation to play in the tournament now known as the U.S. Open.

Before Wonder Woman and the Nazis, back in 1939 when Marble was at the pinnacle of her career, LIFE put her on its cover. In the story, the magazine chided the rest of the media for focusing on Marble’s glamor when in fact she was all about grit. (She did, after all, choose comfort over glamor on the court, where she eschewed the tradition of ladies wearing skirts and opted for shorts instead.) As LIFE wrote:

Newspaper writers like to think of Alice Marble as a glamor girl. They prattle about her beautiful clothes, her night-club singing, her movie offers. They call her the “streamlined Venus of the tennis courts.” All this is nonsense. She is a pretty girl who looks well in shorts. Her arms and legs are too long and muscular, and she plays too much of a slambang game of tennis to be glamorous…Even today, at 26, she is somewhat of a tomboy, hits a tennis ball harder than do most men. In fact, if she had her way, she would play only in men’s tournaments.

Marble was a Grand Slam-winning, spying-on-Nazis, comic book-editing champion for equality. It’s a wonder we’re still waiting on the Hollywood biopic.

August 28, 1939 issue of LIFE magazine.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

TIME tennis

Novak Djokovic Says He Isn’t Guilty of Cheating

Boodles Tennis Challenge
Reuters Staff — Reuters Serbia's Novak Djokovic in action at the Boodles Tennis Challenge in Stoke Park, Buckinghamshire, England, on June 26, 2015

His denial comes after coach Boris Becker reportedly suggested that he had a method of signaling to the player during matches

Novak Djokovic says he hasn’t broken rules prohibiting communication between players and coaches during matches, but conceded that players did find ways to communicate with their teams when they’re on the court.

The world tennis No. 1 was questioned by reporters about his coach Boris Becker’s reported suggestion that the team had a method of signaling to Djokovic if his game was going well or not, CNN says.

Communication “of any kind, audible or visible, between a player and a coach” is strictly prohibited in tennis, according to ATP World Tour rules.

Djokovic attempted to clarify the suggestion on Sunday. “There are times when, you know, the team of the player communicates with the player when he gets to go and take the towel in the corner, which is closer to the box, or, you know, different ways,” Djokovic told reporters. “I think it’s all fine as long as it’s not regular. I think it just depends.”

He added that he thought players regularly found ways around the rule, CNN reports.

“This is a very competitive sport. You’re alone on the court,” Djokovic told reporters. “We can’t pretend like that’s not happening in tennis.”


TIME tennis

Chris Evert: Serena Williams Is the Greatest of All-Time

Williams’ French Open victory was her 20th major win, four behind the women’s all-time career record.
Clive Brunskill—Getty Images Williams’ French Open victory was her 20th major win, four behind the women’s all-time career record.

With Wimbledon approaching, Williams is chasing history

Serena Williams owns 20 Grand Slam singles titles, just four short of Margaret Court’s record 24, and two behind Steffi Graf’s 22. But one tennis legend—who has a cool 18 major titles herself—isn’t waiting for Williams to break the record to declare her the best women’s player ever. “She is the greatest of all-time,” says Chris Evert, who spoke to TIME for our profile of Serena Williams that appears in the June 29 issue, available on newsstands starting Friday.

Evert cites Williams’ record in the finals of Grand Slam tournaments—20-4—and her lack of a rival as reasons for declaring her the GOAT. The absence of a consistent challenger for Williams usually works against her in this debate. After all, Court had Billie Jean King, Evert had Martina Navratilova, Graf had Monica Seles. Any of these Hall of Famers would dominate the competition Williams is currently facing—and pile up major championships.

Five or six years ago, Evert says, she bought the argument. But not anymore. “After watching her matches and watching her closely, these players get close, they’re doing really well, and then she’ll get to another level where she slaps winners and she starts acing people,” says Evert. “It’s not one level. All of a sudden, she’s up two or three levels better than the field. It’s not about the other women. It’s about how good Serena is.”

Evert is rooting for Williams to become the first player since Graf in 1988 to win the calendar year Grand Slam—a sweep of the Australian, French, and U.S. Opens, plus Wimbledon, which starts on June 29. She’s halfway there, having become the first player since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 to win the Australian and the French (the U.S. Open begins in late August).

“I think we want to look up to somebody larger than life, and kind of go along for the ride,” says Evert. “We like to be in awe of somebody, it’s superhuman what they do, it’s just nice to feel like you’re part of that journey with them.”

TIME tennis

Stan Wawrinka Wins French Open Over Novak Djokovic

France Tennis French Open Stan Wawrinka
Christophe Ena—AP Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka returns the ball to Serbia's Novak Djokovic during their final match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, June 7, 2015 in Paris.

Thwarting Djokovic's bid to complete a career Grand Slam

(PARIS) — Stan Wawrinka won the French Open by beating No. 1-seeded Novak Djokovic 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 in the final Sunday, thwarting Djokovic’s bid to complete a career Grand Slam.

The eighth-seeded Wawrinka, so long in the shadow of his Swiss Davis Cup teammate and pal, Roger Federer, collected his second major title after last year’s Australian Open.

In doing so, Wawrinka put a stop to Djokovic’s 28-match winning streak and left the 28-year-old Serb ruing another close call at Roland Garros. This was the third time in the last four years that Djokovic lost in the final at the clay-court tournament, the only major title he has never won.

Wawrinka earned 1.8 million euros (about $2 million).

TIME tennis

Serena Williams Beats Safarova at French Open for 20th Major

She stretched her Grand Slam winning streak to 21 matches

(PARIS) — Overcoming a mid-match lull and a third-set deficit, Serena Williams won her third French Open title and 20th major singles trophy by beating 13th-seeded Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-2 on Saturday.

The top-ranked Williams took the last six games and added to her championships on the red clay of Roland Garros in 2002 and 2013.

She stretched her Grand Slam winning streak to 21 matches, following titles at the U.S. Open last September and Australian Open in January.

Only two women in the century-plus history of Grand Slam tennis have won more major titles than the 33-year-old American: Margaret Smith Court with 24, and Steffi Graf with 22.

This one did not come easily, though, for Williams, who has been dealing with an illness and skipped practice Friday.

She double-faulted 11 times, part of 42 total unforced errors, 25 more than her opponent. In the third set, she fell behind 2-0, was warned by the chair umpire for an audible obscenity and even resorted to hitting one shot left-handed.

Whatever it takes to win, right? No one does that better than Williams, who is 32-1 in 2015, including 12-0 in three-setters.

She is the first woman since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 to win the Australian Open and French Open back-to-back and will head to the grass courts of Wimbledon this month with a chance to extend a bid to do just about the only thing she hasn’t accomplished: win a calendar-year Grand Slam.

Her three French Open titles now go alongside six each from the U.S. Open and Australian Open, and five from Wimbledon.

When Saturday’s match, which went from a stroll to a struggle, was over, Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, stood and raised his hands. He held aloft two fingers on his right and made a fist with his left, to symbolize “20.”

And to think: Four times in her first six matches over the past two weeks, Williams dropped the opening set before coming back to win, including in Thursday’s semifinals, when Williams was lethargic and, Mouratoglou would say afterward, bothered by the flu, a fever and difficulty breathing.

So the most meaningful question leading into the final against Safarova, a 28-year-old lefty with a whip-like forehand who was making her Slam final debut in her 40th major appearance, was this: How healthy would Williams be?

TIME tennis

Tennis Star Andy Murray Says He Has Become a Feminist

Andy Murray, Amelie Mauresmo london britain tennis queens club
Sang Tan—AP Andy Murray of Britain shares a laugh with his new coach Amelie Mauresmo during a training session before his Queen's Club grass court championships tennis match in London on June 12, 2014.

The tennis star says he has been apalled by the sexist treatment of his coach Amélie Mauresmo

Andy Murray, the world no. 3 tennis player, says he has become a feminist after seeing the treatment his coach Amélie Mauresmo received at the hands of the media and critics.

Writing in his blog in L’Équipe, Murray writes that he knwe that his appointment of Mauresmo would be controversial because few male tennis players have female coaches:

I realised it would create a feeling of suspicion, mistrust and perhaps even negativity. I didn’t realise, however, that Amélie would find herself up against such criticism and prejudice. The staggering thing was that she was slated every time I lost, which is something my former coaches never ever experienced.

Murray asked if he had become a feminist:

Well, if being a feminist is about fighting so that a woman is treated like a man then yes, I suppose I have. My upbringing means that I’m quite attuned to the whole thing. I came to tennis thanks to my mother. I always had a very close relationship with my grandmothers. I’ve always been surrounded by women. I find it easier to talk to them. I find it easier to open up to them. It’s a crying shame there aren’t more female coaches.

TIME movies

There Are Three Different Movies About Billie Jean King in the Works

Tennis "Battle of the Sexes"
Jim Garrett/NY Daily News—Getty Images Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs a few months before their Battle of the Sexes match.

Emma Stone is the latest to sign on to play the tennis legend

The 1973 Battle of the Sexes match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs was played in three sets, and now it seems the film adaptation will play out the same way. Three different movies about King and Riggs are in development, each with its own angle on one of the most-watched televised sporting events in history.

The latest news is that Emma Stone will star opposite Steve Carell in the movie with the most official name, Battle of the Sexes, with a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (the Little Miss Sunshine team). King has been involved in the development process for several years, and this version probably has the best chance of becoming the definitive filmic take on the event.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Banks will put on her tennis whites for an untitled HBO movie with Paul Giamatti as her rival. Will Ferrell will star in a third version, The Match Maker, focused more on Riggs and speculation that he threw the match at the request of the mafia to pay off gambling debts. No actress has signed on yet to play King.

At worst, the movies risk canceling each other out (especially if they all end up debuting in the same season). At best, we get to see some great actors duke it out on the tennis court for glory—and that’s definitely worth a box seat.

TIME tennis

Andy Murray Tells Wayne Odesnik ‘Good Riddance’ After 15-Year Ban for Steroids

FILE - In this Wednesday, June 27, 2012 file photo, Wayne Odesnik of the United States returns a shot during a first round men's singles match against Bjorn Phau of Germany at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon, England. The International Tennis Federation has banned American player Wayne Odesnik for 15 years after a second doping violation
Sang Tan—AP Wayne Odesnik of the United States returns a shot during a first round men's singles match against Bjorn Phau of Germany at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon, England, on June 27, 2012

"He is a cheat and it is good for everyone in tennis he is dealt with in the right way"

British tennis star Andy Murray has welcomed a 15-year ban for the relatively unknown American player Wayne Odesnik, who on Wednesday was revealed to have tested positive for multiple banned substances, including steroids, from Dec. 17 and Jan. 12 tests.

“It is good for tennis that they got him off tour. It is the end of his career and he can’t even come on site to events or coach. That is a good thing,” Murray, the world’s fourth-ranked player, told BBC Sport on Wednesday.

“He is a cheat and it is good for everyone in tennis he is dealt with in the right way.”

When the news of Odesnik’s suspension first broke, Murray tweeted:

The 267th ranked Odesnik, who retired almost immediately after the news became public, had previously tested positive for human growth hormone in 2010.

In a statement on Wednesday, he blamed his latest positive result on unknowingly taking a contaminated over-the-counter-supplement.

“I was immediately heartbroken as words could not describe my shock and disappointment,” he said. “Being the most tested American tennis player on tour, I would never knowingly have taken any chance of consuming a banned substance.”

While steroids have damaged the reputation of many other sports, tennis has remained relatively free from controversy.

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