Maureen Catherine ("Little Mo") Connolly Brinker (September 17, 1934 – June 21, 1969) was an American tennis player who was the first woman to win all four Grand Slam tournaments during the same calendar year.
Born in San Diego, California, she loved horseback riding as a child, but her mother was unable to pay the cost of riding lessons. So, she took up the game of tennis.
Her tennis career began at the age of 10 on the municipal courts of San Diego. Her first coach, Wilbur Folsom, encouraged her to switch from a left-handed grip to right and she soon became a baseline specialist with tremendous power, accuracy, and a strong backhand. After Folsom she was coached by Eleanor 'Teach' Tenant who had also previously coached Alice Marble the Wimbledon champion of 1939. At age 14, she won 56 consecutive matches and the following year became the youngest ever to win the U.S. national championship for girls 18 and under.
Connolly successfully defended her U.S. title and won Wimbledon in 1952. For the 1953 season, she hired a new coach, the Australian Davis Cup captain Harry Hopman, and entered all four Grand Slam tournaments for the first time. She defeated Julie Sampson Haywood in the Australian Championships final and Doris Hart in the finals of the French Championships, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Championships to become the first woman, and only the second person, to win the world's four major titles in the same year, commonly known as a "Grand Slam". She lost only one set in those four tournaments.
In 1954, Connolly did not defend her title at the Australian Championships but successfully defended her French and Wimbledon championships. On July 20, 1954, two weeks after she won her third straight Wimbledon title, she was horseback riding in San Diego when a passing cement mixer truck frightened her horse and the resulting accident crushed her right leg, ending her tennis career at age 19. She had intended to become professional after the 1954 U.S. National Championships. She officially retired from tennis in February 1955.
Grand Slam singles results for Connolly's 11 appearances:
- Australian Championships – 1 time: Winner 1953
- French Championships – 2 times: Winner 1953, 1954
- Wimbledon – 3 times: Winner 1952, 1953, 1954
- U.S. Championships – 5 times (1949–1953): Winner 1951, 1952, 1953
Connolly won the last nine Grand Slam singles tournaments she played, including 50 consecutive singles matches. During her Wightman Cup career from 1951 through 1954, she won all seven of her singles matches.
Connolly's achievements made her the darling of the media and one of the most popular personalities in the U.S. She was named Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year for three straight years from 1951 through 1953. However, Connolly recognized the downside of her tennis career, saying, “I have always believed greatness on a tennis court was my destiny, a dark destiny, at times, where the court became my secret jungle and I a lonely, fear-stricken hunter. I was a strange little girl armed with hate, fear, and a Golden Racket.”
In June 1955, Connolly married Norman Brinker, a member of the 1952 Olympic equestrian team for the United States, who shared her love of horses. They had two daughters while she remained partially involved in tennis, acting as a correspondent for some U.S. and British newspapers at major U.S. tennis tournaments and as a coach for the British Wightman Cup team during its visits to the U.S. In Texas, where the couple lived, she and her husband established the "Maureen Connolly Brinker Foundation" to promote junior tennis.
According to John Olliff and Lance Tingay of The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, Connolly Brinker was ranked in the world top ten from 1951 through 1954, reaching a career high of World No. 1 in those rankings from 1952 through 1954. Connolly was included in the year-end top ten rankings issued by the United States Lawn Tennis Association from 1950 through 1953. She was the top ranked U.S. player from 1951 through 1953.
In 1956, she was also inducted by the San Diego Hall of Champions into the Breitbard Hall of Fame honoring San Diego's finest athletes both on and off the playing surface.
Brinker Elementary School in Plano, Texas is named in honor of her. The school was dedicated on November 20, 1988.