Sarah Palfrey Cooke Danzig

Sarah Palfrey Cooke Danzig

Sarah Palfrey Danzig Cooke enjoyed a storybook tennis career, both in how she played the game and how she comported herself as champion and sportswoman. She won an astounding 18 major titles and played in 29 total major finals. Her clever playing style and accomplished net game combined with her class and gracious personality to make her a popular doubles partner. She won 11 women’s doubles titles with four different teammates, Alice Marble being the beneficiary of six of those victories – four straight coming at the U.S. Championships from 1937-40. She won four U.S. National Mixed Doubles Championships, three with tennis demigods Fred Perry, Don Budge, and Jack Kramer. She played on the Wightman Cup team ten times and won nine consecutive titles (1931-1939).

“Sarah certainly had all the elements of grace and charm and played a very stylish game,” said Virginia Wade.

Palfrey had an auspicious beginning, winning the National Junior Championship three straight years (1928-30). Her game, particularly in doubles, prospered in large part to the coaching she received from Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman, who helped the 5-foot-4 Danzig grow her net prowess. She won nine U.S. Doubles Championships from 1930-1941, a streak of success unmatched in that event. During those years, Danzig collected seven more doubles titles, two with Marble at Wimbledon (1938-39) and five others in mixed play at the French and U.S. Championships.

While Palfrey’s doubles success came relatively quickly, it took her 13 attempts to win her first major singles championship, a 7-5, 6-2 victory over American Pauline Betz in the 1941 U.S. Nationals final. She won another U.S. title in 1945, again defeating Betz in a tighter match, 3–6, 8–6, 6–4. At 33 years, 11 months and 16 days, Palfrey ranks as the third oldest female singles champion in history. That same year, Palfrey nearly became the only female to win a men’s doubles championship. World War II created a shortage of male players, so she and her husband Elwood Cooke (her 1939 French National Mixed Doubles partner) were allowed to play in the men’s doubles event at the Tri-State Championships in Cincinnati, losing in the final to Hal Surface and Bill Talbert. The husband-wife team did prevail at the 1945 U.S. Clay Court Mixed Doubles Championship – over Talbert and Betz, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 – making them the only married couple to win a U.S. title.

Along with partner and friend Marble, Palfrey lobbied the United States Lawn Tennis Association to remove the color barrier and allow Althea Gibson to play at a whites-only tournament in 1950. In 1947, Palfrey turned professional and went on a “barnstorming” tour of one-night matches with Betz Addie. Reportedly, they earned about $10,000 each.

Palfrey ranked among the world’s Top 10 women six times from 1933-39 (no rankings were issued from 1940-45 due to the war) and rose to No. 4 in 1934. Following her retirement, Palfrey worked for NBC television as a sports editor from 1956-57. In 1965 she became an advertising consultant for World Tennis magazine. Palfrey authored two instructional tennis books, “Winning Tennis and How to Play It in 1946 and Tennis for Anyone in 1966.

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