Darlene Hard, an aggressive serve-and-volley player who won three major singles titles and 18 major doubles titles in a Hall of Fame tennis career, has died. She was 85.
She died Thursday at Northridge Hospital in the Los Angeles area after a brief illness, according to Mona Cravens, director of student publications at the University of Southern California, where Hard worked for 45 years.
Hard appeared in seven major championship singles finals, winning titles at the 1960 French Championships and the 1960 and ’61 U.S. Championships — the tournaments that preceded the French and U.S. Opens. She was a Wimbledon finalist in 1957 (losing to Althea Gibson) and ’59, and reached the quarterfinals of the Australian championships in 1962.
She had even greater success in doubles. She won three French titles, four Wimbledon titles (including 1957 with Gibson) and six U.S. championships with eight different partners. In mixed doubles, she won twice at the French and three times at Wimbledon, partnering with Rod Laver for titles in 1959 and ’60.
Hard was ranked in the U.S. top 10 every year between 1954 and 1963, including four times as No. 1. She rose to No. 2 in the world in 1960 and ’61.
She helped the U.S. win Wightman Cup titles against Britain four times and played on the winning U.S. Fed Cup team in 1963.
Hard played at Pomona College in 1957, competing in the first intercollegiate championship in 1958 and winning the national title. She was inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame in 1974. She went into the Intercollegiate Tennis Hall of Fame in 1997.
She became a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1973.
Darlene Ruth Hard was born on Jan. 5, 1936, in Los Angeles. She was taught her power game by her mother, Ruth, on public courts in Southern California. She came along at a time when the women’s game was transitioning from lengthy baseline rallies to an all-court style that was well-suited to Hard’s aggressiveness.
The majority of Hard’s success came during tennis’ amateur era. The professional era began in 1968, and Hard played only briefly as a pro in the 1969 U.S. Open. She won her last doubles title in New York that year at age 33, six years after she had retired from serious competition to teach tennis. She lost in the second round of singles.
Cravens met Hard when she and her husband took tennis lessons from the retired champion, who kept quiet about her accomplishments. It wasn’t until Cravens went to the library and did some pre-internet research that she discovered Hard’s impressive career.
“She was gruff on the outside, but a real softy on the inside,” said Cravens, who became a close friend of Hard.
Cravens later offered Hard a job at USC, where she did everything from maintenance on the university’s computer systems to design work on the El Rodeo yearbook and Daily Trojan newspaper.
“She had a very good eye for design,” Cravens said Friday. “She was very committed to whatever she did.”
Hard is survived by her sister, Claire Brundage. She was briefly married and had no children.