Bundy, May Godfray Sutton
- Angela Lumpkin
Bundy, May Godfray Sutton (25 September 1887–04 October 1975), tennis player, was born in Plymouth, England, the daughter of Adolphus Ade G. Sutton, an English navy captain, and Adelina E. Godfray. Her family immigrated to the United States when she was six. On the clay court built by one of her two older brothers and a sister on the family ranch near Pasadena, California, Bundy at age ten followed in the footsteps of three of her four older sisters by becoming a tennis enthusiast. Beginning tournament play in 1898, Bundy won the prestigious Southern California Women’s Singles Championship in 1899 at age twelve. Because she was the strongest, quickest, and most determined of the sisters, by 1901 she emerged as the best of the quartet, leading to the often-heard quip in California that it took a Sutton to beat a Sutton.
In 1901–1903 Bundy won the Southern California and Pacific Coast Women’s Singles championships. As the best female player in the West, she traveled east in 1904 to play in the United States Women’s Championships. She totally dominated the field there, losing only ten games and defeating Elisabeth Moore 6–1, 6–2 in the finals. Bundy also teamed with Miriam Hall to win the 1904 United States Women’s Doubles Championship.
Bundy’s greatest weapon was her lethal forehand. The bulldozer power of this stroke was matched only by her consistency in hitting it. Although primarily a baseliner, her quickness and speed enabled her occasionally to advance to the net for volleys. She also demonstrated a stronger serve than her opponents, while her backhand was mostly a defensive stroke. This sixteen-year-old American champion, the youngest to capture a title at the time, possessed an indomitable spirit, leading reporters to maintain that she had no peer in the United States and was the greatest player ever.
Instead of defending her title in 1905, Bundy traveled to England to enter the All-England Singles Championship at Wimbledon. Defeating England’s best, former champion Dorothea Douglas, Bundy became the first American—man or woman—to win at Wimbledon. She lost the Wimbledon crown to Douglas in 1906 but regained it in 1907. Bundy also won Welsh championships in 1905–1907. Among the other singles titles won by Bundy were the Pacific Coast Championships (eight years) and the Southern California Championships (seven years).
Tennis for women around the turn of the century was characterized primarily by baseline play and little stroke versatility. Most women players were self-taught, and the serve was often their weakest stroke. The fact that few ventured to the net could be partially attributed to the constraints of their clothing. Typical attire included an undershirt, drawers, petticoats, a linen corset cover, a duck skirt, shirtwaist, and long, white silk stockings. Bundy, allergic to these heavy, confining items, wore shorter skirts and fewer petticoats and rolled up her sleeves, while eschewing high-collared shirtwaists. Her youth when she became champion probably allowed her this freedom, as she led in the emancipation of women from restrictive tennis clothing.
In 1912, in the first wedding of national tennis champions, she married Thomas Clark Bundy, a real estate developer who earlier that year had teamed with Maurice McLoughlin to win the United States Men’s Doubles Championship. Before being divorced in 1940, they had three children, including perennial tennis champion Dorothy Bundy Cheney. Although never a winner of the United States or Wimbledon crowns, “Dodo” adopted her mother’s western grip and determination. A Santa Monica resident, Cheney won over 130 national tennis titles, most after the age of forty.
Following the birth of her children, Bundy returned to national level competition in the 1920s, earning national rankings of fourth in 1921 and fifth in 1925 and 1928. She advanced to the national singles semifinals in 1921 and 1922, the national doubles semifinals in 1922 and 1928, and the national doubles finals in 1925. She played for the United States in the Wightman Cup matches in 1925, and in 1929 at age forty-one she reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. Bundy taught tennis in the 1930s through the 1950s and continued to play until she was eighty-five. She died in Santa Monica, California.
As a tribute to her trailblazing, international championship career and her domination of California tennis for decades, in 1956 she became the first woman enshrined in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Bundy wrote “My Career as a Lawn Tennis Player,” American Lawn Tennis, 15 May 1912, pp. 40–41. Articles that describe significant times of her life include Jeane Hoffman, “The Sutton Sisters,” Racquet, Aug. 1953, pp. 7, 27; (unsigned) “A Wedding of Champions,” American Lawn Tennis, 15 Dec. 1912, p. 379; and (unsigned) “Mother and Daughter,” American Lawn Tennis, 5 Sept. 1936, p. 25. A few of the books that chronicle Bundy’s tennis career are Bud Collins and Zander Hollander, Bud Collins’ Modern Encyclopedia of Tennis (1980); Billie Jean King and Cynthia Starr, We Have Come a Long Way (1988); and Angela Lumpkin, Women’s Tennis: A Historical Documentary of the Players and Their Game (1981). May Sutton is the title of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum booklet #5 (1984). An obituary is in the New York Times, 7 Oct. 1975.