Cilly Aussem

Cilly Aussem (German pronunciation: [ˈʦiːli̯ə ˈaʊ̯sm]; 4 January 1909 – 22 March 1963) was a German female tennis player.

Cilly Aussem
Cilly Aussem 1927.jpg
Aussem in 1927
Full nameCäcilia Edith Aussem
Country (sports) Weimar Republic
 Nazi Germany (1933–1934)
Born(1909-01-04)4 January 1909
Cologne, German Empire
Died22 March 1963(1963-03-22) (aged 54)
Portofino. Italy
PlaysRight-handed (one-handed backhand)
Highest rankingNo. 2 (1930)
Grand Slam Singles results
French OpenW (1931)
WimbledonW (1931)
Grand Slam Doubles results
French OpenF (1931)
Grand Slam Mixed Doubles results
French OpenW (1930)
WimbledonQF (1930)

She was the first German, male or female, to win the singles title at Wimbledon, which she did in 1931. She also won the women's single titles at the French Championships and German Championships in 1931. Aussem's coach and mixed doubles partner was Bill Tilden. They won the mixed doubles title at the 1930 French Championships.

According to A. Wallis Myers of The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, Aussem was ranked in the world top ten in 1928, 1930, 1931, and 1934, reaching a career high of World No. 2 in those rankings in 1930 and 1931 behind Helen Wills Moody.[1]

Early yearsEdit

Aussem was born in Cologne on 4 January 1909, the daughter of a wealthy salesman Johann Joseph 'Jean' Aussem and Ulrike Franziska 'Helen' Wisbaum.[2] At the age of fourteen, she returned to Cologne after spending several years in Geneva getting a boarding school education. It was at this time that she started taking tennis lessons at the local club KTHC Stadion Rot-Weiss, driven by her mother, who was the first to notice her talent.[2] She contacted Roman Najuch, the reigning world professional champion. Najuch referred Aussem to Willy Hanneman, a tennis coach from Cologne. Hannemann taught Aussem a great sliced backhand, a precisely placed serve, and an effective drop shot. In 1925 she won the junior singles title at the German Championships in Erfurt and was ranked nr. 6 nationally.[2]

Bill Tilden's adviceEdit

Aussem won the German Championships for the first time in 1927, when she was 18 years old. In Hamburg she defeated reigning champion Ilse Friedleben in the final in straight sets.[3] But Aussem, who was described as a graceful, small, and psychologically sensitive girl, seemed incapable of withstanding the mental and physical pressures of competitive sports. Usually, the family traveled to exclusive places all over Europe. During the family's summer vacation at the French Riviera, Aussem's ambitious mother asked the world's best player, Bill Tilden, for advice. After having a look at small, shy, Cilly he replied: "My dear lady, Cilly will become a great champion, if you take the next train back to Germany!"[4][5]

Tilden became Aussem's coach and made her a world class player. Aussem's trademark became her powerful flat forehand. Newspaper articles said that Aussem had a great sliced backhand and effective drop shots.[6] But her biggest qualities were her precision, athletic conditioning, and fighting spirit.


Cilly Aussem in 1930

In 1928 Aussem's mother claimed that Paula von Reznicek had twice beaten her daughter by using hypnotism, which led to a lawsuit in which Von Reznicek filed charges of 'defamation of character' and Aussem's mother charged her with 'insulting assault'.[7][8][9] She lost her German Championships singles title in 1928 after a three-sets defeat in the final to Daphne Akhurst.[10]

Aussem suffered from eye inflammation throughout 1929 but in 1930 she had her breakthrough.[11] With Tilden, she won all the mixed double titles on the Riviera that season. At the French Championships, Aussem and Tilden defeated the world's top two mixed doubles teams, Elizabeth Ryan / Jean Borotra and Eileen Bennett Whittingstall / Henri Cochet, and took the French title.[12] Aussem also reached a singles semifinal, where she lost to Helen Jacobs.

At Wimbledon, Aussem won against Jacobs in the quarterfinal and faced Ryan in a semifinal. The match ended unexpectedly. While running, Aussem tumbled, fell, twisted her ankle and lost consciousness.[13][14] After that incident, health problems hampered the remainder of Aussem's tennis career. Her eyes became more and more sensitive, so that she had to spend hours in a darkened room waiting for her matches to start.[15]

In August 1930 she won her second German Championships singles title after a straight-sets victory in the final against compatriot Hilde Krahwinkel.[16] At the end of 1930, three years after starting to play in international championships, she reached second place in the world rankings.

First German Wimbledon championEdit

1931 was Aussem's most successful year. She won the French Championships, defeating Betty Nuthall of the United Kingdom, and the German Championships after a win in the final against Irmgard Rost. Aussem also won the Wimbledon singles championship, defeating her compatriot Hilde Krahwinkel in the final in straight sets. She became the first German woman to do so. Aussem again was ranked World No. 2 behind Helen Wills Moody.[4] An English newspaper described Aussem as follows: "There is a Paavo Nurmi of tennis from Germany, a beautiful young girl. Her quickness and her fighting spirit are singular!"

Trip to South America and illnessEdit

All seemed to be prepared for a great international career when something happened that stopped Aussem's rapid rise. Celebrating the successful year of 1931, Aussem and her friend and teammate, Irmgard Rost, decided to travel to Argentina, Brazil and Chile. Aussem won some tournaments there but also caught a serious liver inflammation.[17] Back in Germany, she underwent surgery from which she recovered only very slowly. During the two years she was not allowed to participate in sports, she dreamed about a comeback.

In 1933, Aussem returned to the courts but was not able to regain her form. In 1934, she again reached ninth place in the worldwide rankings but started losing to players she had always beaten. She lost at Wimbledon to Helen Jacobs in a quarterfinal and decided to quit the tour at age 25.[18]

Private life after tennisEdit

During her winter holidays in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1935, Aussem met her Italian husband-to-be, Earl Fermo Murari dalla Corte Brà.[19][5] The wedding took place in Munich on 11 March 1936 and the pair moved to Mombasa, Kenya. During her stay there she contracted malaria.[2] Aussem spent the last two decades of her life mainly in her husband's castle in Portofino. Very rarely did people notice her as a discreet spectator at tennis tournaments.

In 1963, she underwent another liver surgery, a late consequence of that trip to South America three decades before. Aussem did not recover. She died on 22 March 1963, at the age of 54.[4]

German tennis player and writer Roderich Menzel wrote: "Everywhere where she swang her racket and warmed the spectators hearts with her magic smile, she unknowingly inspired young girls to play tennis the way she did. If we remember her today, we feel deep love in our hearts. And we confess proudly: She was our mistress of tennis."[20]

Since 1965 the Junior Championships of the German Tennis Association are held under the name "Grosse Cilly Aussem Spiele".[21]

Grand Slam finalsEdit

Singles: 2 (2 titles)Edit

Outcome Year Championship Surface Opponent Score
Winner 1931 French Championships Clay   Betty Nuthall 8–6, 6–1
Winner 1931 Wimbledon Grass   Hilde Krahwinkel 6–2, 7–5

Doubles: 1 (1 runner-up)Edit

Outcome Year Championship Surface Partner Opponents Score
Runner-up 1931 French Championships Clay   Elizabeth Ryan   Eileen Bennett
  Betty Nuthall
7–9, 2–6

Mixed doubles: 1 (1 title)Edit

Outcome Year Championship Surface Partner Opponents Score
Winner 1930 French Championships Clay   Bill Tilden   Eileen Bennett
  Henri Cochet
6–4, 6–4

Grand Slam singles tournament timelineEdit

(W) Won; (F) finalist; (SF) semifinalist; (QF) quarterfinalist; (#R) rounds 4, 3, 2, 1; (RR) round-robin stage; (Q#) qualification round; (A) absent; (NH) not held. SR=strike rate (events won/competed)
Tournament 1927 1928 1929 1930 1931 1932 1933 1934 Career SR
Australia A A A A A A A A 0 / 0
France QF 3R SF SF W QF 2R SF 1 / 8
Wimbledon 2R QF 4R SF W 1R1 A QF 1 / 7
United States A A A A A A A A 0 / 0
SR 0 / 2 0 / 2 0 / 2 0 / 2 2 / 2 0 / 2 0 / 1 0 / 2 2 / 15

1 Aussem did not play. Her opponent got a walkover.

Further readingEdit

  • Bernd Tuchen: Ich galt als Wunderkind ... Cilly Aussem – das Leben der ersten deutschen Wimbledon-Siegerin. Shaker Media, Aachen 2008, ISBN 978-3-86858-089-1.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Collins, Bud (2008). The Bud Collins History of Tennis: An Authoritative Encyclopedia and Record Book. New York: New Chapter Press. pp. 695, 701–2. ISBN 0-942257-41-3.
  2. ^ a b c d Björn Thomann (15 May 2011). "Cilly Aussem (1909–1963), Tennisspielerin". Landschaftsverband Rheinland.
  3. ^ "Die Internationalen Tennis-Meisterschaften von Deutschland". Hamburger Nachrichten (in German). 15 August 1927. p. 6 – via European Library.
  4. ^ a b c Christian Eichler (4 January 2009). "Cilly Aussem: Ein Hauch von Tragik". Frankfurter Allgemeine.
  5. ^ a b "Aussem wäre heute 100 Jahre alt geworden". FOCUS. 4 January 2009.
  6. ^ "Cilly Aussem – Gedenken an Kölns Wimbledonsiegerin". Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger. 2 January 2009.
  7. ^ "German Tennis Fraus Stage 'Court' Battle". Ottawa Citizen. 21 August 1928.
  8. ^ "Fraulein Aussem". The Daily News (Final Sporting ed.). Perth. 29 September 1928. p. 3 – via National Library of Australia.
  9. ^ "Tennis Incident". The News (Home ed.). Adelaide. 21 August 1928. p. 9 – via National Library of Australia.
  10. ^ "Tennis in Germany". The Argus (25, 587). Melbourne. 14 August 1928. p. 13 – via National Library of Australia.
  11. ^ Brady, Maurice (1958). The Encyclopedia of Lawn Tennis (1 ed.). London: Robert Hale Ltd. pp. 17, 18.
  12. ^ "Tilden and Teuton Partner Win Mixed Doubles at Auteuil". The Lewiston Daily Sun. 29 May 1930 – via Google News Archive.
  13. ^ "Fraulein Cilli Aussem". The Sydney Morning Herald. 24 May 1934 – via Google News Archive.
  14. ^ "Collapse at Wimbledon". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2 August 1930. p. 18 – via National Library of Australia.
  15. ^ "Eye Almost Sightless". The Daily News (Home (Final) ed.). Perth. 18 March 1929. p. 1 – via National Library of Australia.
  16. ^ "Deutsche Tennismeisterschaften". Hamburger Nachrichten (in German). 14 August 1930. p. 13 – via European Library.
  17. ^ "Frauleins Rost and Aussem Make Tennis Sweep in Chile". The New York Times. 5 December 1931.
  18. ^ Eduard Hoffmann (3 July 2011). "Die erste deutsche Tenniskönigin". Deutschlandradio.
  19. ^ "German Tennis Champion – Fraulein Aussem Engaged". The Age. 30 September 1935 – via Google News Archive.
  20. ^ "Cilly Aussem". Hall of Fame des Deutschen Sports.
  21. ^ "Große Cilly Aussem-Spiele". DTB. Archived from the original on 23 February 2013.