Dorothy Cheney dies at 98; won more than 390 national tennis titles

Dorothy “Dodo” Cheney, who was the first American woman tennis player to win the Australian Open and went on to a prolific career on the senior circuit, has died. She was 98.

Cheney died Sunday at an assisted living facility in Escondido after a period of declining health, said her son, Brian Cheney.

Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in the masters category in 2004, Cheney won more than 390 national titles, an extraordinary figure that reflects her longevity, competitiveness and proficiency at every age level, on every tennis surface and in all combinations of singles, doubles and mixed-doubles play. She won her last tournament in May 2012 in doubles — when she was 95.


Cheney liked to say she had good tennis genes. Her mother, May Sutton Bundy, was the first American woman to win the Wimbledon singles title in 1905, then repeated in 1907. She played into her late 80s and was inducted into the hall of fame in 1956. Dorothy’s father, Tom Bundy, was a national doubles tennis champion who built the Los Angeles Tennis Club and became a prominent real estate investor in Los Angeles — Bundy Drive is named for him.

Dorothy May Sutton Bundy was born Sept. 1, 1916, and grew up in Santa Monica, where her family had a tennis court. A younger brother couldn’t pronounce her name, so she became known as Dodo. She picked up a racket as a child and won her first tournament at age 9.

“At first I just loved to play,” she told tennis writer Bud Collins for a 2004 Times article. “But the more I played, the more I loved to win.”

She won the Australian national championships, precursor to today’s Australian Open, in 1938, an era when few foreigners made the long journey to the major tournament. She was ranked among the top 10 U.S. female players from 1936 to 1946, and in 1946 reached No. 6 in the world rankings.

She put her tennis career on hold while attending Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., and working at a defense plant during World War II. She married Arthur Cheney, an airline pilot, in 1946, and they started a family.

It was after turning 40 that Cheney really made her mark in tennis, racking up victories at the senior level.

“Dodo was a great tennis player as a young woman,” U.S. Tennis Assn. President Judy Levering told The Times in 1999. “But what she has done these past 40 years shows that life really does begin at 40.”

Cheney played dozens of tournaments every year, dominating her age group as the years rolled on. In 1976 she and her daughter Christie Putnam won the USTA mother-daughter grass-court championship. They repeated the feat in 2002, when Cheney was 85.

“She is the least likely looking champion one could imagine,” William J. Kellogg, president of the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2004. “She comes onto the court with her pearls and her lace and she totally disarms people. But she has an amazing zest for competition. She thrives on it. She loves it. She has a joy of life that is wonderful to see.”

Added former tennis champion Ted Schroeder: “Dodo was well above average in her prime. She is an absolute nonpareil as a senior player.”

Cheney also devoted considerable time to tutoring Los Angeles youths on the tennis court.

“Everything wonderful that has happened to me has been because of tennis,” she told the Union-Tribune. “I like to put something back into the game for what it has given me. I hope to be sort of an inspiration for some of the younger kids that are coming along.”

Cheney is survived by her son Brian of Chandler, Ariz., a standout tennis player at the University of Arizona who is now a teaching pro; daughters Christie Putnam of Escondido and May Cheney of Phoenix; eight grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

Twitter: @clairenoland