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Grande Dame of the Grand Slam : Not Sampras. Not Graf. 'Dodo' Cheney is the winningest player tennis has known. Really. And at nearly 80, she has no intention of slacking off now.


LA JOLLA — The door knocker is a brass tennis racquet. Silver and crystal in the living room, all the vases, tea trays, photo frames, punch bowls, cups, tankards and snifters are tennis trophies. First places only, singles and doubles. Rows of remembrances of decades of play and hundreds of titles battled on courts of grass, carpet, clay or hunter-green asphalt.

Even the voice on the answering machine sustains the Wimbledon mythos and promises to return calls with the speed of an overhead smash.

For this is a house that tennis filled; the ocean-side home of Dodo Bundy Cheney, 79, also a sanctum for one family, one sport and their century-long lineage from white flannel pants and wooden racquets to Nike bandannas and graphite cannons.

There was Dad, the late Thomas Bundy. He was in real estate, developed the La Brea-Wilshire portion of Westside Los Angeles and, yes, did lend his name to a street that will live in infamy. He also was a three-time national doubles champion, 1912-'14.

There was Mom, the late May Sutton Bundy. At 16, she was the nation's youngest women's champion. In 1905, she became the first American to win a singles title at Wimbledon, a victory repeated two years later.

In 1920, the Bundys, married . . . with children, built the Los Angeles Tennis Club.

Which brings us to their daughter, Dorothy Bundy Cheney, the indestructible Dodo, only a week from her 80th birthday and still clobbering all (and mostly younger) comers at national tournaments.

Although never a Sports Illustrated cover jock, although still awaiting her niche in the Tennis Hall of Fame, Dodo Cheney, by national titles in crowded age divisions, is the winningest tennis player the sport has known.

From any era.

From any country.

Here's the score:

* In five decades of senior serve-and-volley wars, she has won an astonishing 269 gold-plated balls, miniatures presented by the United States Tennis Assn. to winners of its national titles, amateur or professional, junior or senior. Many believe her total can only be beaten by someone playing until he or she is 138 years old.

Cheney's closest rival, of all ages, of either gender, is Gardner Mulloy, 82, a former U.S. Davis Cup player and four-time doubles champion of the U.S. Open. Mulloy has 100 balls and "great respect for Dodo Cheney . . . but no hope of catching her."

To inject a little perspective to all this math, Andre Agassi, as winner of the U.S. Open in 1994, has just one gold ball in his trophy case.

"It is remotely possible that I could win 300 [balls]," Cheney says. Especially if the USTA, as it has with men's divisions, expands women's playing categories beyond 80-year-olds. "But my real aim is to keep healthy, and to keep playing as long as my legs, eyes and mind hold out."

* The USTA assigns Grand Slam status as the ultimate honor for players winning all four national titles--on grass, hard courts, indoors or on clay--in a single year. Cheney thinks she has won 20 Grand Slams. Maybe 30.

"I'll have to count them one day," she says. Her curls are blond bubbles, her smile a kid's mischief. "At our age, it's important to keep those little old brain cells working."

* Cheney won last year's Grand Slam. For singles and doubles. Just for the heck of it, at Baton Rouge, La., and Palm Coast, Fla., she played down a decade and won the Women's 70 on grass and clay. Again, in singles and doubles.

"I got her in 1985 when I turned 65 and just hung on," says perennial doubles partner Corky Murdock of Los Angeles. She acknowledges her yin to Cheney's yang and a telepathy between them. "She has every kind of game . . . a hard, classic forehand with a wide backswing until there's no way an opponent can read the racquet. Not much of a backhand and she has to run around it.

"But an outstanding service always into one corner or another. No matter how far behind she gets, she'll always come back because she doesn't know when to give up. I tell you, she's the competitor from hell."

Especially, Murdock says, when her oldest and dearest friend is playing draw poker well enough to pay their tournament expenses.


Cheney--with "Dodo" the legacy from a baby brother who couldn't get his tongue around "Dorothy"--was playing tennis before Calvin Coolidge was president. Before Capone ruled Chicago, before Lindbergh flew the Atlantic, before Dempsey fought Tunney--and about the time Pete Sampras' grandparents were in diapers.

In 1927--the year Lindbergh did make it to Paris--Dorothy May Bundy, 11, then of Santa Monica, entered the Southern California Junior Championships and left with her first cup.

"Here's my little treasure, engraved with my name, date and everything," she says. After 70 years of nostalgic handling, the little urn shows pot metal through its silver plate. "Gosh, this is my first real tennis memory."

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