By M. Marashall Happer, III, 1995 Southern Tennis Hall of Fame Inductee
Laura DuPont is arguably the finest female tennis player ever from North Carolina, having reached a world ranking of No. 9. She won the 1979 Canadian Open, the 1977 German Open and 1977 US Clay Courts. Additionally, she reached the finals of seven other WTA tournaments in singles or doubles.
She also was a star basketball player in high school and in college. DuPont was the first female All-American at UNC and won the first national championship for UNC. DuPont is being inducted into her fourth hall of fame: ITA Women’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame., North Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame and the Charlotte Catholic High School Hall of Fame.
Her story and legacy is important for young girls everywhere who dream of success in sports.
DuPont was born on May 4, 1949, in Louisville, KY, lived in Chattanooga, TN, and moved to Charlotte, NC, in 1964. She graduated from Catholic High School excelling in basketball (38-point average), but there was no girls’ tennis program. However, DuPont became the North Carolina junior 16s and 18s state champion in 1965 and 1966 while in high school. In 1966, she was also the North Carolina state adult doubles champion with Julia Anne Holt. Next year, she was the North Carolina state adult singles champion and also doubles champion with Holt. In 1969, Laura was the state adult singles champion.
She attended Greensboro College for two years and then the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, graduating in 1972 with a B.A. degree in Physical Education. At UNC, Laura lettered in basketball with a 30-point scoring average. In tennis, she went undefeated in match play. UNC men’s tennis coach, Don Skakle, was unsuccessful in trying to obtain permission to have her play on the men’s team.
She captured the Mid-Atlantic Singles Collegiate Championships in 1968, 1970 and 1971. In 1970, she also won the doubles.
DuPont was the first woman at UNC to ever win a United States National Collegiate Championship, when on June 20, 1970, at New Mexico State in Las Cruces, NM, she defeated Linda Tuero of Tulane in the finals 1-6, 6-4, 6-4. Tuero is also a Southern Tennis Hall of Fame inductee.
She almost did not get the opportunity to compete in that National Championship. Frances Hogan, her Tar Heel tennis coach had to persuade the UNC athletic administrators to send her. She remembered that Hogan,“told them to send me because I was going to win the tournament. I didn’t know that at the time. I was probably seeded fourth or fifth, and the person (Linda Tuero) seeded first, I had never beaten her.”
Hogan said “when it was over, tears were rolling down my face. I was just thinking that it almost didn’t happen. She almost wasn’t there. From that point on, Laura realized she could compete against the best. She was quick, but I think she was a good thinker on the court.”
DuPont always considered being the first female national champion at UNC to be her most memorable accomplishment. In 1998, she told the Raleigh News & Observer as Tar Heel of the Week. In 100 years or 200 years, no one will know I won the Canadian Open, but I will still be the first at UNC.”
In 1970 she was named the North Carolina AAU Athlete of the Year. In 1971, she won the Southern Championships and was ranked No. 1 by USTA Southern.
In 1977, she was ranked No. 10 in the United States. In 1980, the USTA ranked Laura and Pam Shriver No. 4 in doubles in the United States. The USTA ranked Laura and Barbara Jordan No. 8 in doubles in 1981 and No. 11 in doubles in 1982.
In recommending DuPont for induction, Shriver wrote, “We won tournaments, played against the best in the world and even qualified for the Tour Championships. … I remember losing to Laura in singles, when she beat me with her smart tactics and patience. I recall many doubles matches together when she was the level-headed team captain helping u think our way to win.”
Others who wrote in their support for Dupont were Billie Jean King, USTA President & CEO Katrina Adams, Southern Tennis Hall of Fame inductee Mildred Southern and other notables.
Famous tennis journalist and International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee Steve Flink described her as “a formidable clay-court player known to her friends as ‘Flash’.”
She earned the respect of her peers on the international world tour and was elected to serve the Women’s Tennis Association for 10 of the formative years for women’s professional tennis:
1974-1983 WTA Board of Directors
1975-1979 WTA Treasurer.
1979-1981 WTA Vice President.
1981-1984 WTA Executive Committee.
In 1974, she was a leader in the development of the first computer rankings system for women’s professional tennis.
Some of the highlights of DuPont’s professional career are:
1971 US Open Quarterfinalist while at UNC. Lost to Billie Jean King 6-3, 7-5.
1974 World Team Tennis Cleveland Nets and Pittsburg Triangles.
1975 Auckland NZ, New Zealand Open Doubles Finalist with Cecie Martinez.
1975 Toronto CA, Canadian Open, Singles Finalist. DuPont lost to Marcie Louie 6-1, 4-6, 6-4.
1976 Johannesburg ZA, South African Breweries Singles Finalist losing to Brigitte Cuypers 6-7, 6-4, 6-1.
1976 Hamburg DE, German Open Doubles Finalist with Wendy Turnbull.
1977 Indianapolis IN, US Clay National Championships Singles Champion. DuPont defeated Nancy Richey, 6-4, 6-3.
1977 Hamburg DE, German Open Singles Champion. DuPont defeated Heidi Eisterlehner 6-1, 6-4.
1977 Rome IT, Italian Open Semifinalist. DuPont lost to Renata Tomanova 6-1, 4-6, 6-2.
1977 #11 Colgate International Series Professional Final Year-End Point Standings behind Chris Evert (1), Billie Jean King (3), Martina Navratilova (4), etc.
1978 Buenos Aires AR, Rio de La Plata Championships Doubles Finalist with Regina Marsikova .
1978 Beckenham GB, Kent Grass Court Championships. DuPont lost to Evonne Goolagong in singles final 6-4, 6-2, and was also a doubles finalist.
1978 #14 Colgate International Series Professional Final Year-End Point Standings behind Chris Evert (1), Martina Navratilova (4), etc.
1979 #27 in WTA Points and Prize Money at end of year.
1979 Toronto CA, Canadian Open Singles Champion. DuPont defeated Brigitte Cuypers 6-4, 6-7, 6-1.
1982 World Team Tennis Chicago Aces.
1984 US 35s Singles Champion.
1985 US 35s Doubles Champion.
After retiring from the international tour, DuPont became the manager and teaching pro at Shriver’s Orchard Indoor Tennis Club in Baltimore until the club was sold in 1996. In 1997, she moved back to Chapel Hill to manage and teach tennis at the Chapel Hill Tennis Club.
Sadly, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and considered her fight against her cancer to be “the greatest match of my life.” She passed away on February 20, 2002, at Duke Hospital in Durham, NC at age 52.
Laura DuPont is survived by her mother, Pauline DuPont, who remarkably at age 101 still lives alone in Charlotte, sister, Suzette Wright of Georgetown SC, and brothers, Mark C. DuPont, Paul Y. DuPont and Greg C. DuPont, all of Charlotte.
Laura DuPont, North Carolina, 2018
- Reached a world ranking of No. 9
- She won the 1979 Canadian Open, the 1977 German Open and 1977 US Clay Courts
- Played in the finals of seven other WTA tournaments in singles or doubles
- Served on the WTA Board of Directors for 10 years and as vice president and treasurer
- First female All-American at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
- Won the first national championship for University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
- Previously inducted into three other halls of fame: ITA Women’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame., North Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame and the Charlotte Catholic High School Hall of Fame