December 12, 2009 marks the 47th birthday of two-time U.S. Open champion Tracy Austin. The following is her profile as seen in THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS ($35.95, New Chapter Press, www.NewChapterMedia.com).
United States (1962—)
Hall of Fame—1992
One of the game’s prodigies, Tracy Ann Austin was meteoric, an iron-willed girl whose blaze was glorious though fleeting. A variety of injuries cut short what had promised to be one of the great careers. At 14, her junior career was practically a memory.
She had won the U.S. 12s title at 10 in 1972, and added 21 more age-group titles. Arriving at Forest Hills in 1977, an unseeded amateur, she was already the youngest winner of a pro tournament, Portland (Ore.), beating Stacy Margolin, 6-7, 6-3, 4-1 ret., earlier in the year. Sensationally, she made her way to the last eight of the U.S. Open by beating No. 4-seeded 1976 French champ Sue Barker of Great Britain, 6-1, 6-4, and Virginia Ruzici of Romania, who would win the French in 1978, 6-3, 7-5. Wimbledon finalist Betty Stove of the Netherlands stopped her there, 6-2, 6-2, but the 5-foot, 90-pound Tracy, in ponytail and pinafore, was the youngest of all major quarterfinalists, until Jennifer Capriati, a younger 14, was a French semifinalist in 1990. Her performance earned no dollars, but she did get a congratulatory phone call from First Hacker, President Jimmy Carter.
Two years later in 1979, at 16 years, 9 months, Tracy not only dethroned four-time champ Chris Evert, 6-4, 6-3, at Flushing Meadows but undercut Maureen Connolly (1951) as the youngest U.S. champ by a couple of months. Earlier that year, she severed Evert’s 125-match clay-court winning streak in the semis of the Italian, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), then won the title, her first important prize, over lefty Sylvia Hanika, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.
She won the U.S. again in 1981 in a thrilling tie-breaker finish over Martina Navratilova, 1-6, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-1). That year, she won seven other tourneys and had a 58-7 match record, and in 1980, 12 titles on 68-7. Having made her Wimbledon debut in 1977 (a third-round loss to Evert, 6-1, 6-0), she was a semifinalist in 1979 and 1980, losing to the champs, Navratilova, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, and Evonne Goolagong, 6-3, 0-6, 6-4.
But maladies of her back began to impair her effectiveness and sideline her for long stretches. San Diego in 1982, defeating Kathy Rinaldi, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 in the final, was the last of Austin’s 29 pro titles. By 1983, before her 21st birthday, she was virtually finished. She tried comebacks, as recently as 1994, in two tournaments, the Australian and French Opens, but that was it. In Melbourne, however, she became a post-induction Hall of Famer to win a major singles match, beating Elna Reinach of South Africa, 6-1, 7-5, then losing to Sabine Hack of Germany, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2. In Paris, ranked No. 78, she lost to Czech Marketa Kochta 6-0, 6-1, and called it quits A near-fatal auto accident in 1989 was another discouraging factor. A resolute 5-foot-4 right-handed groundstroker of 120 lbs., she had immense patience and fortitude, and deadly passing shots. Few errors marred her performances.
Evert, who reclaimed her U.S. title in the 1980 final, beating Tracy, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 in the semis, recalls, “Tracy’s mental strength was scary. She had no weaknesses, she was obsessive about winning.” By 1977, Austin was No. 4 in the U.S. rankings, the greenest to stand so high until Capriati’s No. 3 in 1990. She continued in that elite group through 1983, No. 1 in 1980, and: No. 3 in 1978-79; No. 2 in 1981; No. 4 in 1982; No. 5 in 1983.
Six straight years, from 1978 at No. 6, she was in the world’s Top 10: No. 2 in 1980-81; No. 3 in 1979; No. 4 in 1982; No. 9 in 1983. Briefly in 1980, she was No. 1 on the WTA computer, breaking the Evert-Navratilova stranglehold of nearly six years. She had tremendous battles with those two. At the close of 1981, she won the Toyota Championship at East Rutherford, N.J., beating Chris (6-1, 6-2) and Martina (2-6, 6-4, 6-2) in succession, the first of only three to accomplish that back-to-back double, preceding Hana Mandlikova and Steffi Graf. She made the semifinals Wimbledon in 1979-80; and the U.S. Open in 1980; she reached the quarterfinals of the Australian in 1981; at the French in 1982-83; at Wimbledon in 1978, 82; and the U.S. Open in 1977-78, 82.
She played Federation Cup in 1978-79-80 with three Cup winners; Wightman Cup in 1978-79, 81 with two Cup winners, 1979, 81. Tracy was born into a tennis family Dec. 12, 1962, in Palos Verdes, Calif., and grew up in Rolling Hills. Her older sister and brothers—Pam, Jeff and John—played the pro circuit (see Also Served), and she and John won the Wimbledon mixed in 1980, the only brother-sister pairing to do so until Helena Sukova-Cyril Suk in 1996-97. She entered the Hall of Fame in 1992, married Scott Holt in 1994, has three sons, and works frequently as a TV tennis commentator.
She turned pro, October, 23, 1978 and won 30 singles (335-90 matches), four doubles pro titles, $2,902,380 prize money.
MAJOR TITLES (3)—US. singles, 1979, 81; Wimbledon mixed, 1980, FEDERATlON CUP—1978-79,80, 13-1 singles. WIGHTMAN CUP—1978-79, 81, 4-2 singles, 2-0 doubles. SINGLES RECORD IN THE MAJORS—Australian (3-2), French (7-3), Wimbledon (21-6). U.S. (31-4)