Re: The much-maligned Miss Tracy Austin
The sudden decline and then rapid disappearance of Tracy, along with Borg's unfathomable departure, was such a low point for me in the early to late '80s. I felt a loss and a disappointing lack of interest from 1982 to nearly 1990. Tennis was really my only sport and I wanted to care more. When Tracy and Bjorn were gone my whole vision of what the 80's could have–and should have–been was thrown for a loop. And, save for a few victories by Mandlikova and Becker, just so blah.
Who knows what would have happened had Tracy remained healthy, but surely she would have threatened Chris and Martina. As someone else pointed out in an earlier post, she never seemed afraid of them from the very start. If anything, they feared her. Her youth, enthusiasm and obvious lack of fear. What I am not so sure about is whether Tracy would have evolved as much as Evert. Chris's game was so much more dynamic and complete. Tracy was stiff as a board and after watching her immensely exciting '81 US victory over Martina, she was also a twitchy basket of nerves. She didn't have the look of fear in her eyes that Martina had, but she just simply could not keep still.
I am not so sure she would have beaten Martina on grass at Wimbledon, but she would have given her something to think about. Chris and Martina were contemporaries, but they viewed Austin differently, her youth threatened them and they went into matches with her with a with a different mindset. Perhaps this would have factored into their grand slam totals more than Austin is given credit for. Probably so, but who knows?
A few weeks ago I was thinking about the greatest 'what if's' in tennis history. Obviously, Monica Seles is the greatest 'what if' in the open game. Maureen Connelly in the pre-open. But what role would Tracy have played in the greatest rivalry of all time? Would Chris have become discouraged again and left the game well before 1989? Would Tracy, who was only 27 in 1990 when most of the great women peak, have affected Graf's slams? Even Seles's? Would Gaby have won her only slam with 27 year old Tracy in the field? Or Martina her last Wimbledon earlier that summer? Hell, don't get me started on how Bjorn would have affected Connor's resurgence in 1982. Don't even get me started.
Whew. Sorry about that...
As for my favorite Austin match - although I thoroughly enjoyed her kicking Chris's ass in the 1979 Open final, nothing beats the '81 final for sheer excitement and roller coaster drama. It was a lovely nail biter. It was the first time I really wanted Martina to beat Tracy, but I was thrilled that she was back at her rightful place at the top and at that point in 1981, with Hana on a roll and Evonne set to return in the fall, I thought that women's tennis had never looked better. Boy, was I wrong.