Re: The much-maligned Miss Tracy Austin
The much maligned Miss Austin? Who is bad mouthing Tracy? And is it undeserved ?
OK I'll get right to it. I wasn't a fan of Tracy. How dare she challenge Queen Chris? But I'll start of with something nice. While I despised her and her hyper-twitching, finger nail blowing, face-in-the-towel antics, as a TV commentator I felt she was vastly superior to Chris Evert in the TV booth. Always felt she was a very astute commentator who was not only able to relate to the competitors, but to average fans as well. She dissected the game, the player's strokes, and was easily able to offer analysis as to why players would miss or have difficulty with certain shots. She was often on the money with her analysis.
Now as for her playing career. No, she was not number in 1981. Yes, she got a lot out of that little frame of hers. She could hit the ball on a dime, perhaps better than anyone ever, even better than Christine Marie Evert. And she was a fierce competitor who never gave up. And that counted for a lot in women's tennis. I think she was raised to feel like she was a champion. And she had no fear. But I have always said it's easier getting to the top than staying there. And a quick analysis of Tracy's 1980 season, and her fall from #1 reveals, to me, she was never destined to dominate women's tennis. And she would never be able to permanently solve the dynamic duo of Chris and Martina.
Tracy was a close #2 to Martina for 1979. And with her win in the 1980 Avon Championships she officially overtook Martina as #1. She maintained that ranking until the end of the year. But beginning with Wimbledon, where as the #1 seed and favorite - yes she was the favorite even though Martina was 2 time champion, but struggling with her form. Chris had taken time off so no one really considered her the favorite. Austin's Eastbourne win boosted her status as the one to win the title. And yet she was stymied by Evonne Goolagong. Goolagong exposed Austin's weaknesses in that match, moving her around, taking pace off the ball, mixing her play up. Even dropping a love set (Evonne could still do her walkabouts and win matches) Evonne held off Austin. I challenge anyone who thinks Austin would have beaten Evert, even if Tracy got by Evonne. Another fight for another day.
In the summer, after winning San Diego again, Austin stumbled to 15 year old Andrea Jaeger for the first time in Mahwah. And that loss had repercussions for the US Open and rest of the year. Suddenly, the pressure of #1, being defending US Open champion, and having to face a younger, fearless opponent who refused to give up shook Austin's confidence a bit. Even though Tracy advanced to the Open semis without the loss of a set, I recall she didn't win with quite the ease she did earlier int he year. Pressure was beginning to mount. And waiting in the semis was Evert. After winning the first 4 games, Tracy won only 4 more. And it seemed like she was lucky to win those 4. Chris also exposed Tracy's weaknesses, by mixing up the play, being willing to attack Austin at opportune times, and not allow Tracy any real comfort on her serve. After watching the match recently I am surprised Tracy was ever able to beat Chris again.
Despite her protestations, Tracy was not the #1 player for 1980. Sadly injuries kept her out of the game for 5 months in early 1981. She did well to win Eastbourne, which to me was actually a big upset win. Her back to back triumphs over Navratilva and Evert in Canada were another surprise, but signalled she was not done yet. But let's face it folks. She was lucky to win the 1981 US Open. Probably the worst choke of Martina's career. To Austin's credit she never gave up. And the swirling winds in Flushing favored her. Austin followed that up with a win in Atlanta, which had only one other top 20 player in the field. Losses to Barker, Navratilova, and Shriver in the fall didn't help her cause.
I always felt that the first Avon event of 1982, in which Austin was crushed by Anne Smith was the perfect validation that Tracy was definitely not #1 for 1981. And it was effectively the end of her membership of the elite three of the women's game.
I do despise the 'woulda, coulda, shoulda' show. And the 'what if" follies to. We can all speculate and write our own ending. We only know what actually happened.
But I for one don't believe Austin was physically capable of keeping up with Navratilova and Evert. Martina was the one who physically reformed herself, circa 1981. And Chris followed suit. Neither were motivated by Austin, but by their own desires. Austin had kinks in her game that were bigger than Chris or Martina's flaws. The serve is the most glaring one. Once Martina went with her Yonex racquet, and more of the women used graphite, you could see how that squeaky little Tracy serve was going to remain under constant attack. And Tracy had a hitch in her serve that was always going to prevent her from really having it be anything more than a point-starter. Tracy had good feet, and she moved fairly well. But she wasn't as quick as Evert. And when you got her on the run, she was never able to recover as well as some other players. Let's face it, she wasn't truly athletic. But she did work hard at the game. Someone mentioned her size, and compared her to Henin. There is absolutely no valid comparison at all! Henin is a pure athlete. Austin was not. Finally, as others have noted, Austin's ground strokes were a bit mechanical. She could hit the ball on a dime. Which is why she did well on indoor surfaces. With no wind to contend with, her strokes could be lethal. But get her out of her comfort zone, or if she were a bit off, Austin's game suffered.
I don't think there is any way at all she could have won the French Open, ever. Not even in 1979. Ian - you mentioned how Evert struggled against Fromholtz in Madrid and Madruga in Paris. Chris still won those matches. Fromholtz was #5 in the world and had recently beat the newly married Evert. Madruga was a tough cookie on clay. But Tracy never had the comfort or experience of playing on slow red European clay. Over the long haul, her weaknesses would have been exposed by any number of players in 1979-1981, had she played. And the fact she never did play indicated to me she didn't believe she could win. Getting to the quarters in 1982 and 1983 were actually big accomplishments for her.
A Wimbledon or Australian title were out of the question for Austin. In the Navratilova era, along with Chris and even Hana (who did win 2 Aussies but no Wimbledons), there is simply no way Austin could have broken through. The only way to an Aussie title would have been had the surface changed to Rebound Ace while she was still young and healthy. Austin might have had some success in events like Indian Wells or Miami, but seeing how Navratiova dominated in 1983-1985, and how close Evert was to Martina, and far ahead of everyone else, I find it unfathomable Austin could have knocked both off again to win another US Open title.
As far as her H2H against Navratilova, I felt Tracy did pretty well to win as many matches as she did, including some big wins indoors. I believe they only played once on clay, in 1983, when Martina won in the finals of the FCC.
And for her 9-8 H2H over Evert. Yup it's true. And undeniable fact, she had a head to head advantage. But I do want to dissect the numbers. They met first at Wimbledon in June 1977, and last played in December 1982. 17 times over 5-1/2 years. True that during that period both missed significant time from the game. And 9 of their 17 matches were played between March 1979 and January 1980, with 5 of those on indoor carpet. More than half of their matches were contested in a period when Austin was on the ascendancy and Evert on the decline. In fact I would say mentally 1979 was the worst year of Evert's career until she wound down her career. Getting married certainly didn't help Chris either. And while some would want to toss out Evert's early wins: OK her 1977 Wimbledon and 1978 FCC wins, and perhaps even the 1978 US Open win (although Austin was #6 by then), still from the 1980 US Open to the end of their career, Chris won 3 of 5 matches.
They split their two clay meetings, although Austin won the more significant, the streak busting Rome semi win in 1979. They only met once on grass, their first ever match at Wimbledon. On hard courts Evert held a 4-2 advantage. It was indoors where Tracy really beat up on Chris, winning 6 of 8 career matches. To me, Evert's 6-3 advantage outdoors proves her game was more flexible on all surfaces, and she more than had the ability to beat Tracy when the elements came into play. The structure of the women's tour was such that there were many more indoor events back then. Austin did not compete on clay very often (she did play FCC in 1977-1980, but Chris missed it the 2 times Tracy won). Tracy never played Amelia Island, and rarely ever played on European clay. Personally, I don't envision a circumstance in which Tracy was ever going to beat Chris on grass.
So while you can't argue the numbers, I do feel the H2H is a bit misleading. 17 matches in 5-1/2 years is not a lot. Navratilova and Austin played almost twice as many matches.
Tracy was a great, no doubt about it. A two-time teen US Open champion. Who knows what might have happened? ! ? I for one think the tally of majors won by Evert, Navratilova, Mandlikova, Graf, and Tracy would have been exactly what they are today regardless of Austin's injuries. That's just my 3-1/2 cents worth!
Last edited by DennisFitz; Dec 12th, 2009 at 06:00 AM.