The first Grand Slam title - recollections
I looked at some player autobiographies and thought I'd read their descriptions of winning their first Grand Slam title. I've stuck to recent players.
Roland Garros, 1961
Tennis is a game of confidence but sometimes if I keep winning, there comes a point where I feel the odds are that I'm going to lose soon, probably on the most important occasion. I almost talk myself into it. Alternatively, if I'm beaten, the pressure is off and I can start again from the bottom, all the keener because I don't like losing. However, I felt myself improving all the while during these French Championships, and it helped so much having such a large band of friends from home behind me.
I had to play Yola Ramirez, my friend and doubles partner, a situation difficult in itself, in the final, the first I had reached in one of the 'big four' events.
Senior officials of the L.T.A. always come over on the day of the finals, but apparently in this case, they were far more concerned with their lunch as none of them watched my match. At about 4.30 p.m. one or two did enquire how I had got on! In wet, cold conditions I had beaten Yola 6-2, 6-1. I was particularly pleased as Paris is accepted as the Hard Court Championship of the World so you can imagine what a very happy party there was that night when we went to the Lido to spend my winnings.
Source: "A Game to Love" by Ann Jones, 1970
Australian Championships, 1960
"Now I was faced once again with Jan Lehane, my old rival, in the finals. Jan had just scored a fine win over Christine Truman of England. I had beaten Jan the week before in the Wilson Cup for the first time which was a comforting thought. On the other hand, I had also entered the junior singles, junior doubles, and ladies doubles in the nationals, and been beaten in the final of every one. Those losses didn't do anything for my confidence.
In the final Jane and I played a tense nip-and-tuck first set, which I won 7-5. That gave me the edge and I struck out boldly on all my shots to take the second set 6-2 and become the youngest champion in Australian history at 17.
That victory made me world-famous overnight, since I had to beat the world champion Maria Bueno along the way to accomplish it. For the first time I underwent the ordeal of a mass press conference. I had to answer questions which seemed pretty personal and even impertinent at the time, but which I have come to learn are just standard procedure with the press in every country in the world. I must have been a painfully shy and hesitant 17-year-old, but the writers were kind to me in print and headlines proclaimed me as “the future world champion,” and predicted I would become “Australia’s first Wimbledon champion.”
Source: “Court on Court” by Margaret Smith Court & George McGann, 1975
Billie Jean King
Finals Day that year was warm and windy, and I love to play in the wind. Bueno and I began cautiously. There were three things I wanted to do against her. One, I wanted to serve wide to her forehand to open up the court for my first volley. That worked. Two, I wanted to make sure my returns of service were deep so I could take the net behind them whenever possible. That also worked. Three, I wanted to lob her a lot. In the semifinals against Margaret Smith I had lobbed superbly and Madge was never able to establish any sort of rhythm. Against Bueno this only worked for a while. I won the first set, but in the second she began to feel comfortable with her overhead and began putting away more of my lobs than I would have liked. By the time I caught on, the set was gone – one service break – but I was strangely relieved, like I wanted to get that bad set out of the way and start in one the one that really mattered.
The match had been tense. Maria always played tense anyway, but if she was able to keep her tenseness and lose her nervousness at the same time, she was great. On that day, however, she kept them both the entire match.
I had been tense the entire two weeks, even more than usual. I had played badly the first week, in the early rounds, but during the second week I couldn’t miss anything. Still, I couldn’t get rid of my tension and relax, and even throughout the last set against Bueno I was very subdued, almost grim, even though it went easily and I lost only one game. It was the anticipation, I think, of finally reaching a goal I had been working toward most of my life. It was coming closer and closer and I didn’t want to let anything stop me from reaching it.
On match point, I threw my racket in the air and I was suddenly as happy as I’d ever been in my life. Finally, I was Number One. In my mind I was the best player in the world. There aren’t any official world rankings; anybody who wants to rank players can, and most tennis publications and their writers can’t resist doing so. I was on top of all the lists when they cam eout a few months later.
Source: “Billie Jean” by Billie Jean King & Kim Chapin, 1974
U.S. Open, 1968
I slept well that night in my room at the Roosevelt Hotel. I didn’t think too much about the tennis. In the morning I was raring to go. There were a few good luck telegrams from home and a call from Maureen Connolly. “Little Mo” had helped me more on my game than anybody else. She wished me luck and told me I could win it. That call meant a lot to me.
The day dragged on forever The final between Billie Jean and myself was scheduled at five o’clock after the men’s singles semifinal. I wanted to play that day; not to have to sustain concentration and anticipation another twenty-four hours longer.
I’d pick up a book, read a few pages without absorbing a thing, watch a few games, then start all over again. Finally Arthur Ashe beat Clark Graebner. It was closer to 5.30. Shadows were coming over the stadium court, but no one in the capacity crowd moved from his seat.
I didn’t think about the match. It was my first really big final and for the first ten minutes I was trembling with nerves. Once they evaporated I was completely involved in the tennis. I loved every one of the forty-two minutes it took to beat Billie Jean. To me, my game seemed over-simplified, almost dull; percentage first serves, decisive but unflashy volleys. I kept expecting to have to produce more, but it wasn’t necessary. I won 6-4, 6-2.
I was the first US Open Champion.
Source: “Courting Triumph” by Virginia Wade & Mary Lou Mellace, 1978
Roland Garros, 1971
I moved on to the final against Tasmania’s Helen Gourlay, who had staged an upset in knocking out American Nancy Richey-Gunter. I thought I had Helen’s measure, but in some ways I would have preferred to play Nancy. Helen had learnt her tennis from Vic Edwards and, just before I came to live with the Edwards family at Roseville, she had been the regular boarder.
I knew Mr. Edwards was excited about me winning my first major title, but it was difficult for him to will Helen to lose. He felt a keen sense of divided loyalty and I think he was relieved as much as he was overjoyed when I beat her in straight sets in something of an anticlimax. Lance Tingay described it as ‘a nice match between two modest girls’.
At our hotel that night Mr. Edwards phoned his wife in Australia. ‘I think you’d better come over as soon as you can.,’ he said. ‘This could be her year after all.’
Source: “Home” by Evonne Goolagong-Cawley & Phil Jarratt, 1993
Roland Garros, 1974
Evert didn’t talk much about her first Grand Slam win in her autobiography. The following is all she wrote.
I came into the 1974 Wimbledon championships with a string of thirty straight singles victories that had spanned six tournaments. Two of those were the French and Italian Opens, which I had lost in 1973. This time, I beat Martina, 6-3 6-3, in the final at Rome, and Olga, 6-1 6-2, in Paris for my first French title.
What a difference one year made! In 1973, I was impatient, immature and stifled by my mom’s presence. But an engagement romanticized Europe in the spring, and Janet Haas, an old friend, was back on the scene with her racquet and tape recorder.
Source: “Chrissie: My Own Story” by Chris Evert-Lloyd & Neil Amdur, 1982
In the semifinals, I lost the first set to Evonne, 2-6, before I came back to win, 6-4, 6-4, setting up my final-round match with Chris. I had beaten her in a tough three-setter at Eastbourne the week before Wimbledon, but I knew she’d be geared up for this one.
I was nervous at the start and dropped the first set, 2-6. I was still loafing along when I ran right into a passing shot by Chris. It wasn’t one of those in-your-face-disgrace slams the men go in for. Chris was aiming for an angle and I just put my temple into it. It didn’t really hurt me – woke me up, in fact. After that, I began to feel the ball a little better, and Chris didn’t seem so overwhelming.
I won the next two sets, 6-4, 7-5, coming back from 2-4 and 4-5 down in the third set, and for the first time, I was a Wimbledon champion, fulfilling the dream of my father many years before. I put my right hand to my forehead in disbelief, and I could feel Chris patting me on the back, smiling and congratulating me.
Four days later, the Women’s Tennis Association computer ranked me Number 1 in the world, breaking Chris’s four-year domination. I felt I was on top of the world, and that I’d stay there forever.
Source: “Martina” by Martina Navratilova & George Vecsey, 1985
U.S. Open, 1979
In the final game, I fell behind love-30, then 15-40, giving Chris two break points. But Chris netted a forehand return on one serve to go to 30-40 and I hit a backhand winner up the line for deuce. That was on of my favorite shots. I always felt confident with it and tried to use it as a surprise after a few backhand crosscourts. After Chris hit a forehand long for my advantage, she weakly hit my second serve into the net and that was it, 6-3.
I jumped into the air, ran to the net, and warmly shook Chris’s hand. She patted me on the head. I looked back toward my dad and Jeff. It’s funny when I watch the tape of the match (which is hardly ever), I realize CBS never, ever showed my mother, father , or Jeff. Maybe they didn’t know where they were.
…And so, I won. It’s funny; I don’t remember much of what happened next. There is so much to take in and it all happens so fast. Everyone runs onto the court so quickly, they interview you and give you the trophy (it was so heavy that I rested it on top of my head), and in fifteen minutes, it’s all over . They sheperd you to the press room, where all the reporters ask all their questions. I don’t remember any of those but I do recall that Laurie Belger – “Some Man” – handed me an ice cream cone. A just dessert, perhaps?
Source: “Beyond Center Court” by Tracy Austin & Chrstine Brennan, 1992
Australian Open, 1980
Of course, when Wendy walked out on to the Centre Court at Kooyong she was given an ovation by the crowd. The Aussies are fanatical when it comes to supporting their own winners and Rabbit – as Wendy is known on the circuit – is a popular figure in any case. It was something I had to shut out, besides I knew that my style of tennis was much appreciated in Australia and all I had to endeavour to do was to take an early stranglehold on the final.
I could not have done that more emphatically, blitzing the first set 6-0 and racing into a 5-2 lead in the second. There seemed little that Wendy could do to stem the tide, but like the competitor she is, Rabbit staged a fleeting fightback and leveled the score at 5-5. In my mind, it was crucial that I prevented Wendy from going ahead in the second set. I rose to the challenge and closed out the match – and my first major championship – 6-0, 7-5. Without wishing to sound condescending, I felt sorry in a way for Wendy. She was in her own country and it was probably her last chance to win a Grand Slam singles title. Maybe she froze on the day because she wanted so much to win. Only she will ever know the real answer.
All I know is that as I held the cup above my head I thought to myself, ‘Everything really was worthwhile after all.’ All the hard work, all those hours as a child spent on trams and buses to get vital practice, had not been wasted effort. All the sacrifices made by my parents to pay for my tennis education had not been in vain.
Words cannot adequately express how I felt as I stood there, knowing that whatever else I had achieved, I had guaranteed myself a small niche in the history of the game by putting my name on a trophy that had been won by such legendary champions such as Margaret Court, Billie Jean King, Evonne Goolagong and Maureen Connolly. Let me tell you that I knew right then that I wanted to repeat the moment of triumph over and over again.
Source: “Hana” by Hana Mandlikova & Malcolm Folley, 1989
Roland Garros, 1990
…The momentum shifted my way. I’d won the first set, and deep down I knew I had a good chance of winning the second. You can do this, Monica, I thought; stay focused, you can do this. I took the second set 6-4. And as I ran to the net to shake a silent Steffi’s hand, it hit me that I’d just won my first Grand Slam title. At sixteen years and six months, I’d become the youngest player to win a Grand Slam singles event since Lottie Dodd won Wimbledon in 1887 at fifteen years, ten months.
Grand Slam titles are very special to tennis players: they put you up with the very few at the top. It’s a kind of rite of passage – winning the French Open told me that I’d finally made it. I no longer had to wonder whether I was good enough, or chalk up my wins to luck. I had made it, and nobody could take that away from me.
Source: “From Fear to Victory” by Monica Seles & Nancy Ann Richardson, 1996