Originally Posted by chris whiteside
The recent 1981 Rankings Project brought Tracy Austin to the fore and the general impression I get (at least in BFTP land) is that there wasn't really that much love nor admiration for her. I think she deserves a thread of her own apart from discussion in the 1981 rankings.
I had a lot going on in my personal life at that time and tennis consisted mainly of Wimbledon plus following the results at the Slams and I would have to admit that I myself never particularly warmed to her.
But perhaps she deserves a higher profile in the history of the game. Overall her h2h was 8-9 with Chris Evert and 13-20 with Martina Navratilova but when you consider that in 1977/early 78 when Tracy was serving her apprenticeship, which the majority of players do, both Chris and Martina beat her three times and after 1981 when Tracy's health problems caused a deterioration in her game Chris won their only meeting and Martina won all four contests - from 1979 to 1981 it would seem Tracy was very much their equal. In fact in 1981 in the five tournaments all three played in (3 Slams, Toyota end of year Championships and the Tier I Canadian) Tracy won 3 of them as against 1 each for the other two.
The 1981 Toyota Champs was really the last event before the problems really took a toll on her but even in 1982 and 1983 she finished Nos 4 and 9 respectively in the year-end rankings.
After 1981 she never went beyond a quarter-final at a Slam - but the defeats were to top class players in 1982 twice to Hana Mandlikova arguably the most naturally gifted player in the game after Goolagong retired. The 1983 loss on clay at RG to Jo Durie can only be described as horrible.
The big question,if she had remained healthy, is how her game would have manifested itself at the Slams?
You've certainly got to think that she would have been a major force at the USO given her victories there in 1979 and 1981 but the evidence at the other 3 is inconclusive. She only ever played the Australian once losing on grass to Pam Shriver but she may have suffered a let-down after the Toyota, where some believed the winner deserved the #1 ranking and she had a rough ride to winning it, although Pam had beaten her at Wimbledon also.
Her appearances at RG were in 1982 and 1983 and this was after the problems began to manifest themselves so it's hard to draw conclusions. At Wimbledon she lost in 1979 and 1980 to Martina and Goolagong in the semis but the 1980 semi was in doubt until the last point had been played. An Evert/Austin final would have been intrigueing and perhaps she did have the potential at the top of her game to become champion there.
Just another one in the long list of "what-ifs" in the history of women's tennis how would Tracy have continued to perform against the two all time greats.
Chris, of course had taken time off, had "re-invented" herself after a string of losses to Tracy in 1979 and was playing on level terms with her again.
Would Tracy have been able to cope with the increasing power of Martina especially on grass?
And how would she have coped with the evolvement of the racquets?
We had the wonderful Evert-Navratilova rivalry of the 80s and while I'm not into claiming what "would have happened" it is my belief that had Tracy remained fit this would have been a tripartite contest to around the mid-80s.
Of course injuries and ill-health are a normal part of the game and similar to Nadal perhaps the effort needed to maintain her challenge in the end was her undoing.
Tracy commentates nowadays during Wimbledon for the BBC (the national broadcaster in the UK) during Wimbledon. Having not had a lot of regard for her during her playing days I find I have nothing but admiration for her her in her new role.
She has an in-depth knowledge of the women's game which shines through and her previews and post-match anlaysis is second to none.
What she achieved 79-81 establishes her as a great player on hardcourts and, given her Californian tennis upbringing/culture, it is to be expected that cement would be her best surface. Indoors she was no slouch either but her development on grass and clay probably suffered from the tour structure in the late 70s. In particular, her failure to bag the biggest scalps on grass (an aged BJK excepted) casts some doubt as to her prospects on that surface. Nobody with less grasscourt skill than Tracy ever won Wimbledon and one or two with considerably more didn't make it either.
Her prospects on clay are harder to establish: her wins at the FC Cup and Rome suggest that she had the game to win RG but players like Gaby and Conchita didn't make it there because there was always someone that bit better and one could argue that in Tracy's case, the double-thick barrier of Mesdames Evert and Navratilova in their form of 82-6 would have proven just as hard to overcome as that of Graf and Seles in the early 90s.