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Old Dec 9th, 2009, 11:52 AM   #1
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The much-maligned Miss Tracy Austin

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.
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Old Dec 9th, 2009, 02:09 PM   #2
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Re: The much-maligned Miss Tracy Austin

Quote:
Originally Posted by chris whiteside View Post
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.
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Old Dec 9th, 2009, 03:19 PM   #3
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Re: The much-maligned Miss Tracy Austin

Quote:
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.
A light bulb went on in my head after reading you post Andy. Did Austin's young start age and the surface she played on contribute to her injuries?
Evert grew up on clay, a kinder surface and didn't go full throttle like Tracy did at 14. Anyway, it's a thought.

As for the French: I wish Austin had competed in 1979 or 1980. After all it was Austin who broke that 125 match win streak.
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Old Dec 9th, 2009, 06:38 PM   #4
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Re: The much-maligned Miss Tracy Austin

Quote:
Originally Posted by chris whiteside View Post
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.
Chris. What a great and timely post. I fail to understand the lack of respect that is shown to Austin and in my mind she would definitely have been a factor up to and including the mid 80s if she had stayed injury free. This idea that she would not have been able to evolve to graphite is nonsense. Of course she would- who didnt among the great male and female players? And as for the GS, I am sure she would have won the US Open at least 2 or 3 more times and a few French. On the grass I think she would have been dependent on a break in the draws in order for her to go through. And I find her fascinating at Wimbledon- she is easily the best analyser of what is happening. Those who disparage her have issues to resolve in their attitude as she was a great player. Not better than Evert or Navratilova- but the nearest to them if she had stayed on the tour.
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Old Dec 9th, 2009, 06:41 PM   #5
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Re: The much-maligned Miss Tracy Austin

Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy T View Post
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.
But Andy, the whole point with Austin was that she was not intimidated by Evert or Navratilova. That counts for so much. There are countless matches I can think of in the 80s, post 81, when Evert and Navratilova won GS semis and finals with tennis that would not have been good enough to put Austin away. I think on clay she would have been formidable- sadly she never played at the French when at her peak. And I dont think there is any comparison as a mental and strategic maestro between Austin and Martinez and Sabatini.
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Old Dec 9th, 2009, 06:43 PM   #6
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Re: The much-maligned Miss Tracy Austin

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rollo View Post
A light bulb went on in my head after reading you post Andy. Did Austin's young start age and the surface she played on contribute to her injuries?
Evert grew up on clay, a kinder surface and didn't go full throttle like Tracy did at 14. Anyway, it's a thought.

As for the French: I wish Austin had competed in 1979 or 1980. After all it was Austin who broke that 125 match win streak.
Rollo, I particularly feel that in 79 she could have won the French Open- look at how Evert struggled so badly against Fromholtz in the Federation Cup and Madruga in Paris??
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Old Dec 9th, 2009, 07:18 PM   #7
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Re: The much-maligned Miss Tracy Austin

Great thread. I remember the buzz around Tracy when she made it to the QF's the USO in '77. I do think that she suffers in reputation because she was viewed as a threat to Evert. We Evert fans didn't like that. It would've been interesting to see if her game evolved with time. The evolution of Evert's game was what brought her back to the top of the rankings. The evolution of Navratilova built her into the dominant player that she was. Tracy was a hard-hitting metronome. She didn't show a Plan B. I think it's impossible to tell if she would have had the ability to take herself physically or strategically to the next level. I think that Martina would've begun to punish her serve more and more as the years went on if Tracy didn't beef that up. Unfortunately, Tracy's career began to wind down at the same point where Navratilova and Evert were taking theirs to the next level, so we'll never know how she might have responded.

Regardless, I think with Tracy's firepower, she would have periodically had times that she could have beaten anyone. How often, who knows?
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Old Dec 9th, 2009, 07:25 PM   #8
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Re: The much-maligned Miss Tracy Austin

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Originally Posted by preacherfan View Post
Great thread. I remember the buzz around Tracy when she made it to the QF's the USO in '77. I do think that she suffers in reputation because she was viewed as a threat to Evert. We Evert fans didn't like that. It would've been interesting to see if her game evolved with time. The evolution of Evert's game was what brought her back to the top of the rankings. The evolution of Navratilova built her into the dominant player that she was. Tracy was a hard-hitting metronome. She didn't show a Plan B. I think it's impossible to tell if she would have had the ability to take herself physically or strategically to the next level. I think that Martina would've begun to punish her serve more and more as the years went on if Tracy didn't beef that up. Unfortunately, Tracy's career began to wind down at the same point where Navratilova and Evert were taking theirs to the next level, so we'll never know how she might have responded.

Regardless, I think with Tracy's firepower, she would have periodically had times that she could have beaten anyone. How often, who knows?
I agree it is one of the great unknowns of the womens game. But Austin was a fantastic hitter of the ball even with the old wooden rackets. I am not sure how she would have fared against Navratilova or Mandlikova on a fast grass court if she didnt beef up her serve. But I think she would have done. She was effectively finished at the same age as Evert was when she won her first GS title against Morozova in Paris. Even the most ardent Evert fans could not have accused her of being a very complete player either at that stage.
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Old Dec 9th, 2009, 08:03 PM   #9
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Re: The much-maligned Miss Tracy Austin

She's not nearly maligned enough IMO....j/k Surely she's a bit of a pantomime villan? She just seemed a bit protected and wet (while ruthless at the same time if that's possible) I have warmed to her in recent times and like her commentary.

As for whether she could have taken her game to the next level in the mid 80s- her greatest strength was that mind and determination- but agree that she would have to beef up that serve. Her game is stiffer and more inflebile than Chris's but she was pretty handy at the net when she got up there. Also maybe her (lack of) height would be a problem?
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Old Dec 9th, 2009, 08:08 PM   #10
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Re: The much-maligned Miss Tracy Austin

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Originally Posted by BCP View Post
She's not nearly maligned enough IMO....j/k Surely she's a bit of a pantomime villan? She just seemed a bit protected and wet (while ruthless at the same time if that's possible) I have warmed to her in recent times and like her commentary.

As for whether she could have taken her game to the next level in the mid 80s- her greatest strength was that mind and determination- but agree that she would have to beef up that serve. Her game is stiffer and more inflebile than Chris's but she was pretty handy at the net when she got up there. Also maybe her (lack of) height would be a problem?
I dont know if the height issue would have been so significant to be honest. As an athlete I am in no way comparing her to Henin but look at what the latter has achieved in the most powerful era. It is great to hear her getting some overdue praise, and I guess it would be interesting to hear what peoples favourite Austin match was. For me it has to be the Open final against Martina in 81.
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Old Dec 9th, 2009, 08:33 PM   #11
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Re: The much-maligned Miss Tracy Austin

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Also maybe her (lack of) height would be a problem
How tall was Tracy? She hit as hard as Evert in 1981-that I know. Chris herself was what-5 foot 4 and a half inches?
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Old Dec 10th, 2009, 04:58 AM   #12
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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.
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Old Dec 10th, 2009, 01:34 PM   #13
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Re: The much-maligned Miss Tracy Austin

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But Andy, the whole point with Austin was that she was not intimidated by Evert or Navratilova. That counts for so much. There are countless matches I can think of in the 80s, post 81, when Evert and Navratilova won GS semis and finals with tennis that would not have been good enough to put Austin away. I think on clay she would have been formidable- sadly she never played at the French when at her peak. And I dont think there is any comparison as a mental and strategic maestro between Austin and Martinez and Sabatini.
I agree with you about Tracy's mental fortitude Iain but the Evert-Navratilova obstacle I had in mind was more along the lines of having to play well enough in two successive matches to beat both to win a major.

Sure, Tracy would certainly have approached the challenge from a much better place mentally but physically she'd have found it very tough against two women who managed to up the stakes considerably on the fitness level, especially given that she'd be playing an attacker one time and a baseliner the next. Given the way both Chris and Martina raised their physical game, I am skeptical about how often she'd have been able to deal with both of them back to back in the kind of form they were in during thein the period in question. For example, if she'd been able to get past Chris at RG 84, would she have stopped Martina? If she'd been able to pull of a win over Martina in 85 RG, would she have stopped Chris? You can only answer yes if you assume (a) a vast physical improvement in Tracy's game (b) a notable development in her tactics (c) a real beefing up of her serve and (d) efface the psychological damage (e.g. 06 06) done in 82/3 during her 'decline'. In other words, we'd be talking about a reinvented Tracy Austin: injury free, airbrushed career history/psychology; beefed up body, more complete game.... In that case, the sky's the limit as to what she'd have achieved.
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Old Dec 10th, 2009, 04:04 PM   #14
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Re: The much-maligned Miss Tracy Austin

Quote:
I agree with you about Tracy's mental fortitude Iain but the Evert-Navratilova obstacle I had in mind was more along the lines of having to play well enough in two successive matches to beat both to win a major.
That worked the other way round too. Martina beat Chris but failed to beat Tracy at the US Open in 1981. Tracy DID beat both Chris and Martina to win the 1979 US Open. When she did it again at the Toyota Chmps she became the last person to do this until Mandlikova in 1985.

I think Evert never had to beat Tracy and Martina to win a slam.
Martina defeated Austin and then Evert to win Wimbledon in 1979.

Anyhow, I realize you were projecting this foward into the mid 80's, but assuming Austin was healthy we really don't know how Austin could have responded.

Quote:
(a) a vast physical improvement in Tracy's game (b) a notable development in her tactics (c) a real beefing up of her serve and (d) efface the psychological damage (e.g. 06 06) done in 82/3 during her 'declin
a) If Martina and Chris did this with older bodies, why not a younger Austin?
b) She was pretty smart cookie. At the Open in 1981 she suddenly hit to
Martina's forehand out of nowhere.
c) Her serve improved during her comeback in 1981. I doubt if her serve
would ever be great, but then neither was Evert's
d) She overcame some psychological baggage in returning in 1981. Again,
if Evert could face the monster in mirror (Tracy) and Martina could get it
together after her 1980 meltdown at middle-age.


Anyhow, that's me playing devil's advocate for the day.
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Old Dec 10th, 2009, 04:43 PM   #15
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Re: The much-maligned Miss Tracy Austin

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rollo View Post
How tall was Tracy? She hit as hard as Evert in 1981-that I know. Chris herself was what-5 foot 4 and a half inches?
RolloNot much in it- Austin was 5 foot 4- so if Evert was tall enough for the 80s I guess so was Tracy??
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