MATCH REPORT: Evert-Austin RR, 1981 Year-End Championships - TennisForum.com
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post #1 of 30 (permalink) Old Oct 14th, 2004, 08:44 PM Thread Starter
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MATCH REPORT: Evert-Austin RR, 1981 Year-End Championships

Hot off the presses, this is from Chris Evert. Net...

[Editor’s Note: I received an email from someone interested in the infamous 1981 MSG round robin match of Chris Evert & Tracy Austin. I broke the news to him that there were no cameras on court that night, and that acquiring the match would unfortunately never occur. But although we have an associated press article published after that match already on the site, his sigh of regret at never getting to see it was quite beautiful.

He wrote, "...I will never forget the description of the match by a writer in Sports Illustrated the week after the tournament. In that article Chris herself said "that was the most grueling match I've ever played." Bjorn Borg said of the match that it was a “tennis clinic”; Pam Shriver said she was "hyperventilating just watching what they were doing out there." Needless to say, those accounts of the match were burned into my memory and I always hoped that someday I would be able to see it ..."

So with that, we thank Steve Flink for offering us this ChrisEvert.Net exclusive account on the match so that we can all feel like we were there first hand!]


MATCH REPORT:
EVERT d. AUSTIN 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), ROUND ROBIN, TOYOTA SERIES CHAMPIONSHIPS, NEW JERSEY, 1981.
By Steve Flink


Across their careers, Chris Evert and Tracy Austin clashed on 17 occasions between 1977 and 1982, with Austin holding a slim 9-8 edge in the series. But their best battle by far was this meeting on December 17, 1981 in the season-ending event at Brendan Byrne Arena in the Meadowlands.

It was an exceedingly high quality contest between two great players, lasting three hours and 20 minutes. Four days shy of her 27th birthday, Evert played a magnificent match. From the outset, the rallies in this collision on indoor carpet were extraordinary. Neither the 19-year-old Austin nor the imperturbable Evert gave anything away.

Locked at 3-3 in the opening set, they fought ferociously through 10 deuces before Austin took the following game. She soon garnered the set, and then built a 4-2 lead in the second. Coming off her second U.S. Open triumph three months earlier, Austin was highly confident, seemingly on her way to a straight set triumph.

But Chris knew that she was playing well, and she was not about to surrender. From 2-4 down in that second set, she reversed the trend in the baseline exchanges and displayed her much greater versatility and court craft. She found her range off the forehand and began making Tracy dig up difficult low balls by exploiting her punishing slice and sidespin shots off that side. She also got greater depth and better angles off her two-handed backhand, and it was apparent that point by point, game by game, she was picking Tracy apart.

Evert reeled off 4 straight games to close out the 2nd set and surged to a 5-3 lead in the third. She had two match points in the ninth game but an obstinate Austin held on, boldly hitting her way out of that corner. Austin collected three games in a row, and suddenly Evert found herself serving at 5-6, 0-30, two points away from an exasperating defeat. Once more, Chris drove her way courageously out of danger. She held on for 6-6, and then swiftly took a 4-0 lead in the tie-break. Austin dug in again, taking four points in a row to reach 4-4, only to deliver a double fault on that critical point. Serving at 5-4, Chris produced an excellent forehand drop shot that Tracy could not handle. Evert was at 6-4, double match point. Austin saved one match point but Chris out-dueled her in a crosscourt forehand exchange to conclude a stirring battle of wills.

Chris won this match with subtle variations of pace, superb use of the drop shot, sounder execution, and steely determination. It was the match that sealed her seventh No. 1 world ranking in an eight year stretch (1974-81) according to nearly all of the experts. Evert had won Wimbledon that year, Austin had taken the U.S. Open and Martina Navratilova had captured the Australian Open but very little separated these three formidable players during that season. Evert’s triumph over Austin guaranteed her place at the top.

Her record during the year was 72-6, including victories in 9 of 15 tournaments. She had been a semifinalist or better in all four Grand Slam tournaments, which neither Martina nor Tracy had done. But she needed a win over Tracy to solidify her claim to No. 1. That was the way we saw it at World Tennis Magazine at the time. A round robin match would not normally be so significant, but in this particular year it was very important since Chris had lost her only previous 1981 head-to-head showdown with Tracy in the final of Toronto. Had she finished the year 0-2 or 0-3 against Tracy--- who ended up at No. 2 in the world--- a good case could have been made that Tracy deserved to be regarded as the best player in the world. So that one win made a world of difference.

Austin went on to win that tournament, defeating Evert in the semifinals and Navratilova in the final. One year later, on the same court, Evert routed Austin 6-0 6-0 in their final career showdown.

Last edited by daze11; Oct 15th, 2004 at 02:59 PM.
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post #2 of 30 (permalink) Old Oct 14th, 2004, 08:57 PM
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Daze, what happened to Chris in the semifinal against Tracy? How did she go from winning this nailbiter to losing 1-6 2-6 a couple of days later against the same opponent? The scoreline makes it look like Chris played a very sloppy match, unlikely though it may seem.

Best left-right combination by a German (and that includes Max Schmeling): Steffi Graf. All she did in 1987 was knock Navratilova out of #1 and try to knock Evert out of the sport. (Mike Lupica in "The Best and Worst of Tennis in 1987", World Tennis)

"A couple of years ago, we nicknamed Steffi Graf's forehand 'Jaws'. And that music would go perfectly when she starts running in to the net, swarming on that little ball." (JoAnne Russell, during the 1988 Wimbledon final between Graf and Navratilova)
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post #3 of 30 (permalink) Old Oct 14th, 2004, 09:10 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by samn
Daze, what happened to Chris in the semifinal against Tracy? How did she go from winning this nailbiter to losing 1-6 2-6 a couple of days later against the same opponent? The scoreline makes it look like Chris played a very sloppy match, unlikely though it may seem.
Having a bit of a letdown from the win, she was WIPED out tired... mentally, emotionally & physically spent. She put everything into 'proving she was the better player' with all those tennis folks watching on, and had nothing left the next day in the SF. Meanwhile, 19-yr old Tracy bounced back like a firecracker.

Last edited by daze11; Oct 15th, 2004 at 12:07 AM.
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post #4 of 30 (permalink) Old Oct 14th, 2004, 09:11 PM
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Nice! Daze, did Steve write that up for you after you did the interview? Loved the other pros descriptions.. esp Pam hyperventlating My single regret (other than no one can re-watch it) was that that match wasn't a GS final..
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post #5 of 30 (permalink) Old Oct 14th, 2004, 09:16 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Santorofan
Nice! Daze, did Steve write that up for you after you did the interview? Loved the other pros descriptions.. esp Pam hyperventlating My single regret (other than no one can re-watch it) was that that match wasn't a GS final..
I would have to say...it is probably THE match in the entire 20-year Evert canon that would stand out as the best unseen match....an equivalent to if the 85 french open final was passed down by oral tradition rather than being a part of everyone's shared tennis encyclopedic knowledge.

Yes, it was written by special request just the other night actually. Quick turnaround to say the least. I agree on the pros descriptions...thought it was somehow an incomplete report without those tension-building accounts kept in.
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post #6 of 30 (permalink) Old Oct 15th, 2004, 03:09 PM
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Thank you so much for posting this Daze. I would have loved to have seen this match. You could get Chris down, but eventually she would always find a way to fight back...........
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post #7 of 30 (permalink) Old Oct 15th, 2004, 04:43 PM
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This was a great posting. Putting myself in Chris' shoes I can see how hard it would be to face Tracy. There was so much going on there than just forehands and backhands. I'm sure that rivalry was tough on both of them.
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post #8 of 30 (permalink) Old Oct 18th, 2004, 01:51 PM
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Baseline matches betwen these two were usually dull affairs-but even no-fans called it the greatest ever baseline duel they'd ever seen.


Does anyone know of any copies of matches that were televised? I ask because the 1980 matches were on TV-even the early rounds. World of Tennis says the event was on ESPN, Channel 9 in Australia, and on tape in Japan.
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post #9 of 30 (permalink) Old Oct 18th, 2004, 03:01 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rollo
Baseline matches betwen these two were usually dull affairs-but even no-fans called it the greatest ever baseline duel they'd ever seen.


Does anyone know of any copies of matches that were televised? I ask because the 1980 matches were on TV-even the early rounds. World of Tennis says the event was on ESPN, Channel 9 in Australia, and on tape in Japan.
steve insisted there were no cameras in the stadium that night, and he's pretty perceptive. BUT i am always one to hold out for a long shot!! I wouldnt mind one of those japanese with a hand-held camera from that night!
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post #10 of 30 (permalink) Old Oct 19th, 2004, 02:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by daze11
steve insisted there were no cameras in the stadium that night, and he's pretty perceptive. BUT i am always one to hold out for a long shot!! I wouldnt mind one of those japanese with a hand-held camera from that night!

I would love to see that match!!! From what I remember reading from the press at the time, Chris would have said after the match, 'when I play her, I better understand the other girls' frustration when they play against me" . There was a full report of the match in the French papers the next day. They mentioned Austin's power and punchy shots from the baseline that Evert broke down by mixing up/varying the angles and using the dropshot. General conclusion of the article was Evert's superiority in that match came from a wider range of shots.
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post #11 of 30 (permalink) Old Oct 23rd, 2004, 05:54 AM
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The article is very interesting nevertheless I don't think that this one win decided that Evert was at the top and Austin number 2. After all, they played another match a couple of days later and Austin won it very easily, just like she had won the previous match vs. Evert that year. Also, Austin's record vs. Navratilova that year was better than Evert's vs. Navratilova. It'll always be argued who the number 1 player was that year, Austin, Evert, Navratilova, all of them can be considered a number 1 player of 1981. This wonderful match did not decide it. And the semifinal a year later definitely did not have anything to do with it, the article loses a bit of objectivness here.
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post #12 of 30 (permalink) Old Oct 23rd, 2004, 06:17 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Robert1
The article is very interesting nevertheless I don't think that this one win decided that Evert was at the top and Austin number 2. After all, they played another match a couple of days later and Austin won it very easily, just like she had won the previous match vs. Evert that year. Also, Austin's record vs. Navratilova that year was better than Evert's vs. Navratilova. It'll always be argued who the number 1 player was that year, Austin, Evert, Navratilova, all of them can be considered a number 1 player of 1981. This wonderful match did not decide it. And the semifinal a year later definitely did not have anything to do with it, the article loses a bit of objectivness here.
That tournament highlights one of the reasons I am strongly against round robin events. I believe they are against the spirit of tennis.

IMO the winner of any event should emerge unbeaten (and yes I do know it happens in other sports) unless it is perhaps a league based over the longer term. Whenever a player who has been beaten earlier in the tournament comes through to win I always have a feeling of dissatisfaction.
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post #13 of 30 (permalink) Old Oct 23rd, 2004, 12:26 PM
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I know what you mean Chris, still, in this case I didn't think it was that bad, cause the sponsor's championships was/is a unique thing a year so having a special format there (like the best of 5 finals later) was okay, I find. And I prefer that double elemination format to a real round robin (as the men did and the women do now), cause in a round robin players can calculate with wins in losses before the matches are played and they can calculate their semifinals opponents. That can't be done with the format they had in the early 80s. Austin lost and was punished for it cause she had to play another match right after that crueling match with Evert in order to make it to the semis. In her book Austin discribes how p***ed off she was watching Evert getting massage while she (Tracy) had to play another match. That gave her extra motivation for their semifinals match.

I find it quite amazing what Austin achieved at that tournament and I tend to think that she spend so much energy into that (after that 3 hour battle she won another 3 matches, including wins vs. Evert and Navratilova) tournament that she was dead for the next few months. Remember - apart from 2 early losses in early 1982, Tracy didn't play at all until the French Open in 1982.
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post #14 of 30 (permalink) Old Oct 23rd, 2004, 03:06 PM
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I liked the double elimination too Robert. It made every match count. Tracy was lucky to survive Mima Jausovec the next night after losing to Chris. Mima was ahead before Austin stormed back.

I know others will disagree [don't kill me BCP and Daze!]-but I do think it gave Austin a good claim to be #1 that year.

Daze: Flink must be right. ESPN started coverage the night after the epic Austin-Evert match. It jogged my memory of seeing the Austin-Evert blowout in the semis. It would be fascinating to see the Austin-Navratilova final.
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post #15 of 30 (permalink) Old Oct 23rd, 2004, 05:02 PM
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The double elimination was good for the fan, too. Imagine you watch or read the match result of that Evert-Austin match and have the prospect of a repeating of the same match just 2 or 3 days later. How wonderful! Also, you get to see every player at least twice and you could follow qualification rounds between Mandlikova, Shriver, Jaeger and Hanika who battle it out to play Austin or Evert in the semis. Still, I think it was a good decision to change the format in the mid 80s when there wasn't much depth at the top, but more good players that were not in the top ten than in the early 80s and could join (the top 16 qualified), and they added the best of 5 final. It's going downhill with the championships since 2001. Changing the location was a wrong decision (after getting back to a best-of-3 final and now they're playing round robin - IMO a bad format. Even more so these days, the Williams or Davenport would easily tank a match if that'd give them a better opponent in the semis. Austin, Evert or Navratilova would never have done that.
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