Excerpts from Court On Court: A Life in Tennis
by Margaret Smith Court and George McGann, 1975, Dodd, Mead & Co., NY
Out of print, but available used from Amazon.com via the link above.
Australian Margaret Smith Court played in 1003 singles matches from 1960 to 1973, winning 929 and losing only 74. The 74 losses were to just 31 players, and Margaret's win-loss record against all 31 was solidly in her favor. For example, Margaret defeated Billie Jean King 21 times, while losing to her only 13 times. In 1973, her final year before retiring, Margaret earned over $200,000 in prize money, a record at that time for women competitors in any sport.
Margaret won 62 Grand Slam tourney titles during her career, from the 1960 Australian Open singles title, to the 1975 US Open doubles title. 24 of the 62 major titles were singles titles. In 1970 Margaret became the 2nd of only three women to complete THE Grand Slam, winning all 4 major singles titles in the same year (Maureen Connolly, 1953, was the first, Steffi Graf, 1988, the most recent).
Court On Court is well written, well organized, and presents a good description of pre-WTA women's tennis from the closing years of the "shamateur" era through the early years of the Virginia Slims Tournaments.
Margaret Smith Court
Margaret was the youngest of 4 children,|
and their house was across the road from the Albury tennis club (pages 2-7)
Albury is a rail and road junction on the main highway from Sydney to Melbourne, on the border of the states of New South Wales and Victoria... my Dad was foreman of the ice cream section of the local milk and cheese plant.
...no matter what else I did for fun in those days, I was always drawn back to the Albury tennis courts across the road. We kids began "playing" tennis in the middle of the road, using the discarded green-stained balls that we found by crawling under the club fence. My first "racket" was a long thin board, just an old stick really, that I picked up somewhere. I missed the ball more often than I hit it with this primitive bat, but it served to whet my appetite for the real thing-- a racket of my own.
That came along when I had just turned eight. My mother had a good friend who visited us regularly. She saw me one day struggling to hit a tennis ball with my old piece of wood. The other kids had all acquired some kind of beaten-up old racket but I was still without one and Mum couldn't afford to buy me one. Her friend watched us for a few minutes, then turned to Mum and said, "I've got an old racket at home that Marg can have." I could hardly wait for her next visit. She brought along one of those big old-fashioned things with a square head. It was so heavy I could barely swing it. Its strings were broken and slack and it had a thick wooden handle without a leather grip. I was thrilled to death with it. I cleaned it up as best I could and used it for years. Eventually I won my first tournament with it, the local under-ten competition.
Acquiring a racket inspired me to the next logical step: invading the courts across the road. I led three other members of the gang--all boys, of course--under the fence and onto the court farthest away from the clubhouse and the watchful eye of Mr. Rutter, the professional. A large hedge shielded the court itself from clubhouse view... but despite my valiant efforts that first day, the ball got past me as Mr. Rutter was looking our way.
He roared at us, "Get the blazes off that court," and we all scooted home through a hole under the fence. But Wal Rutter's bark was worse than his bite. He never filled in that hole even though he knew that we were sneaking onto the court whenever we got the chance... Not long after our invasion of the courts, Mr. Rutter organized Saturday afternoon clinics for the local children and I was always the first to appear, with my oversized racket and two shillings in my hot little hand. I was the most eager pupil he ever had.
Away from the court I practiced for hours by myself, hitting a ball against the wall of a brick garage near home or one attached to a string hanging from a tree in our backyard.
I am a natural left-hander and started playing with the racket in that hand. But the boys I played with always teased me about it, telling me "there are no good southpaw women tennis players." I got so many taunts that I finally switched the racket to my right hand and played that way thereafter. I've always felt that if I had remained a left-hander I would never have experienced so many problems with my serve. Only in the last few years have I been able to serve the way I wanted. I have also always enjoyed hitting backhands more than forehands because they come more naturally and I believe this is true of Ken Rosewall too, another born left-hander who was converted to a right-hander. Kenny has one of the greatest backhands in the history of tennis, but his service is far from outstanding.
...The weekly clinics organized by Mr. Rutter gave me my real start in tennis at age nine. There were about 150 boys and girls enrolled, for a fee of two shillings a week. This clinic was typical of those being held throughout the state of New South Wales and other states. Tennis was booming in Australia in those years following World War II, our Davis Cup teams were on top of the world, and Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall were national heros. It seemed that every kid I knew wanted to become a tennis champion. I certainly did.
Moving up to big-time tennis (pages 12-14)|
By the time I was fourteen I had collected about fifty trophies... I began to realize that I would have to leave Albury if I really was serious about a career in tennis... Sydney... seemed the logical place for me.
Mr. Rutter approached several sporting goods manufacturers there about a job with them which would enable me to play tennis on the side. This was the common practice at that time in Australia. Almost without exception, every top player, both man and woman, after World War II went on the payroll of Dunlop, Slazenger, Spalding, or one of the smaller racket manufacturers. Some countries, notably the United States, considered employment by a manufacturer to be a violation of the amateur rule. But Australia interpreted that rule more liberally...
However, the Sydney sporting goods' officials weren't interested in me at that time. They had signed up Jan Lehane and Lesley Turner...
Former Australian champion Frank Sedgman, who was then a successful businessman in Melbourne as well as a touring professional, came through Albury with his tennis troupe and Mr. Rutter told him about me... Frank watched me hit a few balls and seemed impressed... I went down to Melbourne and won 19-and-under [Victorian Schoolgirls] championship...
A few months later, early in 1959, Frank offered me a job in his Melbourne office, doing shorthand and typing, and arranged for me to be coached by Keith Rogers and take gymnasium training...
Margaret's 1st Grand Slam tourney championship,|
the 1960 Australian Nationals (pages 25-28)
[Wimbledon champion Maria Bueno] was seeded # 1 for the Australian Nationals in February, 1960, as was to be expected, and I was pleased to be seeded # 7. I was a junior of 17 and Maria was the world's top player, in her prime at age 21. In view of the trouncing she had given me a few weeks earlier, no one thought much of my chances when I faced her in the quarter-final round in Brisbane. But my mental attitude had changed completely. My awe of the Wimbledon champion had disappeared in the light of my victory over Jan Lehane...
I won the opening set 7-5 and led 3-1 in the second. Just as I let myself think I was going to win, Maria began to play brilliantly, taking five straight games with a flow of passing shots to capture the second set and square the match. We were both drenched with perspiration as we went under the showers in the ten-minute intermission.
I was completely refreshed when we resumed play, and broke Maria's service to speed to a 5-2 lead. Once again dreams of victory were dissipated as Maria broke back to reach 4-5 with her serve coming up. The crowd was tense, and I was too, as Maria fell behind at 15/40 to give me two match points. She saved the first with a winning volley behind service, but at 30/40 I hit a wide service return which Maria dumped into the net. I had beaten the world champion 7-5, 3-6, 6-4.
...when I finally went into the dressing room Maria was in tears. She didn't speak to me then or at any time before she left Australia. I was shocked that a world champion could behave so badly in defeat. It was a lesson to me, one that would be repeated often in the years to come. I was beginning to realize the enormous pressures on the top player to keep on winning and, more important, not to suffer a bad loss...
Frank Sedgman flew up to Brisbane the following morning to watch me play Mary Carter Reitano, the title holder, in the semi-finals... Mary was one of my best friends in tennis... she is eight years older than I... I played Mary for the first time when I was 15, in my first Australian Championships. It was a memorable tournament: I took my first plane trip to get there, from Albury to Adelaide in South Australia. Mary beat me in the quarter-finals of the ladies singles 7-5, 7-5. I walked into the dressing room and said to somebody there, "You wait, I'll get her one day!" Mary overheard me and never forgot it. We've often laughed about it since then.
My turn to "get her" arrived in the semis of the National Championships at Brisbane, and I won in three sets, a tough match. Now I was faced again with Jan Lehane, my old rival, in the finals... Jan and I played a 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...
Margaret's 1st US Nationals Championship at Forest Hills, 1962 (pages 63-64)|
Darlene [Hard] was not above resorting to gamesmanship, I knew, but she pulled a new trick in this match which nearly cost me the title. The first set was a marathon that went to 9-7 and I won it with the help of Darlene's double faults. I had taken a 4-2 lead in the second set when Darlene went into her act. She complained about a late call by the baseline judge which went against her. A few points went by and she missed another line by at least four inches. The linesman correctly called "out." Darlene yelled, "It was in!" He refused to change the call. Instead of going on with the game, the American walked to the backstop, dropped her racket, put her head in her hands and began to sob loudly. I had never seen anything quite like it. To the embarrassment of everyone watching, Darlene went on crying, despite the umpire's instructions to get on with the game. I sat down on the grass court to wait until the tears stopped flowing. When they finally did and Darlene picked up the ball to serve, my concentration was shattered. If that's what Darlene had hoped to accomplish with her incredible display, it worked.
My lead quickly disappeared and we were even at 4-4. I had never wanted to win a match more... I held my service for 5-4 and attacked every ball to break Darlene's serve in the next game for the match. I was the first Australian to win the American women's crown, and it was indeed a proud moment.
Darlene stood twenty-five feet away from me at the presentation ceremony which followed on the stadium court. I was just as pleased, since I had no desire to talk to her. Darlene's behavior was inexcusable in a player of her caliber and experience. Or anyone else for that matter.
The first Federation Cup (now called Fed Cup), in 1963,|
was played in a single week in London immediately before Wimbledon (page 66-73)
A number of women, mostly former players such as Mrs. Margaret [Osborne] Dupont and other active in tennis as teachers or officials, finally prevailed upon the International Lawn Tennis Federation to authorize annual Federation Cup competition for women's teams from all tennis countries, beginning in 1963... The Federation Cup was to be played as an elimination tournament in one place during the course of a single week...
Much to my disappointment, Robyn [Ebbern] was not named to the Australian team, in spite of our fine record in doubles. Instead Lesley [Turner] was teamed with me for the doubles, and Jan [Lehane] and I were chosen for singles play. Sixteen nations entered that inaugural Cup competition. We were seeded first, ahead of the United States team, consisting of Darlene Hard and Billie Jean Moffitt in singles and Carole Caldwell and Darlene in doubles.
True to the seedings, Australia and America met in the final round of the Federation Cup, which was played at Queens Club in conjunction with the traditional curtain-raising tournament preceding Wimbledon.
The early rounds were held on the grass but rain forced the two final rounds indoors and we played on lightning-fast board courts. I was drawn for the opening match with the United States against my old adversary Darlene. I handled the scooting balls better on the slick surface and disposed of the American number one 6-3, 6-0. It was a very satisfying win personally and, what was more important, it put Australia out in front. However Billie Jean, always a tremendous battler when things are tough, put her team back in the contest by beating Lesley Turner in three sets. Lesley had been substituted for Jan, who had injured her leg in an earlier match.
The doubles were the deciding point and it was a thriller. Lesley and I won the first set 6-3. We led in the second set 5-4 with my service to follow, and again at 9-8, when I once more served for the match. But each time the Americans broke service to even the set, which they eventually won 11-9. Their lobbing was especially accurate in the third set and they took it 6-3 for the match and the Cup.
...my record in six Federation Cups is 20-0 in singles and 14-5 in doubles.
About "shamateurism" (pages 84-85)|
I was 21 years of age, unmarried and with no immediate prospects, and faced with having to earn my own living for an indefinite length of time. I had collected a lot of silverware in the form of useless trophies, but all I had in the bank was about 1,200 pounds. Those were the days when shamateurism was in full flower but for a number of reasons I was not on the inside. Players were making deals for themselves with tournament directors all over the world. Maria Bueno, Darlene Hard, and other women were getting as much as 600 or 700 dollars a week and the men were making even more money. The French title was worth 1,500 francs in expenses to the woman winner. It was stated right on the entry form: "one thousand francs for travel and 500 for housing." But if you were housed privately and the previous tournament had paid for your travel to Paris, the 1,500 francs were clear profit. Tournament directors from other European tournaments came to Paris to negotiate deals with the players. It was all frank and open--"We'll give you five hundred dollars plus travel and accommodation." Some even offered you a $300 free trip beforehand to look their city over. These were all fun tournaments too, with lots of parties, sight-seeing, and other social events as extra attractions. And in those days nobody ever paid taxes on their earnings.
...The LTAA [Lawn Tennis Association of Australia] never queried us players on our earnings abroad. They knew we were getting money everywhere we played. Their teams were doing the same thing and the managers were making all the deals. There was never any such thing as true amateurism. It's so much more honest now that everyone is a professional and taking money openly.
Margaret had already won the Australian and French Open titles in 1970, so she was keen on completing the Grand Slam, the only objective she had not yet achieved. But at Wimbledon she severely twisted her left ankle, putting the objective in doubt...
About Chris Evert (pages 182-183)|
Chris is a magnificent competitor, mature beyond her years. I know I have to play well agaist her. She is steady as a machine and if you are the least bit off in your game, you've had it. You cannot be foolish nor charge the net recklessly. You have to play a thinking game. With her remarkable accuracy, control of ground shots, and ability to pass you when you charge the net, you have to be sure to go in on the right shots. If you rush the net against Chris on a weak shot, she will pass or lob you with pin-point accuracy. She is one of the coolest players who ever stepped on the court. She rarely shows emotion. Winning or losing, her hair is always in place, and sweat never ruins her makeup.
About Martina Navratilova (pages 196-197)|
Martina at 15 was champion of Czechoslovakia, a tremendously talented and fiercely competitive left-hander who plays the serve and volley game. She is capable of beating any player in the world. In a few years--or maybe even sooner--she could well be the world's number one player. Martina comes from a tennis-oriented family; her grandmother was also the champion of Czechoslovakia.
She is one of the best younger players coming into the game in such great numbers now because of the tremendous increase in prize money in women's tennis. I look forward to many exciting matches between Martina, Evonne [Goolagong], Chris [Evert], Dianne [Fromholtz], and Olga Morozova who are the wave of the future. Olga is the best player to come out of Russia and I thing the example of her success will inspire other girls in that country which in recent years has finally permitted its players to tour the world.
Margaret Smith Court Career Record from the ITF Database, (does not include all events)
Margaret Smith Court page at the International Tennis Hall of Fame
Great Wimbledon Champions: Margaret Court
Find more books about Margaret Smith Court at Amazon.com
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Court On Court: A Life in Tennis by Margaret Smith Court
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