Tracy Austin: excerpts from Beyond Center Court: My Story

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Excerpts from Beyond Center Court: My Story by Tracy Austin with Christine Brennan, 1992, Wm Morrow & Co, NY
Out of print, obtainable used from Amazon.com via the link above.

    Beyond Center Court appears to have been edited together from taped interviews, and the job was well done. Tracy Austin's storytelling narrative is clear, and the book is full of interesting anecdotes and evaluations of other tennis players--not only pros, but also celebrities (Sean Connery gets a "B-minus", while Peter Jennings gets an "A"). The only confusion comes from a tendency toward chronological meandering--getting ahead of the story, then backtracking--which is common in taped interviews, and not at all fatal in this case. The book also is indexed, which makes it far more useful for historical research and reference.


Photo: Tracy with a Porsche she won at the tourney in Stuttgart
(now held in Filderstadt), where she was champ in '78, '79, '80, & '81

 
Early years (pages 13-43)

    My Mom [Jeanne] and my dad, George, met at UCLA when he as a captain in the Air Force and she was in her junior year. They got married... and had children. Pam and Jeff were born in Boston; Doug in Albuquerque; John and I in California. They moved back to California when my dad became a nuclear physicist with TRW Inc., an aerospace engineering firm, and bought a house in Rolling Hills Estates, one of the nicer suburbs south of Los Angeles...
    My mother never played tennis until they went back to California. Her brother, Bill Reedy, was a nationally ranked player, but she never got into the game... Then, as a mother of four, with only me left to come, she became a tennis nut... In 1961, she was ranked twenty-fifth in the southern California women's division... One day, she was introduced to Vic Braden, a Los Angeles psychologist. Vic was a friend of Jack Kramer, tennis champ of the 1940s, and had an idea to start a tennis club. Soon the Jack Kramer Club in Rolling Hills was being built. Vic became the pro, and my mom began working in the pro shop...

    On the night of December 11, 1962, my mother hit balls to Pam, Doug, and John. At six the next morning, I was born...

click to see larger photo
Sports Illustrated
March 22, 1976


    My mother took me to the Kramer Club every day when she went to work and, when I was two, got me into a program for kids ages three to eight... Vic made tennis fun for me...
    ...By age three, a London tabloid had come over to take my picture and write a story about Vic and Jack's kids' program...
    At the ripe old age of four, I was on the cover of World Tennis...

    I was five when I began semiprivate lessons with Vic, just once a week. My mom called it "Hit, giggle, and run." But Vic said he noticed I had "excellent footwork. I like the way she bounces on her feet," he told reporters.

    Pam has always been my glamorous big sister--thirteen years older than I am. She played on the women's circuit for nine years and always came home to the room we shared to tell me stories of France, Japan, wherever...
    My sister and I are opposites in many ways. She grew up tall and skinny and is six feet tall now, while I'm five feet four. She started tennis when she was around eleven; I started around two...
    ...when Pam wrote letters home, she told of Westminster Abbey... But when my brother Jeff wrote, he would say things like, "At 5-2, 40-30. I served to the guy's backhand and nailed him."
    ...Jeff is now my agent at Advantage International in Washington, D.C....
    John is an excellent player. He beat John McEnroe twice and won the NCAA doubles title...
    People always wonder about whether the Number One Hundred-ranked man can beat the Number One-ranked woman. The answer is yes, definitely. John was a better player than I was. The man's strength, his serve, his power, and his foot speed will dominate even the top woman player...
    [John] was my doubles partner most of the time and with him, I shared one of my greatest triumphs--winning the Wimbledon mixed doubles title in 1980...

    Vic left the club when I was seven and was replaced by Robert Lansdorp, who became my coach through most of my career.

    Lansdorp was a reserve on Holland's 1959 Davis Cup team who emigrated to the US when he found that American colleges gave scholarships to tennis players (he attended Pepperdine U.). He later coached Lindsay Davenport from age 9 to about 14, and also worked with Pete Sampras. As of 2004, he is one of the primary coaches of 17-year-old Russian Maria Sharapova--although he doesn't often travel on the WTA Tour with her.

    Robert, a huge Dutchman with long, floppy hair in the style of the day, was a tough guy whom I knew loved me underneath... I wanted to kill him every day at practice--and that was exactly how he wanted me to feel...
    I still had a two-handed forehand. When he saw me, he said, "Its time to change." So I switched.
    I found out later that Robert didn't exactly think "U.S. Open champion" when he first laid eyes on me. He told the Los Angeles Times in 1976:

    When I first saw Tracy, I wasn't that gung ho. She was so little. I could see potential, but I wouldn't have said, "Oh, Mrs. Austin, she is going to be the greatest. It is a long process to become a champion, but gradually I saw her greatness. She learned quickly and accepted criticism. She can tell you what she did wrong without asking. I work her very hard, sometimes to the point where she wonders why. But the day after a hard session she comes back and works even harder and will be disappointed if I don't push her even harder. I'm not sure whether it is because she wants to be the best or wants to please me."

    ...Robert became, arguably, the most important force in my life for my young tennis career. He was part father, part brother, part tyrant. The perfect coach. He worked us hard, but we also had fun...
    ...By the time I was nine, I was frequently asked to play exhibitions at grand openings, fund-raisers for charities, and other special events...

    When Tracy was 10, she played Roy Emerson in an exhibition in which he let her win, and Bobby Riggs in an exhibition which she lost-- she would defeat Riggs in an exhibition when she was 13.

    ...when I was eleven, I won my first nationals at Savannah, defeating Kelly Henry in the finals.

    ...in January, 1977... my mother suggested I go with my brother Jeff to Portland, Oregon, where he had a men's professional tournament. She thought it would be good for me to play some matches in the women's tournament that was going on at the same time...
    Over the holidays, I had won an important tournament, the Fiesta Bowl girls-eighteen-and-under championship in Tempe, Arizona [Tracy had just turned 14]...
    ...I went up to Portland with Jeff... and began playing in the Pacific Coast Indoor Tennis Championships...
    [Tracy won both her qualifying round matches to get into the main draw...] At that time, I realized that this was more than a local event-- this was a professional tour stop... The event was called the Avon Futures, a satellite tour of the Virginia Slims...

    ...From one match to the next, I kept on winning... I moved to the quarterfinals and defeated nineteen-year-old future TV commentator Mary Carillo 6-2, 6-3...

Tracy in Wightman Cup play
photo from the book

    ...The four semifinalists qualified to play in the Virginia Slims tournaments the next two weeks. So I was going to Houston and Minneapolis--if my parents and teachers said OK.
    ...In the finals, I played Stacy Margolin of Beverly Hills, who was John McEnroe's girlfriend, and won when she retired from the match with blisters on her feet in the third set, 6-7, 6-4, 4-1...
    The prize money for first place was twenty-eight hundred dollars, but I didn't take it because I was still an amateur, and was planning to remain one for a while.

US Open Final, Sunday, September 9, 1979 (pages 96-100)

    The shadows were long and the lights were on when Chris [Evert, who had won 4 straight US Opens,] and I began playing late in the afternoon. We played pretty evenly through the first four games, then Chris broke my serve to go up, 3-2...
    At 2-3, I broke Chris, then she broke me, and I broke her again, so we were at 4-4. I won my serve and then took the first set 6-4, when Chris hit a forehand long at 30-40 on her serve. Breaking serve wasn't as big a deal in our matches as it was against Martina [Navratilova] because neither of us had monstrous serves.
    ...If there was one thing you wanted to do against Chris, it was to hit deep. She had a lethal drop shot, especially from her forehand side, which she disguised very well. It looked like she was going to hit a regular slice and at the last second, she would hit a drop shot. I also knew I needed to take balls out of the air if I could put them away. I wanted to end the points a little sooner and be more aggressive. I didn't want to just rally at the baseline, even though that happened a lot.
    I breezed through the first three games of the second set to take a commanding 3-0 lead. Winning that first game was so important; my mother always said that the first game of the second set was the chance to keep it going if you were ahead or change things if you were behind. It's a vital psychological game, and I won it at the net, of all places, where Chris brought me with a drop shot.
click to see larger photo
Sports Illustrated
September 17, 1979
US Open Champ

    ...Chris reacted by hitting the ball harder. She went for more winners when she was behind, took more risks. Overall, I hit the ball harder than she did, but she was trying anything. Statisticians figured out that we were hitting the ball an average of twenty-five times a point. She certainly wasn't giving up.
    Meanwhile, my mind started wandering... I started playing carefully, instead of playing the way that had gotten me to that point. I had to force myself to keep driving the ball and not just play it safe. Not coincidentally, Chris broke back to 3-2, then I broke her for 4-2 and won my serve to go up 5-2. Chris held for 5-3 before I won it all on my serve.
    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 one 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...
    Minutes after the match ended, Chris bumped into my father under the stands. They had never met before. "Congratulations, Mr. Austin," Chris said. "Your daughter played very well. I'm very happy for you."
    I will never forget that Chris did that. It was such a classy move.
    ...[After the post-match interview] I grabbed my stuff and, still in my pink tennis dress, left the Tennis Center and jumped back into the car with my mother to take my father and Jeff to JFK Airport...
    My mother and I dropped them off and then, on our way back... we got totally lost. I was getting hungry, so my mom pulled into a McDonald's. Now wearing a sweater over my tennis dress, I walked in and got in line.
    A lot of people stared.
    "I just saw you on TV," one guy said. "What are you doing at McDonald's?"
    "I'm hungry," I said.

    The prize money for winning the 1979 US Open was $39,000. In 2003 the US Open the prize money won by the US Open champion-- Justine Henin-Hardenne-- was $1 million dollars.

Tracy on other WTA players: (pages 198-203)

    [Steffi Graf] ...She has more athletic talent than the others. Her quickness is the key. She doesn't hit her backhand as well as her forehand, but an opponent can't pick on it because she's able to run around it and hit so many winners. Steffi relies on her serve, her forehand, and her quickness...
    [Mary Joe Fernandez] ...Mary Joe doesn't have one huge forte--not her serve, her forehand, her backhand, her volley--but she's so consistent and mentally tough on key points that she wins. She's just kind of there, but she doesn't miss, she doesn't give away free points, and rarely has a bad loss. She never tries for stupid shots...
    [Monica Seles] ...she is lethal. Every single point, she is moving her opponent so deep and hitting so hard... Mentally, she must be the strongest player out there right now...
    [Gabriela Sabatini] ...She has improved a lot. She used to have rather loopy strokes and used to hit the ball off her back foot, falling away from the ball, which is not technically correct. She used up a lot of extra energy, became tired, and had trouble in the third set. Now, however, she is fresher and coming to the net more, hitting flat strokes with a more compact swing and stepping into the ball much better. That improvement and her new-found aggressiveness are what allowed her to win the 1990 U.S. Open.
    [Jennifer Capriati] Jennifer is terrific... Her serve--the actual service motion--is great. Her strokes are very sound technically... She has the mind to play this game and she's got much better strokes than Steffi or Monica. She is much more technically sound and she's fast...
    [Hana Mandlikova] ...Of all the players I competed against, Hana Mandlikova had the most talent. When she got up to an easy forehand, she could do twenty things with it. I had three choices, so it wasn't as difficult. I just hit the ball and won the point. Hana, however, might have hit an underspin drop shot angle--a very low percentage shot. All the options get confusing. Hana hits a lot of risky shots that make her fun to watch, though.
    [Martina Navratilova] ...When I first came on the circuit, her backhand was a glaring weakness. She could only slice it without generating much power. But she worked hard on it and now has a topspin backhand that is much more of a weapon.
    [Chris Evert] ...Chris Evert never, ever, gave you anything. Her shot selection was very basic--either to hit it crosscourt or down the line, deep or with sharp angles. High-percentage, well-thought-out shots. I obviously was the same as Chris, having fewer choices...

    Soon after turning pro in October 1978 Tracy Austin had already received endorsement contracts worth a total of over $2 million. But by February, 1979, she was having some back trouble. Back trouble, including a stress fracture, and other ailments kept her off of the WTA Tour most of the time after 1981 (the year she won her 2nd US Open). She eventually won about $2 million in career prize money, but would have won far more had it not been for the injuries. From 1984-1993 Tracy did not play in any Grand Slam tourneys.
    On August 3, 1989, Tracy was driving in the NYC area when a van ran a red light at high speed and struck her car. After the accident, doctors told her she had a bruised heart, a bruised spleen, and a sprained back, but would be fine.
    Seven hours later she tried to get out of bed and found that her right knee was horribly swollen and in great pain. The bone was shattered below the knee, and the doctors hadn't noticed. After surgery to repair her leg, Tracy was unable to walk without crutches until December. She was unable to move normally until a year after the accident.

    In 1994, at age 31, Tracy finally was healthy enough to play WTA tennis again, competing in 7 tournaments. She won a 1st round match at the Australian Open, but lost in the 1st round at Roland Garros, and at Eastbourne, then retired from the Tour for good. Tracy also married Scott Holt in 1994.

    Tracy has frequently worked as a TV tennis commentator, mostly for NBC. At Wimbledon in 2004, Tracy was working for the BBC, and writing articles for the BBC and MSNBC websites.
click to see larger photo

Tracy Austin page at the International Tennis Hall of Fame
Tracy Austin profile at WTATour.com
Tracy Austin page from the ITF Database: 336 wins, 82 losses
(may not include all tourneys)

Find more books by or about Tracy Austin at Amazon.com



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