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A tennis player who had not been there for 17 years finally turned up once again among the 61 women performing on the spongy green turf of Forest Hills last week, someone with a chance to complete a Grand Slam. This girl was present in the graceful, tanned figure of Margaret Smith Court, the leggy, athletic, blue-eyed blonde from Australia who had already won the Australian, French and Wimbledon titles, the first three of the Big Four.
The men find Grand Slams just slightly easier to come by. Don Budge hit for one in 1938. Rod Laver did it as an amateur in 1962 and again as a professional last year. For the ladies, Grand Slams are all but impossible to achieve. The female of the species seems to be more vulnerable than the male to such things as fatigue, physical ailments and just plain shattered nerves. Only one woman has ever won all four major championships in the same year—the late Maureen Connolly of California. In 1953 Little Mo won hers in a breeze with the loss of only one set, polishing off Doris Hart 6-2, 6-4 in the final at Forest Hills. Since then no one has come into Forest Hills with three straight. Not until now.
As you read this Margaret Court's Grand Slam bid may have been upset, but defeat seemed remote in the hot, humid air of the West Side Tennis Club last week as the $176,000 U.S. Open tournament got under way. It is Mrs. Court's style to do things all-out and do them pretty quickly, as well. In her first match she needed only 27 minutes to get into full stride. By a score of 6-1, 6-0 Margaret demolished a cute, harmless, blonde young thing from Rolling Hills, Calif. named Pam Austin whose racket barely came in contact with the ball at all, except when she happened to be serving it.
"It's nice to get the first one out of the way," said Margaret, who played every shot as if it were match point in the finals, "but it wasn't quick enough to suit me."
Two days later, in the second round, she met Patti Hogan, the chubby girl from La Jolla, Calif. who had ended her streak of 42 consecutive match victories during the Marlboro Open in New Jersey the week before, and whipped her 6-1, 6-1, requiring just 35 minutes.
Mrs. Court, now 28 years old, is a sweet, simple country lass from New South Wales. Her tennis game, of course, is neither of these things. It is powerful, destructive, relentless and seemingly without a flaw. Definitely not on the sweet side. She is a superbly athletic animal, the physical equal of a great many men, but determination is really Margaret Court's chief trademark. For almost 10 years—outstanding even among the Hards, the Buenos and the Moffitt-Kings—this passion to excel has made her the dominating figure in women's tennis.
"Most of us tend to let up against a weak opponent," says John Newcombe. "We take it easy, relax, have fun. But not Margaret. It is in her makeup that she must go all-out no matter who she is playing. She'd certainly have more fun on court if she relaxed a bit. Who knows, she might even play better, if that's possible."
"She wasn't the sort you'd notice at a party," he said last week. "In fact, she seldom went to parties. Maybe because she was from the country. But you certainly noticed her determination at tennis. She used to be a skinny girl, but she lifted weights, ran, trained hard and played hard. She'd be good at most any game. She'd probably be pretty great as a runner, at the 220 or 440. She's very fast and strong."
Margaret's part of the country was Albury, a junction town on the main Sydney-Melbourne railway line and notable in her youth for not much more than the fact that it was where the tracks changed gauge and where the grumbling passengers, therefore, had to change trains. Margaret, whose father worked as a foreman in an Albury cheese-and-butter factory, took up tennis at the age of 9 on the public courts across the street from her family's two-bedroom house. By the time she was 15 only the boys were good enough to play her, and she had won 60 tennis trophies. One day Margaret rode on down the rail line to Melbourne to find out what big-time tennis was all about, moving in with former Australian tennis star Frank Sedgman and his family. Sedgman put her on a vigorous training program that packed muscle on her scrawny frame.