SI Vault
 
It came down to the comeback kids
Sarah Pileggi
March 27, 1978
Evonne Goolagong, who has been back longer, came farther, beating Chris Evert, who reached the finals in Boston although she hadn't played in four months
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 27, 1978

It Came Down To The Comeback Kids

Evonne Goolagong, who has been back longer, came farther, beating Chris Evert, who reached the finals in Boston although she hadn't played in four months

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2

Goolagong put an end to everyone's expectations by beating Navratilova 7-6, 7-6 in the semis. Moving with the grace and quickness of a cat, despite her painfully injured feet, Goolagong demoralized Martina by returning one sure Navratilova winner after another. Both sets were decided by nine-point tie breakers, the second of which went to the full count and was won with a Goolagong volley. Forty-five hundred fans went home happy that night, not realizing how truly remarkable was the match they had just watched.

Goolagong said later that she did not know whether she could have played a third set. She has been competing on a day-to-day basis for two months now. One injury to her feet has led to another, from severe blisters to a damaged arch and lately to a calcaneal bursitis at the base of her left Achilles tendon. At times, her pain has been so intense that she has been unable to sleep and twice she has had to have injections of cortisone and novocaine. Yet she has never complained nor used her injuries as an excuse for a loss. In fact, after the semifinals she said, "I get mad at my feet, and it comes out in my tennis."

Navratilova played well too, if not quite up to the level that she has shown she is capable of this winter. In this case her first serve failed her when she needed it most. "We are both aggressive players," Martina said. "It is a matter of who is better on a particular day." She even allowed herself a small but well-deserved boast. "I could have blown my cool pretty easily, but I stayed with it to the last point."

Navratilova's record-setting streak had finally been broken the week before in Dallas, not by Evert, Goolagong or King, the players she anticipated would eventually beat her, but by 15-year-old Tracy Austin in a quarterfinal match that no tennis fan in Dallas is going to forget for a long time.

Austin won the first set 6-3, Navratilova the second 6-2. The third set went to 6-6 and then into a nine-point tie breaker. Martina took the first two points, Tracy won the next four. Austin, serving for the match at 4-2, lost the point with a backhand down the line that was far wide. On the next point Austin, incredibly, came to the net behind her serve, something neither she nor anyone else would normally do against Martina Navratilova in such a situation. Austin hit a sure winner of a forehand volley down the line, but the left-handed Martina dived for it and saved the point with an astonishing forehand passing shot. Match point, 4-4. Again Tracy came to the net, and this time she caught Martina flat-footed in the ad court with a perfect cross-court volley.

Austin then beat 18-year-old Anne Smith and became the youngest player to reach the final of any women's tournament since the open tennis era began in 1968. Previously the youngest had been Evert, who was 15 years and nine months when she got to the finals of a tournament in Charlotte, N.C. in September 1970, after beating Margaret Court 7-6, 7-6 in the semis. Austin was 15 years, three months in Dallas. Just as Chris lost to Nancy Richey in the finals in 1970, Austin lost to Goolagong in Dallas, but not before taking the opening set.

Last week Tracy was back at school, and Navratilova, her equilibrium restored, was her old devastating self in the early rounds in Boston. When asked how good she thought Austin was going to be, Martina said, "She's much better than Chris was at her age, obviously. How much she's going to improve depends on a lot of things, how she can cope with the pressures. Being famous when you're 14, that's not easy."

If Tracy Austin learns to cope, a certain amount of credit will undoubtedly be due Goolagong and Evert. As role models for precocious teen-agers studying grace under pressure, they come highly recommended.

1 2