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Barry McDermott
September 17, 1979
Magnificently fulfilling her boundless promise, Tracy Austin became a legend Sunday. By winning the women's title at the tender age of 16, she is now the youngest champion—male or female—in the history of the U.S. Open.
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September 17, 1979

She Simply Couldn't Believe It

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Magnificently fulfilling her boundless promise, Tracy Austin became a legend Sunday. By winning the women's title at the tender age of 16, she is now the youngest champion—male or female—in the history of the U.S. Open.

This was a title that Austin was destined to win, but even so, her 6-4, 6-3 triumph over a slimmed-down and fresh Chris Evert-Lloyd was startling not only because it came a trifle sooner than anyone expected, but also because it snapped Evert-Lloyd's Open championship streak at four and dashed any hopes she had of regaining the domination of women's tennis that she enjoyed as recently as last year.

The unrelenting and unflappable Austin was three months younger than Maureen Connolly was when she won in 1951. And, indeed, Austin is still a kid. After winning, she gave her bouquet of roses a couple of twirls and went off to telephone her friends and relatives. "I can't believe it," they all said. "I can't either," said Tracy.

For most of the tournament Evert-Lloyd played as if she again were indomitable. In the past few months she had dropped 15 pounds and regained her mobility, and as she raced through her opponents she looked every bit a champion. But on Sunday, Austin gritted her teeth and said, "Let's play tennis." Evert-Lloyd tried every gambit, and when there was nothing left to try, Austin knew that now and hereafter time is on her side.

Austin beat Evert-Lloyd by being steadier than the player who invented steadiness. "I wound up losing points that I thought I had won," Chris said later. "I think six months ago she wouldn't have gotten to a lot of those shots."

Evert-Lloyd was rocked by critical mistakes. In the first set she was up a break at 4-3 but blew a game point on her serve by missing an easy overhead. She went on to lose that game—and the set. Then, in the first game of the second set, she gave away a love-40 lead.

Few people actually gave Austin a chance; even Robert Landsdorp, her coach, rated her only "about a 40%" possibility and rashly promised Tracy that he'd give up smoking if she won. One of the first things Austin recalled in victory was that vow.

That it came down to Evert-Lloyd and her apparent clone, Austin, in the finals was not particularly surprising because the Open has been Chris' province for many years, while her chief rival, Martina Navratilova, considers the tournament her personal horror show. Navratilova has won Wimbledon twice and taken a string of other titles, but her 7-5, 7-5 loss to Austin on Saturday marked the third time in four years she had exited from the Open in the semis; the other time she was a first-round loser. The defeat certainly did nothing to enhance Navratilova's contention that she is the world's best woman player. In fact, considering Austin's Open performance, Martina may now be no better than No. 3.

For her part, Evert-Lloyd was devastating in her 6-1, 6-0 semifinal dismantling of Billie Jean King. Evert-Lloyd needed only 50 minutes—she won 48 of the final 63 points—to end another of the resolute 35-year-old King's comebacks following surgery. King has become something of an expert on rehabilitation; this time she was recovering from a heel operation she underwent last December, not to mention a sore neck she got the night before her match with Evert-Lloyd. But judging from the demoralizing result against Evert-Lloyd, it may have been age, not injury, that did King in. "She wasn't the old Billie Jean," said Evert-Lloyd. "She wasn't hyper. I could sense that she didn't have the old spirit."

Chris came into the tournament not only lighter and faster, but also full of beans. Small wonder. Her victory over King was her 17th straight match win since Navratilova beat her at Wimbledon. And that was hardly her most impressive streak. When 20-year-old Sherry Acker edged her 6-4 in the first set of a fourth-round match, it snapped a string of 46 straight sets without a loss in the Open. Evert-Lloyd went on to blast Acker 6-0, 6-2 in the next two sets, and her subsequent defeat of King raised her Open victory string to 31 matches.

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