Just when Martina Navratilova thought she had the world by the tail, Tracy Austin, 17 years old going on 30, gutsy, determined and disciplined, scampered ( Austin doesn't run, she scampers—fast) into her life and spoiled it all. Navratilova was ranked No. 1 for the second year in a row, she had won five of the six tournaments she had entered on the winter circuit, and she had breezed through her preliminary matches last week at the $300,000 Avon Championships at Madison Square Garden without breathing hard. With Chris Evert Lloyd gone from the tennis scene, no one was asking her whether she thought she deserved to be No. 1. They were asking how it felt. "Wonderful," she said. "I don't have to prove myself anymore."
Now that Austin, Navratilova's only rival, has won this winter's big one, a $100,000 Avon first prize, people are going to begin asking Navratilova the same old questions all over again.
Although the final went to three sets, 6-2, 2-6, 6-2, which only three other matches did all week, it was fairly typical of the tournament. It was never close. The winner of each set dominated that set, and there were so many unforced errors that Austin later remarked, "It seemed like whoever made the first error won the point."
To beat Austin's nearly impenetrable baseline game, Navratilova, the serve-and-volleyer, had to make her first serves good, so that she could then attack the net. Against any player except Austin, Navratilova would have followed her second serve to the net as well, but she had too much respect for Austin's passing shots to take that chance. Thus, when her first serves failed—she missed on 27 of 66—she was left at the baseline playing the game that Austin owns. Navratilova's other weapon, her mighty forehand, also failed. She made 20 unforced forehand errors and hit only four winners with it. Austin had 14. "The only place I could try to go with my forehand was crosscourt," said Navratilova afterward. "Tracy knew that and was always waiting for it."
There is a history of one-sided matches between these two. Since the beginning of 1979 they have met 14 times. Their only other three-setter was the final of last year's Avon Championships, which Navratilova won 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. Their only truly close match was Austin's 7-5, 7-5 win in the semis of the U.S. Open last September.
When Austin was playing last week, her most loyal fans sat in the third row of a courtside box—Jeanne, her mother; Jeff, her brother; Sara Kleppinger, her business manager; and Donald Dell, Kleppinger's boss at Dell, Craighill, Fentress & Benton of Washington, D.C., the agency that also handles Arthur Ashe, Roscoe Tanner and Stan Smith. Others, such as Ted Tinling, the designer of Austin's dresses, came and went. But always present was Robert Lansdorp, her coach.
Lansdorp is Dutch by birth, grew up in Indonesia and Holland, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1960. He is a big man of 40 with ice-blue eyes, a deeply tanned face and a voice that carries across several courts. He has been Austin's coach, first at Jack Kramer's club and then at his own, for 10 years. Despite that long association, Austin also enlisted the coaching services of Roy Emerson shortly before the 1979 U.S. Open. During the tournament Emerson sat with Austin's entourage, and when she won and the media were trying to mine her short history for its few nuggets, Emerson, the Aussie tennis hero of the '60s, made a better story than Lansdorp did. As a result, Lansdorp thought he hadn't received his share of the credit for creating the youngest Open champion in history. Lansdorp endured this indignity until the Colgate Series Championships in January, when Austin lost to Navratilova 6-2, 6-1. He quit, and Austin lost to Navratilova again, 6-2, 6-0, at the Avon tournament in Los Angeles, her home ground. She also lost to Greer Stevens 6-0, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the Avon tournament in Houston.
Last week Lansdorp was part of the team again. In fact, he was the team. Emerson remained in California. "It has been proved to me over the last two months that my presence makes all the difference," said Lansdorp, following his pupil's 6-3, 6-1 semifinal win over Billie Jean King. "Tracy's game has been half what it should be. It is knowing her game, knowing what to tell her, knowing how to get her to play up to her best, it's being there for her confidence, telling her what to do. For her to play 100% she needs me 100%. Even more than before I feel that I am 100% responsible, and I feel very good about it. I am even more eager now. I feel she can be the greatest ever."
Austin's young face, with its very straight teeth and deep-set blue eyes, seemed to reflect Lansdorp's confidence all week. She didn't say a lot, but she smiled a good deal. Once a reporter, trying to pry something pithy out of her, got a rise—though not the one he had hoped for—when he asked if it bothered her to think that there was a country full of "nasty young players out there" getting ready to do her in.
"Don't call them nasty," snapped Austin. "Why do you call them nasty?" she insisted.