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THE COURT BELONGS TO CHRIS
Sarah Pileggi
December 20, 1976
From Olympian and other heights came the candidates: Klammer and Comaneci, Young and Jenner, Nicklaus and Morgan, Dr. J and Tony D. If it was a very good year for men, it was a spectacular one for women. For the 21-year-old on the opposite page it was a year of such distinction that she became the outstanding athlete of them all. Because she dominated her game as no other man or woman did in any sport, she is Sportswoman of the Year for 1976.
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December 20, 1976

The Court Belongs To Chris

From Olympian and other heights came the candidates: Klammer and Comaneci, Young and Jenner, Nicklaus and Morgan, Dr. J and Tony D. If it was a very good year for men, it was a spectacular one for women. For the 21-year-old on the opposite page it was a year of such distinction that she became the outstanding athlete of them all. Because she dominated her game as no other man or woman did in any sport, she is Sportswoman of the Year for 1976.

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The World Team Tennis season begins in May and barnstorms its way through to the end of summer, Wimbledon coming just past its midway point. Chris had signed with the Phoenix Racquets for 1976 and now she looked to the Racquets to get her ready for the big one. She worked out with the team every day from four until six and then she would stay on another hour, playing sets with Coach Tony Roche and talking about Wimbledon. She enjoyed team tennis, the camaraderie, the shared victories, the novelty of crowds pulling for rather than against her.

"The first half of the team tennis season was the best I've ever played," she says. "I lost once in 22 matches. I didn't know before what training really was. After playing three hours a day and with men, I was strong and eager."

Goolagong, too, had reason to be confident approaching the final at Wimbledon. She was playing the best, most consistent tennis of her life. She was making fewer unforced errors than ever before. She had cut down on her loose points. Her second serve, which had tended to lack depth, to sit up a bit, was improved. Her backhand, first serve and backhand volley, which had always been superb, seemed even better. Her semifinal match against Wade had been a walkover, 6-1, 6-2; she had beaten Evert all four times they had played on grass; and she had the wholehearted backing of the British press and fans.

Evert, by contrast, had a difficult three-set match against Navratilova in the semifinals. In her five previous matches she had lost only 10 games in all, but against Martina she dropped 13. And the press was giving her a going-over.

"They said I wasn't playing well, that Evonne was at her peak," Evert recalls. " Wimbledon is like that. You have to overcome a lot of things. They'd write something nice one day, and I'd think maybe they like me a little, and then they'd rip me. I had to stop reading the papers."

Like their Slims match, the Wimbledon final was close, but it was less a display of great tennis than a battle of nerves. "It was the first time I ever saw Evonne nervous," says Evert. "Looking across the net at her I saw strain on her face and I knew she wanted to win it very badly. It made me a little more confident. Usually it had been the other way around."

Evert took the first set 6-3, Goolagong the second 6-4. In the third set they broke serves back and forth until Chris found herself down 5-6 and serving to save the match. "I was almost defeated then in my mind," she says. "I remember looking up in the stands and seeing Rosie Casals. I sort of shrugged, and she pointed toward the net."

Taking Casals' advice, Chris went to the net three times in that game and each time she did, she won the point. "I'm fairly confident about my volley these days," she says, "but still, getting up there during the finals at Wimbledon is tough."

Evonne lost her next serve, and finally Chris, leading 7-6 and 40-30, flicked a perfectly disguised backhand top-spin lob crosscourt to Evonne's backhand corner, a foot or so inside the baseline. The shot caught Goolagong leaning in a little, anticipating a passing shot, and the match was over. Evert tossed her racket into the air and beamed broadly.

"I can't tell you exactly what I was thinking," she says, "but I felt like saying something to those people. Then I thought of my father and how I wanted to get off the court and call him. I miss having him around to share in my happiness. He can't take it. They would have had to carry him out. We are really alike. Boy, are we emotional!"

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