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US Open Icon: Tracy Austin

With two title runs in just six appearances, Tracy Austin shone brightly but too briefly at her national championships.

Published August 13, 2011 06:38

US Open Icon: Tracy Austin
Tracy Austin

Somehow it came as no surprise when 14-year-old Tracy Austin beat players of the caliber of Sue Barker and Virginia Ruzici to reach the quarters of the 1977 US Open. She was, after all, a celebrated prodigy; expectations had been high almost from the day she was born. While Wimbledon runner-up Betty Stove restored order at Forest Hills, Austin's impressive tournament debut had signalled her intent - and it wouldn't take long for the young American to fulfill her destiny.

Fast forward 12 months and Austin had flown up the rankings to hold down the No.5 seeding at the first staging of the Open at Flushing Meadows. Again she was stopped in the quarters, this time by Chris Evert, the three-time defending champion. But a year later, the tenacious youngster - still all pigtails and pinafores - turned the tables on her mirror-image compatriot in stunning straight-sets style, ending Evert's four-year reign to become, at 16 years, nine months, the event's youngest champion.

Indeed, by the following April, Austin's relentless groundies had seen her seize the No.1 ranking (at 17 years, 3 months and 26 days it was another 'youngest' record at the time). For the first time in five years, women's tennis wasn't ruled by Evert or Martina Navratilova. But while Austin held the top spot for 21 weeks, long enough to ensure the top seeding for her title defense at Flushing Meadows, Evert - who had been contemplating retirement - found revenge in the semis, carving out a restorative 46 61 61 victory.

In 1981, Austin bounced back: This time, Evert was in the other half of the draw in New York, and dismissed by Navratilova in the semis. After a slow start to the final, Austin reeled in the net-rushing Navratilova in three sets, 16 76(4) 76(1). In the third set, Navratilova saved three match points to force the tie-break, but Austin's mental toughness won out. It was the first US Open to be decided by a tie-break, and it ended on a double fault.

Austin's career began to unravel in 1982, however. Sciatica had sidelined her for eight months from late 1980 till the summer of 1981, making her Flushing Meadows win that year all the more impressive. But no-one dreamed her quarterfinal loss to Hana Mandlikova at the 1982 US Open would be her final singles appearance at her national titles.

Austin's season ended with a demoralizing double-bagel loss to Evert at the Toyota Championships and, having been out of action since Eastbourne, she was unable to contest the US Open in 1983. Although she would make several comeback attempts over the next decade, none of her forays lasted long enough to allow a return to the scene of her biggest triumphs - notwithstanding a second round doubles effort with Mary Joe Fernandez in 1988. The shooting star would have to content herself with two titles from just six attempts.

Tracy's US Open singles highlights:

Champion (2): 1979 (d. Evert), 1981 (d. Navratilova)
Years contested: 1977-1982 (6)
Win-Loss Record: 31-4

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