Born in Santa Monica, California, Peggy Michel parlayed a stellar college career into considerable success on the professional tennis tour.
On her way to earning her BA in Education from Arizona State University in 1972, she was twice US collegiate doubles champion (1971-72) and twice a finalist in singles (1968, 1971). Turning pro after graduation, she traveled to Australia where legendary coach Vic Edwards paired her with his longtime student, Evonne Goolagong – and the rest is history. The duo went on to win three Grand Slam doubles titles together – the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 1974, and the Australian crown again in 1975 – while other significant tour wins included Brisbane, Sydney and Toronto. In singles, Michel's highlights included reaching the round of 16 at Wimbledon on two occasions.
How, when and why did you start playing tennis?
I started swimming competitively at the early age of four and continued swimming until I was 10 years old. After many trips to our family doctor for sinus infections, my parents decided to find me another sport. My next-door neighbor was going down to the local tennis courts at Rustic Canyon in Pacific Palisades, California and asked to come along. While she was taking her tennis lesson, I decided to pick up the balls for the tennis pro. After a couple of hours, the pro called me over, and thanked me and asked if I
wanted to go hit tennis balls on the backboard. After many hours on that backboard, I decided that tennis was going to be my next sport.
How has your life been impacted by tennis?
Tennis has been my life for over 60 years. I played junior tennis, collegiate tennis and then professional tennis. I enjoyed the competition and the people I met, and I was able to travel all over the world and experience many wonderful places. I owe my happiness, my success and my friendships to tennis.
What was your most memorable experience playing on the WTA Tour?
Winning the women's doubles at Wimbledon in 1974 with Evonne Goolagong. From the time I was a little kid hitting tennis balls against a backboard I wanted to win Wimbledon. I thought my first trip to Wimbledon in 1969, when Patti Hogan and I reached the finals of the doubles and lost to Margaret Court and Judy Dalton, was the ultimate. But when Evonne and I won the doubles in 1974 I knew that my lifetime dream had come true. I still get goose bumps when I go back to Wimbledon and walk through the front gate.
How would you describe your style of play? What were your strengths?
I was a serve-and-volley girl. I loved to chip and charge the net when I played. My strengths were my volleys and my anticipation at the net and my quickness around the court. I used to love to be at the net and try to anticipate where my opponent would place the ball. I always felt that an all-round game would bring even more success so in 1974 I went over to Australia to work with Vic Edwards, who focused on my groundstrokes and strategy. I would watch as many matches as possible, learning the strengths and weaknesses of my opponents. From then on, I was able to achieve much success in singles as well as doubles.
What was my favorite tournament to play?
What have you been up to since retiring from the tour?
After my tennis playing days, I went to work for Charlie Pasarell and Raymond Moore, to bring in sponsorship money for a men's only event in La Quinta, California. I have now been with the company for nearly 35 years and that tournament has grown into the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells – one of the largest, most successful combined men's and women’s events in the world. I have been vice president of sales and sponsorships and for the past three years, I have been the assistant tournament director, working with Tommy Haas. Just recently, I have been actively involved with the WTA in planning and staging player reunions at our event. The 2019 reunion saw over 200 alumnae return to Indian Wells and I look forward to our next reunion in 2021!
Did you have any quirks as a player?
I never wore socks with my tennis shoes when I played my matches. Another quirk was that in the early 1970s, we all had multiple dresses that we wore on court. Today, the players wear the same outfit every day. Anyways, if I lost in a certain dress, I simply got rid of that dress. Needless to say, my mother reminded me that dresses were expensive – and I was told to try not to lose too often!
Describe your most memorable win and what you learned from it.
My first year playing at Wimbledon – I believe it was 1969 – I was scheduled to play Lesley Hunt from Australia in the first round. I had never played against Lesley, but she was one of the top players and was seeded No.6. Prior to Wimbledon, I had played in a few grass court tournaments and had not won a match – needless to say, I was not confident. Valerie Ziegenfuss, a fellow American, was talking to me before the match, and asked me what court I was going to play on. I said Court No.4. Valerie looked me in the eye and said, whatever you do, never lose a match on a show court because people will remember that you lost that day. That afternoon I went out on Court No.4 and played the match of my life, beating Lesley 6-1, 6-4. What did I learn? Never lose on a show court!
What is your favorite movie about sports?
A League Of Their Own; Rudy; Brian’s Song; and Miracle (2004).
What advice would you give to today's WTA players, to maximize their careers?
Playing WTA tennis is an honor – cherish the time you have on the tour. Set goals for yourself every year and work as hard as you can, on and off the court. Surround yourself with good, honest people and make friends on tour. Give back to the game – sign autographs whenever you can, because those people will follow your tennis. Play like a champion and lose like a champion. Thank the women that went before you for all that they did to make tennis the No.1 women's sport in the world. And smile a lot!