For sheer strength of performance and accomplishment there has never been a tennis player to match Margaret Smith Court. As the most prolific winner of major championships, she rolled up 62 titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles between 1960 and 1975, and took the Australian, French, Wimbledon and U.S. singles all within 1970 for the second female Grand Slam. She is the only player to achieve a Slam in doubles as well as in singles; Margaret and fellow Aussie Ken Fletcher won the four titles in mixed in 1963.
Her closest rivals statistically are not close: Martina Navratilova with 56 majors and Roy Emerson heading the men with 28. Court has 24 alone in singles, three ahead of Steffi Graf.
From the country town of Albury in New South Wales, where she was born July 16, 1942, Margaret was one of the first Australian notables to be developed outside of the principal cities. Tall and gangling, nearly six feet, she worked hard in the gym and on the road, as well as on-court, to attain coordination and to marshal her prodigious strength. She was self-made through determination and training. Her power and incredible reach ("I call her the Arm," said rival Billie Jean King) first paid off and called international attention to her when she won the Australian singles at 18 in 1960. It was the first of her record 11 conquests of her homeland, the first seven in a row.
In 1961 she traveled abroad for the first time and played in her first Wimbledon final, the doubles that she and countrywoman Jan Lehane lost to Karen Hantze and a budding star, Billie Jean Moffitt (King).
Margaret was to win three Wimbledon, five French, and seven U.S. singles championships and the greatest of those victories, was probably the 1970 Wimbledon final. In considerable pain with a sprained ankle, she held off Billie Jean, 14-12, 11-9, in possibly the finest of female finals there and certainly the longest in point of games, 46 (two more than the Suzanne Lenglen - Dorothea Chambers record in 1919).
She retired briefly upon marrying Barry Court in 1967, but was soon back on the trail of championships. Margaret was remarkable in that she continued to win major titles, such as the U.S. in 1973, after the birth of her first of three children, and was still competing at age 34 in 1977. She was shy, soft-spoken, and, late in her career, she became a lay minister.
Court was primarily an attacker, basing her game on a heavy serve and volley, and relying on athleticism and endurance. She could conquer with groundstrokes, though, as she demonstrated in stopping clay-court terror Chris Evert in the splendid French final of 1973, 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (8-6), 6-4. Sometimes Court fell prey to nerves, as in her 1971 Wimbledon final defeat by the crowd's favorite, Evonne Goolagong; or the bizarre televised challenge by 55-year-old Bobby Riggs in 1973, which she lost implausibly and badly. She couldn't reach the inspirational heights of her chief foe, King, but held a lifetime edge over Billie Jean, 22-10.
Her Grand Slam year, 1970, makes those of Maureen Connolly, 1953 (12 tournaments), and Steffi Graf, 1988 (14 tournaments), seem almost leisurely. Court won 21 of 27 tournaments on a 104-6 match record, earning $14,800 for the four titles while Graf's prize money take for the four was $877,724. Connolly was an amateur, and certainly several of Court's best years were as such during an 18-year career. As an amateur she had such years as 1962 (winning 13 of 15 tournaments on a 67-2 match record) and 1964 (13 of 16 on 67-2, including a 39-match winning streak).
She won 79 pro singles titles, had her last sensational season in 1973, winning 18 of 25 tourneys on 102-6, among them the Australian, French and U.S. Representing Australia six times in the worldwide Federation Cup team competition, she played in the first in 1963 (a final-round defeat by the U.S.) and spearheaded Cup victories in 1964, 1965, 1968 and 1971, and was undefeated in 22 singles.
Tapped for the Hall of Fame in 1979, Court was born a left-hander. She was transformed to a right-handed player (like two other Famers, Maureen Connolly and Ken Rosewall), as frequently happened in that era. She had the best two-season run in history, 1969-70, with seven majors, missing out only at Wimbledon, 1969, where she lost in the semis to champion Ann Haydon Jones, 10-12, 6-3, 6-2. That defeat, as well as a first-round loss at Wimbledon to King in 1962, a final-round loss to Turner at the French in 1965, and a semi-final loss at Wimbledon to Evert in 1973--her only major losses those years--may have cost her four additional Grand Slams.
She scored triples (singles, doubles, mixed titles) at the Australian in 1963, Wimbledon and the U.S. in 1970. She won her first major, Australian singles, in 1960 and last, U.S. doubles, in 1975, and between 1961 and 1975 was ranked in the World Top Ten 13 times--No. 1 seven times (1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1973), two behind Helen Wills $550,000 in prize money.