When a young Margaret Smith made her first trip to Wimbledon
in 1961, she was heralded as the best woman player yet to
emerge from Australia. By the time she made her final appearance
at The Championships in 1975 she had amassed a record that
remains unequalled: 62 Grand Slam titles in all, including
24 singles, 19 doubles, and 19 mixed doubles titles.
Born in the country town of Albury, New South Wales, in
1942, Margaret had the good fortune to grow up with a tennis
court near her family home. Her talent was soon spotted
and she came under the influence of former Wimbledon champion
Frank Sedgman. Margaret was tall, athletic, strong, quick,
and naturally competitive. It would often be said that she
played like a man, so intimidating was her style to opponents.
When Smith arrived on the international circuit only one
woman had previously won the Grand Slam of all four major
titles. The American baseliner Maureen Connolly had won
the Australian, French, Wimbledon and US titles in 1953.
Many believed the serve-and-volley exponent from Down Under
was capable of matching that achievement. Margaret herself
certainly did. Perhaps she was fortunate that in her time
three of the four Grand Slam tournaments were played on
grass. Her strength and skill combined to make her at her
most formidable on the game's traditional surface.
Although she was Australian champion at the age of 17 and
would go on to win her national title 11 times, Smith knew
the real test of her ability would come at the world’s
other great championships. From the start, the game’s
authorities recognised her status on grass. Of 12 appearances
at Wimbledon, for example, she would be installed as top
seed eight times and second seed three times.
But lofty seeding did not come with any guarantees. Seeded
number two at her first attempt in 1961, she fell to the
British player Christine Truman in the quarter-finals. The
next year, as top seed, she was beaten in the first round
by the Californian Billie Jean Moffitt. The setback was
temporary; with Moffitt and the Brazilian Maria Bueno, Court
was already part of a triumvirate that dominated the international
game in the Sixties.
In 1963 Smith captured the Wimbledon singles title for
the first time, beating Moffitt in the final. In 1964 she
beat King in the semis but lost to Bueno in the final. She
turned the tables the following year, beating Bueno to take
the title in 1965. It was to be the start of a five year
absence from the Wimbledon final. In 1966 Smith lost to
Moffitt (who was now Mrs King) in the semi-final and in
1967 she took a year away from the game after marrying international
yachtsman Barry Court.
It wasn’t until 1970 that Margaret Court regained
her rhythm, and her place on centre court on the second
Friday of The Championships. The year had begun with the
familiar victory in Australia. The French championships
proved more of a struggle, with Court fighting cramp in
the final against the Russian Olga Morozova. She recovered
from 6-3 5-2 down to take the title.
At Wimbledon, it was King, once again, who shaped up as
her toughest rival. The two women moved inexorably towards
a final that is regarded as one of the greatest played on
the Centre Court. Court was nursing an injured ankle and
knew the only way to approach the match was to rush the
net as much as possible in hopes of winning as quickly as
she could. The strategy was sound but even so the two set
final kept the women on court for two hours and 27 minutes.
Court prevailed 14-12, 11-9, but the result might have been
very different. In the first set King broke serve four times.
Each time Court pulled her back. In the second set Court
had a match point at 7-6 and four more at 10-9 before finally
nailing down her third, and arguably most significant, Wimbledon
Twice previously – in 1962 and 1965 – Court
had failed to win the much predicted Grand Slam, falling
both years at the Wimbledon hurdle. This time she arrived
in New York with the first three Grand Slam titles in hand.
She claimed the US Open crown with a three set defeat of
the American Rosie Casals. The Slam was in the bag.
Court won a further three Grand Slam singles titles, though
she would never again hold the Ladies’ Singles trophy
aloft at SW19. Her final appearance at The Championships
was in 1975, when she lost to Evonne Cawley (nee Goolagong) in the semi-final.
Margaret Court retired from professional tennis in 1975.
Mother to four children and a devout Christian, she was
ordained as a minister in 1991.
Written by Henry Wancke
Singles Champion: 1963, 1965, 1970
Singles Runner-up: 1964, 1971
Doubles Champion: 1964, 1969
Doubles Runner-up: 1961, 1963, 1966, 1971
Mixed Doubles Champion: 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1975
Mixed Doubles Runner-up: 1964, 1971