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Event Guide - History

Margaret Court/Smith


Margaret Court
© The All England Lawn Tennis Club


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 victory.

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


MARGARET COURT

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

 

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