Tracy Austin holds three Grand Slam titles, winning the women’s singles title at the US Open in 1979 and 1981, and the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon in 1980. Additionally, she won the WTA Tour Championships in 1980 and the 1981 year end Toyota Championships, both in singles, before a series of injuries cut her career short. Since 1979, she has held the record as youngest ever US Open female singles champion and is the youngest inductee of all time in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Austin won singles titles on all playing surfaces: clay (both red clay and green clay), indoor carpet, grass, and hard courts.
Austin possessed a solid baseline game with a strong forehand and reliable two-fisted backhand. She struck the ball deep, with substantial pace (given the wooden racquet era of her prime), and with pinpoint accuracy, hitting on or near the lines. Often this aspect of her game has overshadowed her solid net game which resulted in a Wimbledon mixed doubles title with her brother John. Austin’s first serve was a mid-paced high percentage shot that functioned well on all playing surfaces, and although her second serve has been described as lacking penetration, she rarely double faulted.
Austin defeated 35-year-old Billie Jean King in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 1979 before losing to Martina Navrátilová in straight sets in the semifinals. Austin then became the youngest ever US Open champion, aged 16 years and 9 months, defeating Navratilova in the semifinal and winning the championship match against Chris Evert, who was bidding to win the title for the fifth consecutive year. Earlier that year, Austin had ended Evert’s 125-match winning streak on clay by beating her in three sets in a semifinal of the Italian Open. The Associated Press named her female athlete of the year for 1979.
Austin lost in the semifinals of both Grand Slam tournaments she played in 1980. Evonne Goolagong Cawley, seeded fourth and the eventual champion, defeated Austin at Wimbledon. As the top seed and defending champion at the US Open, Austin was expected to extend her five-match winning streak against third-ranked Evert. Austin raced to a 4–0 lead in the first set before Evert won 18 of the final 20 games to take the match. Evert went on to beat Hana Mandlíková in the final, thus securing for herself the year-ending World No. 1 ranking. Austin was ranked the World No. 1 singles player at times during 1980, partly because she captured the two sponsors’ tour-ending events, defeating Navrátilová to win the Avon Championships in March and Andrea Jaeger to capture the Colgate Series Championships in January 1981. In 1980, Austin won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title with her brother John, becoming the first brother and sister team ever to win a Grand Slam title together.
Back injuries and recurring sciatica then began to impair Austin’s effectiveness and sidelined her for long stretches. King, seeded twelfth, upset third-seeded Austin in the 1982 Wimbledon quarterfinals. Several weeks later, however, Austin won her 30th and final top-level singles title in San Diego. Austin had a good showing at the 1982 season-ending Toyota Series Championships where she defeated Jaeger, the World No. 3, in straight sets to reach the semifinals. However, she was unable to repeat 1981’s victory over Evert, who crushed her in the semifinals (a reversal of the 1981 result where Austin dominated). In 1983 she was a finalist at the Family Circle Cup losing to Navrátilová in three sets. She also reached the quarterfinals of the French Open. But by the end of 1983, before her 21st birthday, Austin was essentially finished as a top ten player.
Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday salutes Tracy Austin.