1973 US Open: Margaret Court defeats Evonne Goolagong

From Behind the secenes in women’s pro tennis, by Grace Lichtenstein

The Court-Goolagong final was held at noon on Saturday, the first match in the stadium before the men’s semis. The scheduling was significant – the stands did not really filled each day until after 1pm and the television coverage did not begin until 4pm. The prize money might have been equalized for the money at Forest Hills this year, but the exposure was not.

Promptly at 12 o’clock, Evonne and Margaret strode out of the marquee onto the grass, each carrying bouquets of roses. Their personalities showed through even in their walks – Margaret‘s the now-familiar, stately processional, Evonne’s a bouncy, cocky, head-tossing strut. Much earlier in the tournament, I had come across the two of them practicing together early in the morning. Although they were frequent rivals, Evonne and Margaret had a mentor-pupil friendship of long standing. Court, nine years older, had been Evonne’s idol as a child. A faded picture of the curly-haired little aboriginal staring up worshipfully at the olde woman, already a world champion, still hung on the wall of the Goolagong home in Barellan. They had, on occasion, been doubles partners.

Evonne, serving first, began and ended the initial game sensationally, with aces. She was dressed in white, as usual (even though Forest Hills welcomed color costumes), appealingly sexy without a sexy girl’s build.
She broke Margaret in the second game, hitting winners on her return-of-serve, putting her ground strokes deep toward the baseline. But in the seventh game, Margaret, who seemed to have been slow in warming-up, broke back, and they stayed even until 5-5, when Margaret got a second break. All she had to do was hold her own serve in the next game to win the set.

At Wimbledon, Billie Jean had noted with some distress that Evonne could play mediocre tennis right up until it was time for her opponent to take the set, and then suddenly raise the level of her game 1000 percent. She did it now, taking the game on Margaret’s serve to pull even at 6-6, and force the tie breaker. The crowd grew hushed.

Just quickly as she had climbed that 1000 pecent, she toppled back 999. On the first point, she hit an easy overhead long, on the second she double-faulted, on the third Margaret caught her flat-footed with a dropshot. Evonne picked up the next two points, then sent a forehand wide and a backhand into the net to lose the net.

In the second set, Evonne again raced from brilliance to mediocrity without ever crossing middle ground. Each time she missed a first serve, Margaret would cream her weak second one. Yet Evonne’s backhand volley was cutting through balls at the net like a buzz saw, well enough for her to stay even with Court to 5-5. In the next game, on break point, she stunned Margaret with a whistling return-of-serve that pushed Court far into a corner. Margaret barely managed to get her backhand on it, blooping the ball right down the middle of the court. Evonne, on her toes at the net, volleyed it away. She won the set on the next game, to shouts of “Come on, Goolie!”

It turned out to be her last hurrah. While Evonne bobbed around like a cork, Margaret let the superbly machine that was her body do its precision work. With the score 4-2 in her favor in the third set, there was no stopping Big Mama. She won eight of the final nine points, the set, the match, the title, the $25,000, the Mustang, and one silent salute from a Dodger fan in the third row of the bleachers.

Leave a comment