1981 US Open: Tracy Austin defeats Martina Navratilova
Austin wins the match, and Navratilova wins the heart
Excerpts of The 100 greatest days in New York sports by Stuart Miller
“At Wimbledon, the French and Australian Opens, there can be no final set tiebreaker, but at the US Open it’s do-or-die. And in 1981 Tracy Austin and Martina Navratilova squared off in the first final set tiebreaker.
Austin had won the Open at 16 in 1979, but in 1981 she’d been sidelined by sciatic nerve injuries. Navratilova had won Wimbledon twice and the Australian Open in 1981 but was still an erratic, emotionally vulnerable player.
She’d been an American citizen that summer, endured tabloid stories about her sexuality, finally subdued rival and top seed Chris Evert in the semis, and was desperately eager to win.
Navratilova seemed to have the trophy in her grip after grabbing the first set 6-1. But Austin, noted for her steely determination and concentration, began grinding away. Navratilova’s aggressiveness and gambling proved her undoing as she blew several break points with unforced errors – she’d make 43 to Austin 17 by day end.
Austin snuck off with the second set 7-6, 7-4 in the tiebreaker.
The third set was equally tight. Down 6-5, Navratilova committed 8 unforced errors and double faulted twice, but saved 3 match points to force another tiebreak. Then Austin showed her greatness, switching suddenly from hitting short to Navratilova’s backhand to slamming balls deep to her fierce forehand. This bold move rattled Navratilova, who fell behind 6-1, then double faulted.”
“It was Austin’s final moment of glory before back injuries derailed her career, but she had to share the spotlight with Navratilova. When Navratilova received her runner-up award, the crowd gave the vanquished player a lengthy and emotional ovation for her efforts on the court and for becoming an American; the outspoken Navratilova was speechless, crying tears of joy.”
Born December 12, 1962, Palos Verdes Peninsula, California, U.S.
Turned pro 1978
Retired July 1994
Career record 335–90 (78.82%)
Career titles 30
Highest ranking No. 1 (1980)
Grand Slam singles titles 2
Born October 18, 1956 in Prague, Czechoslovakia
Turned pro 1975
Retired 1994–1999, 2006
Career record 1,442–219 (86.8%)
Career titles 167 (all-time record for men or women)
Highest ranking No. 1 (July 10, 1978)
Grand Slam singles titles 18