Evonne Goolagong

From Love Thirty: Three Decades of Champions, by Rex Bellamy

Evonne Fay Goolagong had two unusual names. The Evonne happened because her mother wanted something different, instead of the familiar French spelling. Goolagong means ‘tall trees by still water”. Her father was an itinerant sheep shearer and farm hand and she was one of eight children brought up in the bush: the rolling wheat and sheep country noth of the Murrumbidgee River. They lived in a tin shack on the outskirts of Barellan and were the only Aboriginal family in the vicinity. Fishing for yabbies, small crayfish, was fun for the children? But there was no money to throw around and they were a long way frol the tennis scene. They were a long way from most scenes.
It might have stayed that way – goodness knows what Goolagong would have been doing now – but for a local initiative that produced the War Memorial Club, equipped with four tennis courts. That happened in 1956 when Goolagong was five years old. The courts could not have been nearer home and within a couple of years she was acquiring a taste for the game.

Destinity took her by the hand again when London-born Vic Edwards, who ran a huge coaching operation from Sydney, was induced to include Barellan in his network of week-long tennis schools held in bush towns while children were on holiday. The two coaches assigned to Barellan insisted that Edwards himself should have a look at Goolagong and he flew hundreds of miles to do so. Edwards was impressed by her movements, reactions, and ball sense – that innate judgement of a ball’s speed and bounce on which timing depends.
She was nine then. Two years later she made her first trip to Sydney for intensive coaching and at 13, in 1965, she moved in with the Edwards family. Edwards became her legal guardian, assuming responsibility for her education on and off court. But Goolagaong retained close ties with her own family and with Barellan, where local residents dipped into their pockets to subsidize her career. She was already winning age-group championships and in 1970 she became Australian junior champion without losing a set and went on her first overseas tour. Edwards, a hearty bear of a man, was to travel with her as coach, manager, and surrogate father until 1976, by which time Goolagong had matured and married and was assuming an independent life style.

Edwards thought she could win Wimbledon in 1974. But in 1971 Goolagong surprised him. She surprised everybody. In January she led Margaret Court 5-2 in the third set of the Australian final but was afflicted by cramp and could no longer do the running Court demanded of her. A month later she beat Court in the Victorian final. Over to Europe, where Goolagong won the French championship at the first attempt without conceding a set and then beat Nancy Richey, Billie Jean King and Margaret Court in consecutive matches to become Wimbledon champion. At the age of 19, on her second trip overseas, the brown-skinned lass from a tin shack in a bush town had won two of the game’s four major titles.

Evonne Goolagong, Wimbledon 1971

Goolagong did not find it easy to build on that, partly because her toughest rivals had worked out how to play her, partly because her game veered wildly between splendour and mediocrity, and partly because she was not greedy for glory. She lost 11 of the 18 Grand Slam finals she played. That was hardly surprising, because the players who beat her were King (four times), Court and Chris Evert (three each), and Virginia Wade. At the same time one could not resist a frivolous line of logic: Goolagong loved playing tennis, had to win in order to enjoy another match in the next round, but was deprived of that incentive whenever she reached a final. She was a determined competitor but tended to value the game more than the prize. She was not in the same class as King, Court and Evert when it came to a concentrated, total commitment to success.

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Chris Evert, 1975

By Mike Lupica, 1975

1975 was going to be the year something caught up with Chris Evert, the year anything caught up with her. She was advancing into her twenties, and her Miss Teenage days were behind her, and before she turned into a full-fledged American institution like General Motors or All in the Family, everyone was waiting for fate to step in and, well, at least slow her down.

Fate could take any form, as far as the rest of the women tennis pros were concerned: the anti-trust laws, a blemish, a couple of lousy backhands, a broken shoelace, anything. Maybe she would even lose a match every month or so. Maybe. Wrong.

This is what Chris Evert did in 1975: she won 16 of 22 tournaments, and 94 out of 100 matches; the only player to play her on equal terms was Billie Jean King, who split four matches with Chris, and now she doen’t even play singles anymore; she won over $363,000; she extended her winning streak on clay courts to 90 matches; she won the French Open, the Italian Open and the Family Circle Cup for the second consecutive year; she won her second Virginia Slims championship.

More? She won her first United States Open, just about the only major title to elude her this side of Florida seat in the US Senate; she won the L’eggs World Series of Women’s Tennis (and began 1976 by winning it again); her only real frustration came in blowing her semifinal match at Wimbledon against Billie Jean; she closed out 1975 by winning her last eight tournaments, and 35 straight matches.

By now, you must get the idea. Nothing was going to slow Chris Evert down in 1975, just like nothing – not even World Team Tennis, which she’ll join this year – looks like it can slow her down in 1976. Maybe in 1989 or so, she may start to slip a little.

There’s no doubt about it anymore. The kid is no flash in the pan.

Of course, what this remarkable success does is just put more pressure on this remarkable young woman. Each loss will become a curiosity item, something for those who collect weid pieces of trivia. Thirty years from now, a bunch of old dowdies will be sitting around on the tea room veranda at Wimbledon, wearing old Virginia Slims t-shirts, and be saying things like: “I remember the time she lost a match in seventy six…”
And she knows this, knows now even before she has reached full maturity that each time she steps on the tennis court she is under the most critical of microscopes, as those who still cannot comprehend her genius wait fo her fall. Did she lose only six matches last year? Maybe this year six losses may be too many as far as the public is concerned.

“You know, it’s funny,” she was saying early last year, home resting in Fort Lauderdale before she again rejoined the tour and her assault on all the records that mean anything in tennis.

“No matter what I do, it’s never quite enough. They always want something more from me.”

What that “more” is, perhaps only Chris Evert can ever know.

Each little slip of hers is regarded as some kind of portent of Bad Things to Come. She looked about ready to bury Billie Jean at Centre Court in King’s last Wimbledon, up 2-0 in the final set, and holding two break points. But then the indomitable King, who someday with Evert and Suzanne Lenglen will be the one of three women tennis players worth talking about in this century, reached down into her still-hungry spirit and came back to win.
So the critics wondered: what will happen to her confidence now? What happened? She went out over the last six months of the year and played better than she had in the first six months. So much for portents.

When she and her sometimes friend James Connors played Billie Jean and Marty Riessen in that Love Doubles thing in Las Vegas in December everyone waited for her to fold a little again. All Chris did that day was play the best tennis on court, better than King, better than Riessen, even better than Connors. Not only that, she was absolutely charming in the process. Each time she plays now, the myth of the Ice Maiden melts a little more.

“It’s a shame, the public doesn’t know the real Chris Evert like I do”, Billie Jean has always said. “I wish they could hear more of the things she says when we’re playing doubles, as partners or otherwise. She’s a fun person. I mean she’s really a fun person.”

She is not a racket thrower, or a tantrum thrower because she is simply not like that. She is one who worked hard, was taught to win, does not make mistakes. Wins.

“Boy, I worked hard on my game when I was younger,” she says, answering the unspoken question of how she has come to be the player she is. “I worked from the time when I was 15 and 16. I would always practice five or six hours a day. I mean, I was playing that much tennis in the hot sun.”
“I can’t do that now,” she continues? “I wouldn’t want to do that now. When I’m off the tour for any length of time, I still like to practice, but never more than ninety minutes, or two hours, at a time. I’m not a fanatic about it anymore.”

She has more interests away from tennis than she ever did, and that is no small feat for someone who for the last five years of he life has spent her time in airports and in hotels and on tennis courts, or commuting to wonderful places like that. But slowly she has cultivated an interest in photography. And now she has succeeded Billie Jean as president of the Women’s tennis Association, as that organization moves into the most crucial stage of its existence. No, she is no longer Miss Teenage Tennis. This girl is a woman now.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m the Old Lady,” she laughs, referring to the celebrated nickname for Billie Jean. “Some of the younger girls come up and ask for advice. Mostly, it’s the european girls, asking for advice on clothes and where to shop and thingd like that. But still I’m kind of flattered by that. They’re asking me the same kind of questions I asked the older players when I first came out on the tour.

Perhaps the question they should all be asking her is: How do we beat you? Chris’ game has more variety and substance than ever as she moves into 1976. Her volley has improved sixty percent in the last year, as evidenced by her surprisingly strong net play in the Love Doubles match. The announcers kept informing their viewers how suspect Chris was at the net, and Chris just kept swatting away short balls for winners.

“I’ve been working very hard on my volley and my second serve,” she said in ’75, “because I think they’re the two parts of my game that most need improvement – two of many.” So she went to work and improved them.

She is also even tougher on the court than ever before, and this was evidenced in the US Open final, when Evonne Goolagong, who again this year will be her most consistent nemesis, had her in deep trouble in the second set. But Chris, beneath that placid and seemingly impenetrable placid exterior is really a little hitwoman on the court, pulled heself together and won her first Open.

“My father taught me to win,” she says of Jimmy Evert, her only coach. “To give one hundred percent and to win.”

Dad done taught her good, right?

The competition for her this year on the Slims tour will be strong, of course. Free from political pressures, that new American citizen Martina Navratilova will be out to show that she indeed can become the world’s best player. And there are old familiar favorites – Margaret Court and Virginia Wade and Olga Morozova and Kerry Melville Reid – around to see if they can play a couple of winning tunes.

But, as always, Chris will be there, and Chris will be winning, and maybe 1976 will be the year she conquers what seems to be the only real problem left for her in tennis: How to handle Jimmy Connors.

Chris Evert

By Steve Fink, World Tennis magazine, December 1989:

I met Chris Evert on the day she reached her first Grand Slam final in Paris 16 years ago, when I interviewed her for this magazine. We became good friends, and I found myself immersed in her career.
She soon realized that I was regarded by the sport’s inner circle as her Boswell, as the primary source of information about her record, and she knew that my recollection of her matches was invariably sharper than her own. Throughout her career she would defer to me at press conferences from Palm Beach to Wimbledon whenever she could not answer a question about herself.

But my involvement with her went much deeper than that. I attended both of her weddings, sat with her family at many of her critical contests in the major championships, and spoke with her frequently before, during and after tournaments to offer council.
Given those circumstances, and the highly unusual of our alliance, I made it a practice, with few exceptions, not to write about he. The conflict would be clear-cut, and I saw no reason to abuse proximity of my position. But this is the time to relax journalistic binds a bit and offer my intimate assessment. Hers was a unique journey through the seventies and across the eighties, and to understand how Evert impacted her era, there is only one place to begin.

In September 1970, at the age of 15, Evert planted the first true seed of her greatness by toppling the world’s No.1 player Margaret Court 7-6 7-6 in the semifinals at Charlotte, North Carolina. Only weeks earlier, Court had completed the Grand Slam by winning the US Open at Forest Hills on grass, but on the clay of Charlotte the Fort Lauderdale prodigy erased the rangy Australian. It was unmistakably a sign of what was to come.
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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.

2014 US Open coverage

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Fashion and gear:

A trip down memory lane:

Top 5 strange events at the US Open
US Open biggest upsets
1970 US Open: Margaret Court completes the Grand Slam
1971 US Open: Chris Evert becomes the “It Girl”
1972 US Open: Ilie Nastase defeats Arthur Ashe
1973 US Open: Margaret Court defeats Evonne Goolagong
1978 US Open: 4th consecutive US Open title for Chris Evert
1978 US Open: Jimmy Connors defeats Bjorn Borg
79 US Open 2nd round: McEnroe vs Nastase, chaos on court
1979 US Open: John McEnroe defeats Vitas Gerulaitis
1980 US Open: John McEnroe defeats Bjorn Borg
1981 US Open: Tracy Austin defeats Martina Navratilova
1981 US Open: John McEnroe defeats Bjorn Borg: Borg’s last Grand Slam match
1983 US Open: Career Grand Slam for Martina Navratilova
1984 US Open: John McEnroe last Grand Slam title
1990 US Open: Linda Ferrando upsets Monica Seles
1990 US Open: Alexander Volkov upsets Stefan Edberg
1991 US Open: Connors, 39 qualifies for the semifinals
1991 US Open: Seles and Capriati introduce power in womens tennis
1991 US Open: playing to perfection, Edberg grabs first Open
1991 US Open: Edberg’s final dominance doesn’t diminish Courier
1992: Stefan Edberg defeats Pete Sampras
1992 US Open: Edberg takes Sampras, US Open, No.1 ranking
1993 US Open: Pete Sampras defeats Cédric Pioline
1994 US Open 4th round: Jaime Yzaga defeats Pete Sampras
1994: first US Open title for Andre Agassi
1996 US Open: Class act Edberg making one last run at US Open
2001 US Open: Venus defeats sister Serena
2001 US Open QF: Andre Agassi – Pete Sampras
2001 US Open: Lleyton Hewitt defeats Pete Sampras
2002 US Open: last Grand Slam title for Pete Sampras
2004 US Open: First time to NYC for a French fan of Agassi
Andre Agassi gives the Open crowd one more thrill ride, August 31st, 2006

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