When it comes to worldwide reach and scope, few sports hold a candle to tennis. To celebrate all that makes tennis so rich and deep, Tennis Channel kicks off "TenniScope." Authored by Tennis Channel writer Joel Drucker, these short pieces describe many of the fabulous moments and places, people and products that have added sparkle and passion to our sport.
TenniScope: The Royal Reign of Margaret Court
By Joel Drucker
When pondering the great Aussies it's tempting to only consider the men. But the person from that nation whose achievements tower all others is in fact a woman.
Margaret Court won a record 62 Grand Slam titles, including the all-time mark of 24 Grand Slam singles victories. She is one of only three players to have won the singles, doubles and mixed at every Grand Slam tournament. It's fitting that the one of the major showcourts at the Australian Open is named the Margaret Court Arena.
To use an Aussie term, it's bad luck that Court is remembered more for one loss than for her many wins. For it was Court's loss to Bobby Riggs in May 1973 that set the table for Billie Jean King's September triumph over Riggs.
But that was one day in a career that spanned nearly 20 years. Before taking on a married name with an enchanting tennis connection, she was Margaret Smith, an ambitious, hard-working athlete. Like another great Aussie, Ken Rosewall, she was a lefthander who by societal custom began playing tennis at age eight.
Little deterred her. Coming of tennis age in the "50s, Court was heavily influenced by the nation's leading-edge approach to fitness. Years before Martina Navratilova began her own fitness regimen, Court was spending hours off time engaged in what would later be called cross-training.
At 17, she won the first of eleven Australian singles championships. At 20, she won the first of her three Wimbledon singles titles. No player more thoroughly dominated the "60s. Court's closest rival was King. Billie Jean had upset Court in the first round of Wimbledon in 1962. Court avenged that defeat with win in the next year's final. Her lifetime tally versus Billie Jean: 22-10.
Court's comprehensive, all-court game suffocated opponents. She was swift, commanding, able to end points from just about any part of the court. At 5' 9" - quite tall in those days - Court's reach earned her the nickname, "The Arm."
In 1970, Court attained one of the greatest feats in tennis history, becoming only the second woman and fourth player to earn all four Grand Slam singles titles in a calendar year.
And yet, for all her success, there was often a melancholy side to Court. On the game's biggest stage, Wimbledon, she often succumbed to nerves, rarely playing her best tennis. When the Virginia Slims circuit commenced two years later, Court initially opted not to participate. Shy and somewhat self-conscious of her size, she came off as more distant than she'd probably intended.
But then, in 1973, she began to sort things out. "During a tournament in Paris, I realized that something was missing in my life - a closer relationship with God," says Court. "I knew God was there and thought I must be able to know Him in a deeper way."
After retiring from tennis in 1977, Court spent several years grappling with everything from depression to a heart condition and insomnia. Eventually she came out the other side as an ordained Christian minister. Her Victory Life Church is based in Perth, Australia.
Court isn't too visible around tennis these days, but in 2004, she trekked to Newport, RI, for the 50th anniversary of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. I had arranged for her to be a guest on the show I co-produce for Tennis Channel, Center Court. She was a delightful interview, conducting herself with the regal qualities that make her one of our sport's grand champions. The next day, as she took her place with such fellow legendary Aussies as Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Fred Stolle, Frank Sedgman, Mal Anderson, Roy Emerson and Ashley Cooper, it was clear they too were every bit as delighted to stand with her. The Arm's reach remains long and powerful.
Joel Drucker has been part of Tennis Channel since the network first hit the airwaves in 2003, most notably as co-producer and writer of "Center Court," as well as working for Tennis Channel at many tournaments as an analyst and writer and since 2006 authoring this website's "Roving Player" column.
Drucker is one of the world's preeminent tennis historians, having authored dozens of articles on every generation of the game's leading players - from past stars Don Budge and Jack Kramer to contemporary greats Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer. Along with Tennis Channel colleagues Bud Collins and Steve Flink, Drucker is one of three American writers on the International Tennis Hall of Fame Enshrinee Committee - the group that each year builds the ballot for the worldwide panel of voters. Drucker's first book, Jimmy Connors Saved My Life, is considered by Sports Illustrated to be one of five "must-read" tennis books.
Read all the Tenniscope columns:
Happy Birthday, Ken Rosewall | Davis Cup: How it all started | Mixing It Up In Mixed Doubles | Aussies Set The Tennis Code | The Royal Reign of Margaret Court | Reflections on Michael Chang | Let's Take it Inside | Warm-Up Suits | Death of a Player | A Tale of Two Backhands | Court Management | Movie Review | Racquet Racket | Sampras: Book Review