Margaret Court: Queen of the Australian Open


As is customary, the Australian Open will in effect kick-start the 2019 tennis season later this month. The first Grand Slam of the year will be keenly contested in the men’s game, with Novak Djokovic the favourite ahead of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Alexander Zverev, while Serena Williams is once again the player to beat on the women’s side.

If the younger of the two Williams sisters does triumph in Melbourne, she will be celebrating her eighth Australian Open title. That is more than anyone but Margaret Court, who won the tournament 11 times during a career which spanned the Amateur Era and the Open Era.

Born in New South Wales, Australia, Court is naturally left-hand but was coached during her development to change to a right-hand grip. Prodigiously talented from a young age, she won her first Australian Open at the tender age of just 18, edging past Maria Bueno in the quarter-finals, getting the better of Mary Carter Reitano in the last four and then defeating compatriot Jan Lehane in straight sets in the tournament showpiece.

Incredibly, that was the first of seven successive Australian Opens won by Court, who dominated the competition to an extent which has never been seen before or since. Simply no one could beat the Australian on her own patch, but it is extraordinary that she remained so consistent for so long, avoiding both injury and losses of form throughout a period which began when she was still a teenager finding her way in the game.

In each of 1961, 1962 and 1963 Court again took the crown ahead of runner-up Lehane, who must have been cursing her luck at being around in the same era as her countrywoman. Court beat Lehane in the semi-finals in 1964 and conquered Lesley Turner in the final, before triumphing over Bueno – who was forced to retire while 5-2 down in the third set – in the last game of the 1965 tournament. The following year, meanwhile, Court took the title by walkover after Nancy Richey pulled out following her semi-final success against Kerry Melville.

The Australian took a break from the sport after Wimbledon in 1966, returning for the Australian Open 18 months later – where she failed to win the tournament for the first time. Court returned in 1968 but was defeated in the final, as Billie Jean King administered a 6-1, 6-2 thrashing to scoop the prize. Fast forward 12 months, though, and Court was celebrating a straight-sets victory over King in the final.

That edition in 1969 was the first of the Open Era, as the competition was renamed the Australian Open having previously been referred to as the Australian Championships. Court was also champion in 1970, before going on to become the first woman to complete the Calendar Grand Slam by going all the way at the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. She was again successful in Melbourne in 1971, and after sitting out the 1972 tournament she returned a year later to add yet another Australian Open to her honours list.

That was the last of Court’s triumphs in a tournament she dominated between the start of the 1960s and the early 1970s. No woman has yet matched her record of 24 Grand Slam single titles, and her haul of 11 Australian Opens will surely never be topped.

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