Tennis Prose




Nov/21

13

Facing Margaret Court

I found fifteen people who either played, practiced with or saw 64-time Grand Slam title winner Margaret Court compete on a tennis court…

For more info about Margaret Court’s legendary pro tennis career, read the Biofile interview I did with her earlier this year.

Richard Gonon: I grew up in Forest Hills in the 1960s, and as a kid I went to the US Open at the Westside Tennis Club from 1967 into the 1970s. As such, I saw Margaret compete in singles, doubles and mixed doubles. Clearly, she was bigger, stronger and faster than every other female world class player. That would be a major factor in her achieving the Grand Slam in 1970 as well as having a 22-10 record against fellow tennis legend Billie Jean King. It should be noted that at that time mixed doubles was a factor in the professional tennis world, and she and her partner, American Marty Riessen were the best in the world, having gotten the better of Billie Jean and Owen Davidson, and Franky Durr and Dennis Ralston, for example. Margaret Court was a fabulous all around player!

Margaret had some great matches against Billie Jean – in singles, doubles and mixed doubles. Back in the day I always thought of them as the “BIG 2”, and expanded to the “BIG 4” with the coming of age of Evert and Goolagong. That 1970 Wimbledon final in which Margaret prevailed over Billie Jean in two very long, hard-fought sets is a Wimbledon Final for the ages.

Rayni Fox-Borinsky: Back in the late 1970’s I was asked to go to Singapore and another country, which escapes me right now, with Margaret, Alan Stone and, I believe, Ray Ruffels, to play a series of exhibitions and give clinics. It was one of my most memorable experiences in tennis. She was gracious, kind and hard working as we played on cow dung and other less than perfect tennis venues. I am going to try and find any memorabilia I might have kept from those wonderful two weeks and if I do I’d be happy to share with you. Margaret was, at the time, a special mentor to me and I don’t enjoy, but understand, her recent bad press. We are all “the sum of many parts.”

Michael McGee: I was a ball boy back in the 1970’s at the Newport Casino-The International Tennis Hall of Fame. I remember watching Margaret Court and Billie Jean King playing live in the finals of the Virginia Slims of Newport, RI back in 1972. Margaret Court won 6-4, 6-1. She collected $3,400. I worked on Center Court for that match. Margaret Court utilized her powerful serve and volley game masterfully to defeat Billie Jean King. Both Margaret Court and Billie Jean King would “chip and charge” their way up to the net for the majority of this match. I was only nine-years-old that summer and I remember it like it was yesterday! Margaret Court was actually seeded 6th going into that tournament. She had just returned back to the tennis circuit after having a baby. Back in the day, Newport hosted this tournament, which was played on grass, as a “warm up” tournament one week before the US Open. Back then the US Open was played at Forest Hills, NY on grass as well. I remember working there, right on Center Court for some of the best players in the world. Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Rosie Casals, Leslie Hunt, Julie Heldman, Kerry Melville, Judy Dalton, Francois Durr, Betty Stove, Janet Newberry, Jeannie Evert, and Pam Teeguarden, just to mention a few.

Gene Mayer: Yes, sure I know Margaret Court. Though she was a bit before my time, we did have some crossover. A few memories I have of her…

Great player that served and volleyed a ton.

Dominant on grass.

Very thoughtful on and off the court.

Well spoken.

Very sincere and deeply committed.

Deep thinker that brought an intellectual side to the sport.

Bill Deacon: At Kooyong in 1956, Nell Hopman and I beat Margaret and Harry Hopman in a “ friendly” mixed doubles.

Virginia Ruzici: Yes I did play Margaret Court. One or two times at the beginning of my career… and lost. I do not remember the first time…if there was one [smiles]. The second match though was in Chicago indoors on fast carpet, I was up 5-2 in the third and started to get terrible cramps. I lost 7-5.
She was into her thirties, about 35ish then, but still very fit and a solid game in all aspects. Complete, serve and volley, but also capable to stay back into rallies. It was a great experience and joy to play such a huge champion even if I lost.

Martina Navratilova: When I was sixteen I beat Nancy Richey on clay 63 63 at the French Open. She was the second toughest clay player right behind Chris Evert. That was the biggest win of my career, so far. I was thrilled enough to beat a great player like that and I was thrilled again afterward when Margaret Court – the woman player I have patterned myself after the most – walked into the locker room. I had never realized Margaret Court was so tall and she was barefoot while I had on clogs with high heels. I tried not to gawk but she said Hello and I realized she knew who I was. I had beaten Nancy and she was acknowledging me. Margaret Court really awed me. Because I admired her so much when I was young. I only played her a few times at the end of her career, when she didn’t serve that hard. But she was still a wonder. Even when I beat her in the Australian Open at Kooyong in 1975, by a score of 64 63, I’d still stand on the other side of the net and watch these bombs rocketing in on first serve. She was so tall and formidable that I’d find myself staring at her – and wondering what she had been like a few years earlier. Margaret Court amazed me with her size and strength.

(From the book “Martina” by Martina Navratilova with George Vecsey.)

Johan Kriek: I never met her. I admire her as a Christian. She has her beliefs and it is her’s. So be it….

Ronnie Teo: When I was in London in the early 1970s I watched her play. One of her great rivals was Billie Jean King. It was a treat to be able to watch her match with Billie Jean King live. The game went on for hours as, at the time, there was no tie system. I have always considered her as the best female player of all time. She was equally good in the doubles and mixed doubles. She retired for a while to have her baby but came back to win more Grand Slam titles. She has perfect physique as an athlete.

Gary Mark: My father played mixed with her, but it was a bit before 1964. Bob Mark was his name, he also played men’s doubles with Rod Laver.

Russell Watts: I was there that day Margaret played Bobby Riggs, at a small club north of San Diego – Ramona. It was a seriously bad performance by her. Having watched her play over the years this was seriously shocking. I’m guessing she was extremely nervous and could not even keep the ball in play for more than a couple of shots .. so many errors when little pressure. Just could not get the ball over the net. I remember thinking at the time my mother, who was a very good club player, would have done better as Margaret Court was so bad that day. Having said all that, I had also seen Bobby play a lot in San Diego and was still a very good and smart player and his match against Billie Jean King looked not quite right to me but… Anyway all very interesting.

Mark Schaeffer: I saw her play a few times in the early 1970’s in Phoenix. I recall her playing a local player named Stephanie Tolleson, who was a junior at the time, and I think the score was 62 76, a close second set. Tolleson was a sweetheart and had a respectable career, then became a great agent for IMG (managing Monica Seles and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario). I also have a recollection of watching Billie Jean King beat Court in Phoenix in the early 1970’s, maybe 1972 in the final.

Charlie Owens: Yes, I played mixed doubles in World Team Tennis in 1974 against her. She was a great player. No other comments except that she was a very warm person.

Michel Loutchaninoff: I worked a few of her matches as a ballboy back in the early-mid 70s. She was super nice and classy – treated staff and tournament folks nice – I cannot say that about many others. I was ballboy at US Open and some early Virginia Slims events in Houston. We commuted between Paris, New York City and Houston for about fifteen years. My mother’s family owned a tennis court installation/product called “Tennis Quick” in France and built them across Europe and French territories. So we went to Roland Garros every year as I grew up – our apartment in Paris was a ten-minute walk to Roland Garros. In New York we lived in Forest Hills and Howard Beach and I was lucky enough to learn tennis from Vitas’s dad and at Port Washington in the mid 70s. I did a few of Margaret Court’s matches and we would run into her in both the USA and Europe.

Elliot Reibman: Margaret Court holds the most Grand Slams ever. She was the very best of the best. Margaret Court is a good woman, never scared to face hate head on. I admire Margaret Court for her beliefs on and off court. I watched every match of Margaret Court. A very impressive woman.

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15 comments

  • catherine · November 13, 2021 at 3:47 pm

    Scoop – I seem to remember, must have read it long ago in Australia, that Margaret started life as a lefthander but was encouraged to switch, as was the fashion then. I’ve sometimes wondered if her serve would have been more reliable if she hadn’t changed.

    It’s sometimes forgotten that Margaret wasn’t just a grass player – she won the FO in 1970, her Grand Slam year, beating Helga Niessen, later Masthoff. She also had two careers – the first as Margaret Smith and then after a short retirement (running a dress shop in Perth) as, after marriage, as Margaret Court.

    Julie Heldman, never a close friend of Margaret’s, remembers how, after Julie won the US National 18s in
    the 60s, Margaret saw her at Longwood, I think, and made a special point of coming over and congratulating her. Australians were known for their generosity and sportsmanship and Margaret Court was no exception.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 14, 2021 at 7:36 am

    Catherine, I watched the extended highlights of the 1970 Wimbledon final, and there is a hint of awkwardness to the Court athleticism and how she plays. But the decisions worked out quite well. She is clearly super fit and a towering figure and presence. Also the ultimate sportswoman, very self controlled on court and off.

  • catherine · November 14, 2021 at 11:57 am

    Scoop – Both Margaret and BJ were injured during that match which made the length and competitiveness shown extra outstanding. Margaret was known for being nervy on big occasions – Bobby Riggs certainly played on that and won the psychological battle. BJ was tougher.

    Margaret was also one of the first top women players to take physical conditioning seriously – training in the gym and taking advice from her male colleagues. She was also a serious competitor in mixed doubles, as mentioned above. Marty Riessen and Tony Roche weren’t fans of women’s tennis but they couldn’t wait to partner Margaret because they knew they’d win with her.
    Margaret also saw mixed as a way to sharpen her game.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 14, 2021 at 2:49 pm

    Catherine, I saw no sign of any hint of any injury by either Court or King in that match. High level played by both. Court has a huge presence on the court and on the tv screen, she appears to stand about 6 foot 3 but I heard she’s actually only 5 feet ten. Mixed doubles has produced some of the most memorable match I’ve seen, Serena vs Fed in Hopman, Paes and Hingis, McEnroe-Steffi, Navratilova Paes…

  • catherine · November 14, 2021 at 11:54 pm

    Billie Jean had a bad knee – was operated on directly after W’don. I think with Margaret it was her ankle. Anyway, both seemed able to rise above their problems in the heat of the match.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 15, 2021 at 7:34 am

    Catherine, based on what I saw in the extended highlights of the match, both were moving perfectly well, I saw no sign of any hint of any injury. Both may have been bluffing. Neither limped in the marathon 14-12 11-9 epic match or to receive their awards after the match. They moved well and never winced in pain. Maybe maybe Court had an ankle problem, one seems to be wrapped and she did seem to favor it coming to net on the split step. But King moved well and used no wrap or showed any limp. What was the nature of their relationship at this time? Were they friendly or enemies? Or did the feuding begin later? Were they always at odds? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzbw0OH76Og&t=942s

  • catherine · November 15, 2021 at 9:57 am

    Scoop –
    I don’t think either was bluffing – Billie Jean had knee problems all her playing career and Margaret had picked up an injury earlier in the tournament. You’re right, it was the ankle.

    Margaret and BJ were two very different personalities and I don’t think they were ever destined to be friends. Both were at the top of the game and obviously rivals in the late 60s and early 70s. Margaret was essentially a conventional woman who was untouched by the social upheavals of the 60s/70s. BJ began to change and travel a path Margaret couldn’t follow, or really understand. She wasn’t about to risk her career joining the Virginia Slims circuit so she lost some respect among the women players. I’d say her relationship with BJ around that time was distant but amicable – she did call her for advice before playing Riggs although it didn’t help. The whole circus was totally beyond her experience.

    After Margaret’s religious conversion she and BJ obviously have had little to say to each other but now both are nearing old age I’d like to think the good memories of their careers in tennis outweigh the difficult ones.

    Margaret was a girl who grew up in 195Os Australia and she retained the essential values of that time.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 15, 2021 at 10:12 am

    Catherine, thank you for sharing thoughts on the relations of BJK and Court while they were competing. The highlights video showed both were extremely focused and intense, these highlights fascinate me, the closeness of the fierce rivalry reminds me of Seles vs Graf. Again, King’s knee seemed fine, no limp, no brace, no wrap, very good movement and she played an fantastic match but Court was a little better. Court seemed so relieved when it was over. It’s one of the greatest women’s clashes I’ve ever seen. I think all young players should watch this video of the highlights. It would be nice to see King and Court bury the hatchet and make peace, or perhaps, more like King bury her hatchet. I don’t sense Court has an hostility towards King personally.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 15, 2021 at 12:28 pm

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 16, 2021 at 8:56 pm

    Catherine, the new tennis magazine I mentioned earlier is just about finished. It is called Final Magazine, here is some more info http://www.finalmagazine.net My feature on Raducanu is in the debut issue. Looks excellent, the content will be very high quality. My feature on Emma required a lot of effort, put my heart and soul blood sweat and tears into it and happy with the FINAL result.

  • catherine · November 17, 2021 at 2:43 am

    Thanks for the link. Very interesting – I see it’s a quarterly. Rather expensive to produce I would think and no doubt to buy – I don’t think something like it has been tried before, or at least I haven’t come across one. The problem with these publications is keeping up to date – which is what fans want. OK for Vogue and other glossies but harder for sports. The lead time for a print mag like this would be long, even with modern production methods.

    I’ll try to get hold of a copy = and look forward to reading your article. Emma is playing in an exho at the Albert Hall sometime soon, it’s an annual event. She’s playing Ruse, Roumanian. Not serious tennis.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 17, 2021 at 8:18 am

    Catherine, thanks for checking it out. Since I’ve been approached by the magazine founder I’ve got very strong positive vibes not only about the operation but also about passion, creativity, and true love for the sport of tennis inspiring the enterprise into action. “Keeping up to date” is easy, with all the news sites and ATP and WTA Tours, what tennis fanatics yearn for is unique, in-depth, content delivered with quality writing, to inform, educate and entertain. It seems a lot of the mainstream outlets disappoint in this regard. the plethora of Bland vanilla plain cliche ridden articles/interviews leave an opening and opportunity for an upstart like Final. Which IMO has been missing since the unfortunate demise of Tennis Week magazine… I’m sure the Emma Show at Royal Albert Hall will be standing room only, whether she plays Ruse or a Battle of Sexes showdown vs Johnny Mac )

  • catherine · November 17, 2021 at 9:22 am

    Yikes !!! It’s £32.00 per issue sterling for a single issue and £70.17 for 4 issues. (Haven’t done $$$)

    Who’s going to pay that ? Looks like they’re aiming at the fine art market which is worthy no doubt but I wouldn’t give this project much chance as a money maker.
    And even millionaires take notice of the bottom line.

    So I’d strike while the iron’s (or racquet’s) hot if I were you and get some articles in.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 17, 2021 at 10:09 am

    High quality is worth it Catherine, this product is the highest quality. Tennis shirts and shorts can cost $100. A good pair of tennis shoes over $150. Some tennis racquets cost $200 plus. I just paid $35 for a Raoul Dufy art book and it’s well worth the pleasure of reading and looking at it.

  • catherine · November 17, 2021 at 2:20 pm

    Well – let’s hope it works out. I’ll look for it here although I’m doubtful it’ll appear on newstands in Britain. They’re aiming at subscription only.

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