Court, Margaret Smith (1942—)

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Court, Margaret Smith (1942—)

Australian tennis player who won 24 major singles championships and was the fourth player in history to win the Grand Slam. Name variations: Margaret Smith; Margaret Court; Mrs. Barry M. Court; Reverend Margaret Court. Born on July 16, 1942, in Albury, New South Wales, Australia; daughter of Lawrence William Smith (a foreman in a cheese-and-butter processing plant) and Maud (Beaufort) Smith; attended St. Augustine's Convent, around 1956, and Albury Technical College; married Barry M. Court (a yachtsman and wool broker, later Western Australia agricultural minister), on October 28, 1967; children: Daniel Lawrence (b. 1971); Marika Margaret (b. 1974); Teresa Ann; and another daughter.

Began playing tennis at age eight at the Albury Tennis Club (1950); trained as a teenager in Melbourne; won the Australian Senior International Championship (1960); toured with the Australian team (1961); won the French, Italian and American titles (1962), and seeded first at Wimbledon but lost to Billie Jean King in their inaugural match (the first top seed in London to lose the opening round); won the Australian title again and was ranked first in women's world tennis; won the Australian title (1963) and defeated King at Wimbledon; won the Australian, Italian, and German titles (1964); won the American and All-England titles (1965); opened a boutique, called "Peephole" in Perth, Western Australia; married (1967); returned to tennis, traveling with husband who had become her manager (1968); lost all major championships except Wimbledon (1968–69); won the Grand Slam (1970); left tennis to have a child (1971); returned to win 16 out of 18 tournaments and 78 out of 80 singles matches, 8 out of 10 tournaments on the Virginia Slims Tour (1972–April 1973); in a much publicized match, lost to Bobby Riggs, a former U.S. tennis professional (May 1973); in a world tour, defeated Chris Evert in a close match (1973); defeated Evonne Goolagong in the U.S. Open Championship (1973); won the 1973 Virginia Slims Trophy; retired after participating in the 1975 Virginia Slims Tour.


The Margaret Smith Story (1965); Court on Court: A Life in Tennis (1975), and several monographs on playing tennis.

Major titles:

Australian singles (1960–66, 1969–71, 1973); French singles (1962, 1964, 1969, 1970, 1973); Wimbledon singles (1963, 1965, 1970); U.S. singles (1962, 1965, 1969–70, 1973); Australian doubles (1961–63, 1965, 1969–71, 1973); French doubles (1964–66, 1973); Wimbledon doubles (1964, 1969); U.S. doubles (1963, 1968, 1970, 1973, 1975); Australian mixed (1963–64); French mixed (1963–65, 1969); Wimbledon mixed (1963, 1965–66, 1968, 1975); U.S. mixed (1961–65, 1969–70, 1972); Federation Cup (1963–65, 1968–69, 1971. Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, International Women's Sports Hall of Fame.

Margaret Smith Court">

Movement is my game.

Margaret Smith Court

The youngest of four children, Margaret Smith Court grew up in a modest house in Albury, New South Wales, Australia, the daughter of Maud Smith and Lawrence Smith, a foreman in a cheese-and-butter processing plant. No one in the family was particularly interested in tennis, but two of her siblings were bicycle racers. As a child, Court was a roughneck and the leader of the "Smith Gang," a group of neighborhood boys who took pleasure in climbing trees, swinging on ropes over the river, and hitching free rides on trucks as they slowed for the sharp curves on the nearby road. At St. Bridget's, the local parochial school, she felt restricted and was the first out the door at the end of the day to play cricket, soccer, basketball, or softball with the boys. Court was so fast on her feet that she was once approached by a coach who thought she had potential as an Olympic runner.

Court's initial experience with tennis took place in the street, with makeshift boards and discarded balls. When she was eight, a friend of her mother's gave her an old, heavy tennis racket, which she used for illicit games at the nearby Albury Tennis Club. Wally Rutter, the owner of the club, was so impressed with Court's skill that

he made her an official member when she was ten. He also gave her her first formal tennis instruction and encouraged her to attend the Saturday afternoon tennis workshops he held for the young people in the area. Instead of paying for lessons, Court worked around the club, cutting grass, serving food, and painting lines on the courts. Rutter and his wife had no children of their own and treated Court like a daughter.

By the time she had reached adolescence, Court had collected some 50 trophies in local championships and was part of the Albury team for Country Week in Sydney, an annual competition where she regularly competed and won against older competitors. Tennis began to absorb more and more of her time, especially after she came to the attention of world champion Frank Sedgman. Apprised of her potential by Rutter, Sedgman invited Court to Melbourne. There, she lived with her older sister and worked as a receptionist at Sedgman's athletic center. Training with Stan Nicholes, who put her on a strict physical fitness program, and Keith Rogers, who coached her in her game, Court became a member of the Wilson Cup Team for the state of Victoria and won all of the state titles on the Australian junior circuit, except for the Australian Junior Championship, which she lost to Jan Lehane and Lesley Turner . In 1960, however, she defeated Lehane in the Australian Senior International Championship and went on to successfully defend her title against Lehane the following year. During the early days of her career, Court was still shy and awkward. In a 1970 interview, tennis star John Newcombe spoke of Court's teenage image: "She wasn't the sort you'd notice at a party. … But you certainly noticed her determination at tennis. She used to be a skinny girl, but she lifted weights, ran, trained hard and played hard."

In 1961, on a world tour with an Australian team, captained by Nell Hopman , Court fared badly, winning only the Kent (England) All-Comers Championship and suffering defeats in the semifinals of the Italian championship and the quarterfinals of the English and French. The following year, 1962, traveling independently of the Australian team (because of some friction with Hopman), Margaret Court was far more successful, amazing everyone by winning the Italian, French, and American titles. Seeded #1 at Wimbledon that year, she suffered an attack of nerves and lost her initial match to Billie Jean King , thus becoming the first top seed in the prestigious tournament ever to lose on the first round. Back on home turf, however, Court won the Australian title and was ranked as the top player in the world.

Court won the Australian singles for the third consecutive time in 1963, then defeated Billy Jean King at Wimbledon, seemingly having conquered her nerves. In 1964, she won the Australian, Italian, and German championships, but lost in France, the United States, and England. The following year, she won the American and All-England titles, but confessed to being "tired and bored with everything." In 1966, after losing to Nancy Richey in Paris and Billie Jean King at Wimbledon, she retired, saying that she wanted to catch up on some of the social life she had sacrificed for the game.

Moving to Perth, Australia, Court shared a house with Helen Plaisted , an Australian squash star, and Ann Edgar , a teacher. Court and Plaisted opened a boutique called "Peephole," which specialized in sports gear and clothing. The business thrived, as did Court's new-found social life. Through her business contacts, she met and married Barry Court, a yachting enthusiast, wool broker, and son of the Minister of Industrial Development for Western Australia. It was Barry who introduced Court to the world of sailing and also encouraged her to return to the tennis tour in 1968. "Traveling with Barry was a joy," she said. "We seemed to have adventures everywhere we went. Things had never been this much fun for me when I went abroad on my own and finally I was learning to relax between matches and really enjoy life."

Although she lost all four of the major championships in 1968, Court came back strong in 1969, winning everywhere but at Wimbledon. In Great Women Tennis Players, Owen Davidson and C.M. Jones speculate that Court's temperament had improved. "It seemed at last that her will was now strong enough to force her to play her best tennis in crises," they wrote, "where once she would have crumbled through anxiety." Indeed, 1970 was the year of her first Grand Slam, which got under way with an easy win in the Australian singles. Court then went on to beat Helga Niessen in Paris and former rival Billie Jean King in London. Davidson and Jones called the match against King "the finest ever played by two women at Wimbledon—or elsewhere." Court then completed her Grand Slam with a win over the fiery Rosemary Casals in the American Open.

After the Grand Slam, Court went into a slump, during which she suffered muscle and stomach problems, and a persistent throat infection. After losing the Melbourne, Paris, and Wimbledon championships in 1971, she left the tour to await the arrival of her son Danny who was born in 1972. Within weeks, she joined the pro tour, and, by April 1973, Court had won 16 out of 18 tournaments and 78 out of 80 singles matches. In the first half of the lucrative Virginia Slims tour that year, she won prizes totaling $59,850.

While Court enjoyed her winning streak, Bobby Riggs, a 55-year-old former Wimbledon champion and professed "male chauvinist," was mounting a battle against women's liberation in general, and women's demands for equal purses in tennis in particular. In February 1973, he issued a challenge to play any woman in the world for a $5,000 prize (later doubled). After five major players turned Riggs down, including Billie Jean King, Court took on the challenge, which was set for May 13. "My feeling was that as the top woman player in the world I should defend women's tennis from Riggs and his insults," Court wrote in her autobiography. "I also felt confident I could beat him." She later admitted that she had been much too casual in preparing for the match, which was blown out of proportion by the media and took on a circus atmosphere. Although Court expected Riggs' game to be weak, she did not expect it to be as slow as it was. Keeping the game at a snail's pace, "like a teen-ager in a Sunday afternoon doubles match," wrote Court, Riggs destroyed her rhythm and her confidence and won 6–2, 6-1. For Court, the only positive aspect of the match, and the follow-up in the Houston Astrodome four months later when Billie Jean King beat Riggs in three straight sets, was that it brought tennis into the lives of millions for the first time. This was Court's only foray into the ongoing concerns of women activists in tennis.

On the world tour in 1973, traveling with her husband and son, Court won the Australian title, then went on to face and defeat 18-year-old Chris Evert in the finals of the French open, one of the toughest matches of her career. In September 1973, Court won her fifth U.S. Open, defeating Evonne Goolagong . Cliff Gewecke described Court's performance as "the picture of steady, refined, unflamboyant play," while Phil Elderkin observed, "It is Margaret's style to hit every ball as though it were set point. … The big serve, the ground strokes, the ability to volley are all part of her arsenal." Her concentration, he wrote, was "wonderful to behold."

Lehane, Jan (1941—)

Australian tennis champion. Name variations: Jan O'Neill. Born in Grenfell, New South Wales, in 1941.

For a brief time, from 1959 to 1960, Jan Lehane was ranked number one in senior tennis in Australia, winning the hard-court title in 1959. Margaret Court's arrival and dominance effectively placed Lehane second in her next four bids for Australian Open titles.

In 1974, Court dropped out of the game to have her second child, Marika, born in July of that year. After a difficult battle to get back in shape, she returned to play in the South African tournament that year, reaching the semifinals in singles but losing to Dianne Fromholtz . In the West Australian championships in Perth, she was seeded #3, behind Olga Morozova , of Russia, and Evonne Goolagong, but went on to defeat Kerry Melville in the semifinals and take the final from Morozova. Feeling overly confident, Court let down a bit in training for the Australian Open, which she lost to 18-year-old Martina Navratilova . In 1975. Court, now traveling with her husband, two children, and a nanny, joined her last Virginia Slims tour, scoring her first victory by defeating Navratilova in a three-setter 6–3, 3–6, 6–2.

Although a superb tennis player with an outstanding record, Court was never popular among her colleagues, especially the Americans. "Maybe it's because she's naturally quiet and withdrawn," speculated reporter Barry Lorge. "Maybe it's because she developed her game and her career individually, not as part of a clique. Maybe it's envy. Maybe it's resentment of Margaret's diffidence. … Tennis is growing as a spectator sport and the women are battling and scratching for their share of prize money. Many of them are frustrated that the number one player in the world has very little conception of promotion and virtually no glamour." Her trainer Stan Nicholes thought Court, like many other athletes, was misunderstood. "Many people think that Margaret is stuck up, or aloof," he said. "But this is just humble shyness. … I'll al ways remember when Margaret won Wimbledon for the first time. Over TV she thanked Keith Rogers and myself. For her in the moment of her tremendous triumph to remember us—I thought it was something." Court, who consistently passed up offers for television commercials and hated haggling for expense money, never enjoyed her fame. "My dislike of the spotlight inhibited me," she admitted, "and prevented me from cashing in on my tennis talent."

Upon her retirement in 1975, at age 32, Court had achieved an extraordinary record, ranking number one in world standings six times and becoming the second woman in history to complete the Grand Slam. (Maureen Connolly was the first, in 1953.) At the end of the 1972 season, Court had a record of 20 victories in the four major international tournaments, 13 doubles championships, and 16 mixed doubles. Perhaps more important to her, however, was the fact that she had also managed to combine her career with marriage and motherhood (which later included a third child). "I'm just a wife and mother who plays tennis," she wrote. In 1982, Court began studying for the ministry; as of 1999, she was a senior minister at the Victory Life Church in Perth.


Brown, Gwilym. Sports Illustrated. September 14, 1970.

Court, Margaret Smith. with George McGann. Court on Court: A Life in Tennis. NY: Dodd, Mead, 1975.

Elderkin, Phil. Christian Science Monitor. May 11, 1973.

Gewecke, Cliff. Christian Science Monitor. February 26, 1973.

Hickok, Ralph. Sports Champions, Their Stories and Records. NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1995.

Lorge, Barry. Sport. July 1971.

"Margaret Smith Court," in Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1973.

Smith, Margaret. The Margaret Smith Story. London: Stanley Paul, 1965.

suggested reading:

Collins, Bud. Modern Encyclopedia of Tennis. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1994.

Evelyn Bender , Ed.D., Librarian, School District of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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Court, Margaret Smith (1942—)

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