As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the US Open, we look back at the 50 champions who have left an indelible mark on this inimitable event.
Serena Williams and her 23 Grand Slam titles may be tops in the Open era, but when it comes to the all-time honor rolls, there’s another woman who still rules the roost: Australia’s Margaret Court.
Born in Albury, New South Wales, Court amassed a record 24 Grand Slam singles titles between 1960 and 1973 and claimed singles, doubles and mixed titles at each of the four majors at least once, twice sweeping all three at the same event. Her 64 combined titles at the sport’s big-four events also stand as an all-time best. She was the year-end No. 1 six times (1962-65, 1969-70).
The first of Court’s five US Open singles titles came in 1962 (def. Darlene Hard, 9-7, 6-4), when she became the first Australian woman to accomplish the feat. She was back in the winner’s circle three years later against first-time finalist Billie Jean Moffitt (later King), giving birth to a legendary rivalry with a hard-fought 8-6, 7-5 decision. The two would face off 32 times in all, with Court claiming 22 of those meetings.
With the sport crossing into the Open era, Court scored back-to-back US Open titles in 1969-70, defeating Nancy Richey (6-2, 6-2) and Rosie Casals (6-2, 2-6, 6-1), respectively. With her win over Casals, she became only the second woman after Maureen Connolly (1953) to win the calendar-year Grand Slam.
Equal prize money became a reality in 1973, as Court and fellow Aussie John Newcombe each received $25,000 for their respective triumphs in New York, Court outlasting compatriot Evonne Goolagong, 7-6, 5-7, 6-2.
A strong serve-and-volleyer with tremendous reach, Court played an aggressive brand of tennis and, prior to Martina Navratilova’s heyday, was a pioneer in the women’s game when it came to fitness.
“Back then, I used to get called the ‘Aussie Amazon’ because no women lifted weights back in those times,” recalled Court, a 1979 International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee. “I used to train in the men's gym five mornings a week and do a lot of circuit training and run the sand hills. I loved that side of it. I think if I hadn't played tennis, I would have done track. The fitness side was easy to me, and it probably kept me going the 15 years that I was in the game. I never had any injuries.”
What is perhaps most astonishing when examining Court’s on-court accomplishments is the fact that she retired from the sport for two years before returning in 1968 at the age of 25.
Her post-playing days saw Court become a Pentecostal Christian minister, and her views on same-sex marriage have stirred controversy within the tennis world. In 2003, the show court at the Australian Open was renamed in her honor: Margaret Court Arena.
50 Fact: Prior to the blockbuster Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs Battle of the Sexes match of 1973, Court lost to a then-55-year-old Riggs in a head-to-head challenge in Ramona, Calif.