This year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the US Open, we’re counting down the 50 most memorable moments in the history of America’s Grand Slam. Today, we take a look back at No. 10.
Before competing in her first major tennis tournament at the age of 16 in 1971, Floridian Chris Evert had already made a name for herself among the sport’s cognoscenti. She had beaten Margaret Court in September 1970 at Charlotte, N.C., only weeks after Court had completed the Grand Slam at Forest Hills. Earlier in 1971, Evert had toppled Billie Jean King. She was clearly a champion in the making, an emerging star with a scintillating future and an individual who would change the face of tennis in a multitude of ways.
Yet no one, not even Evert herself, could have envisioned the impact she would have on the 1971 US Open. The immensely poised teenager stepped into the limelight and seemed almost oblivious to her surroundings and the nature of what she was doing. On her way to the semifinals, Evert recorded a string of three-set triumphs that demonstrably proved that she had a mindset that could only belong to an authentic champion. First, in the second round, she saved six match points against Mary Ann Eisel, who served for the match at 6-5 in the second set and reached 40-0. Next she came from a set down to oust the guileful Frenchwoman Francoise Durr, and then she rallied once more to defeat the Australian Lesley Hunt.
It took a deeply concentrated and polished Billie Jean King to end Evert’s Cinderella run in the semifinals, but that could not diminish what she had done. King’s grass-court expertise was advertised supremely, as she cut down Evert, 6-3, 6-2. But all of the authorities who witnessed the spectacle were convinced that they were watching someone who would inevitably succeed stupendously in the years ahead. That is precisely what happened, as Evert won a record six US Opens and a remarkable 18 majors. Through it all, she was an exemplary champion, arguably the toughest mentally of them all.
Long after her career was over, Evert would recollect her 1971 journey at Forest Hills as a milestone moment in her long and rewarding career. “The US Open was my 'coming-out party,' so to speak," she said. “It was the first time I was exposed not only to big-time tennis but the life I was going to lead.”
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