Frank Sedgeman a former Australian Tennis Champion was right on the money when he first noticed a thirteen year old Margaret Court and told her that she was so talented, that she could be the first Australian woman to win Wimbledon. Turn the clock forward 8 years and she achieved exactly that and much, much more over the next decade breaking tennis records.
Margaret Smith was born in Albury, New South Wales, to parents Lawrence Smith and Catherine Smith. The youngest of four children, Court has two older brothers Kevin and Vincent, and an older sister June.
From the moment Court entered the world, she had an uphill battle to survive. Firstly, her mother nearly died giving birth to her, and once she was born, she was gravely ill upon arrival.
Court didn’t live an affluent lifestyle, in fact it was completely the opposite. Her parents didn’t own a car, nor the house they lived in, a very modest two bedroom, thin walled asbestos dwelling with a tin roof, that stretched to fit a family of six. However, she did live directly across the road from twenty-four tennis courts. Surrounded by a majority neighbourhood of sports crazy boys, this probably is why she grew up a tomboy.
Wally rutter was coaching at the courts, and he spotted her and decided to put the time into nurturing her talent.
When Court was 16, Rutter brought her to the attention of Sedgeman who encouraged her to move to Melbourne where he could give her the proper specialist coaching technique to make the most of her potential.
Margaret had natural talent, athleticism and strength; her court coverage was amazing and the power of her serve-volley game set her apart in the women’s game.
One of her instructors Stan Nicholls, had Court spend a lot of time in the gym lifting weights, to improve her upper body strength in an era when very few women did this. Court attributes the power of her game to her early upbringing where as a young girl, she trained with men a lot older than her. Apart from adding strength to her game, her physique gave her other natural advantages.
When you stood in front of Court, you could be forgiven for thinking she was taller than her 5’9 stature as on court, she appears all arms and legs. Her reach was outstanding, and one of her regular opponents Billie Jean King called her “the arm” because of it. One can only speculate how much better her game would have been had she have played right handed. Unfortunately for Court, she grew up in a time when schools had a policy that all students write right handed.
Court: Sometimes I wished I have stayed left handed, I probably would have had a better serve.
Born left handed, Court was encouraged to change to a right hand grip.
Seeded number 1 in her first attempt at a Wimbledon crown in 1962, Court was bundled out in the second round by the unseeded player named Billie Jean Moffitt (later King). Court remembers calling her mother after the game, who said “I suppose you’ll give up tennis now and come home”, to which Court replied: “No, I’m going to go to America and I want to win everything”, and true to her word, she won the US Championship that year, in straight sets against Darlene Hard.
In Court’s early career, her nerves often got the better of her, and in 1971 against Australia’s Evonne Goolagong in the Wimbledon final she was accused of “choking”. They might have thought differently if they had known at the time she was pregnant with her first child.
Court was consistently outstanding in both singles and doubles having achieved 29 gram slam titles during 1962 – 1966.
Towards the end of 1965, Court was tiring of being “on the road” so to speak and feeling she had achieved all she could wining all the grand slam events on offer, so she decided to retire from tennis.
She moved to Perth, Western Australia and opened a boutique of all things, dabbling in an industry she had very little knowledge about. Travelling the world, opened Courts eyes to the fashion industry, and what started out as a keen interest, soon turned to a business venture.
Here in Perth, then Smith met her husband Barry Court, son of the then Premier of Western Australia, Sir Charles Court and brother to the future premier, Richard Court. Margaret married Barry in 1967, the very same year she was placed onto the Queens honours list and awarded the title Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE).
Barry had never travelled, so he suggested they go overseas. Court having travelled extensively, was keen to share in some of her life experiences she once sustained. She even pondered over the idea of coming out of retirement.
In 1968, she did just that. She returned to the game and had the best two-season run in history, winning seven majors, only missing out on Wimbledon (1969).
In 1970, she won the Calendar Year Grand Slam, but to achieve that goal, she had to win the Wimbledon final, against Billie Jean King. This match turned out the be the one that meant the most in her tennis career. With an injured ankle, Court played two marathon sets to win 11-9, 14-12. Back in those days, there were no tie-breakers.
With the birth of her first child Daniel, one would assume Court would hang up her tennis racquet for good, but she had more to prove. She wanted to become the first mother to hold a ranking of number one in the world.
She achieved this goal, and did it in extraordinary style. Court played some of the best tennis of her career achieving wins in 24 out of 25 tournaments.
Australian 1960-66, 1969-71, 1973
French 1962, 1964, 1969-70, 1973
United States 1962, 1965, 1969-70, 1973
Wimbledon 1963, 1965, 1970
Australian 1961-63, 1965, 1969-71, 1973
French 1964-66, 1973
Wimbledon 1964, 1969
United States 1963, 1968, 1970, 1973, 1975
Mixed doubles champion
Australian 1963-65, 1969
French 1963-65, 1969
Wimbledon 1963, 1965-66, 1968, 1975
United States 1961-65, 1969-70, 1972
Captain 1965, 1968, 1971
Court is one of only three players to complete the “boxed set” in singles, doubles and mixed titles at all four majors. Court collected 64 major titles in singles, doubles and mixed (including two shared Australian mixed titles); her closest rival being Martina Navratilova has 59. In 1970, Margaret Court became just the second woman to complete the Grand Slam; only Steffi Graf has since emulated that feat.
In 1974, Court welcomed her second child, a girl named Marika. After the birth of Markia, Court returned to the court as she did once before, but something had changed. Her heart wasn’t in it any more. So by 1977, she decided to retire from the game permanently. It was around the same time she was told she was expecting her third child.
After retirement, Courts life took and unexpected turn for the worst. Raised a Catholic, who regularly attended church, Court started to feel somewhat disconnected from her faith whilst attending a service in France. During this period, she was diagnosed with severe depression and became physically unwell. Once the worlds fittest woman, she was now reduced to being fearfull to even go to sleep. She was weak and frail.
It wasn’t until she began attending Bible school in 1980 that her life started piecing itself back together. During this time, Court committed herself fully to the Pentacostal Church. In 1991, she was officially ordained to the ministry and a year later established her own outreach ministry, Margaret Court Ministries Inc.
1963 and 1970, she won ABC Sportswoman of the year
1970 she won the Walter Lindurm Award, in Western Australia
1979 Court was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame
1985 Court was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame
1995 she entered unchartered waters by founding and establishing the “Victory Life Centre” where she is senior pastor. With an average attendance of 1300, it has become one of Perth’s largest and dynamic churches.
1993, along with fellow Australian Tennis great Rod Laver, Court was Industed into the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame, the first players to be granted this honour.
2000, Court was awarded the Australian Sports Medal for her impressive tennis career
2001 she was awarded the Centenary Medial for her service to Australian Tennis
2002, Tennis Australia named the Number 1 Court at Melbourne Park (the home of the Australian Open) Margaret Court Arena.
2003 Court became the recipient of the 2003 Australia Post Australian Legends Award and had her image featured on a postage stamp
2006, Court was awarded the International Tennis Federations (ITF) highest accolade, the Philippe Chatrier Award.
And in 2007, she made the Queens Honours list and was awarded for a second time, a title of “Officer of the Order of Australia (AO)
Earlier this year, Court raised eyebrows when she turned her back on this year’s Australian Open to go crabbing following the controversy on her stand on the gay marriage debate.
Court’s public stance against same-sex marriage and claims that “tennis is full of lesbians” caused a furore at the French Open in May 2017.
Now a Christian minister, the 75-year-old re-ignited the debate when she claimed a “yes” vote on marriage equality would signal the end of holidays in Australia.
Court: “There will be no Mother’s Day. There will be no Father’s Day. There will be no Easter. There will be no Christmas,” she told the West Australian newspaper.
After Court’s comments Tennis Australia was under pressure to remove Court’s name from court one at Melbourne Park, following the 24-time grand slam singles champion’s vocal opposition to same-sex marriage. The hardest push for the change came from non other than Australian singing great Tina Arena.
Outspoken entertainer Tina Arena used Australia’s tennis’ night of nights that she was performing at to emphatically promote a name change of Margaret Court Arena.
Arena: “There’s been a lot said about Margaret Court and people will have their say. There is a woman that, for me, defined a lot of things when it comes to being a female and when it comes to the sport and the elegance that she always brought to the sport.
I want to take this opportunity to say to Evonne Goolagong what a remarkable, outstanding example of a great human being, of extraordinary culture, of an extraordinary level of empathy and understanding.
And for all of that, I want to take the opportunity to say thank you to you, and then to all the other beautiful leading sportsmen and women in this room who put this country on the map.”
Despite Arena’s comments among others, Tennis Australia didn’t budge.
Tennis Australia: “As a legend of the sport, we respect Margaret Court’s achievements in tennis and her unmatched playing record. Her personal views are her own, and do not align with Tennis Australia’s values of equality, inclusion and diversity.
On one of the walls outside Margaret Court Arena is a cabinet dedicated to the lady the stadium is named after. In it are some of her trophies and plates, plus her old Dunlop Volley tennis bag, white playing dress and cardigan emblazoned with a kangaroo. To the cabinet’s left is a bronze wall-mounted sculpture of Court. She is lunging for a ball with her racquet in an outstretched right hand. That is Margaret Court the tennis player – 24-time grand slam winner (11 in the Open era), one-time calendar year Grand Slam winner (1970) and four-time Fed Cup winner”.
Australian former player Doubles Champion Peter McNamara also came to her defence.
McNamara: “People get distracted by the personal views and sportspeople providing political views … leave the tennis stadium as remembering her achievements as an athlete.”
Regardless of how you feel about the “Great Debate” Margaret Court Arena remains exactly that and attendance figures for the Australian Open to date have shown sell out crowds, even on her court.
If you asked any of the 47,867 fans at Melbourne Park on day one for their opinion on Margaret Court Arena’s name, they were forthcoming with an answer, that proved to be far from the topic on everyone’s mind.