Margaret Court AO MBE (née Smith; born 16 July 1942), also known as Margaret Smith Court, is a retired Australian tennis player and former world No. 1. She is currently a Christian minister in Perth, Western Australia. In tennis, she amassed more major titles than any other player in history.

In 1970, Court became the first woman during the open era (and the second woman in history) to win the singles Grand Slam (all four major tournaments in the same calendar year). She won 24 of those titles (11 in the Open era), a record that still stands. She also won 19 women's doubles and 21 mixed doubles titles, giving her a record 64 major titles overall. She is the only woman to win the mixed doubles Grand Slam, which she accomplished twice. Her all surfaces (hard, clay, grass and carpet) singles career winning percentage of 91.68% (1180–107) is one of the best of all time according to the Sporteology website.[12] Her open era singles career winning percentage of 91.37% (593–56) is unequalled, as is her open era winning percentage of 91.7% (11–1) in Grand Slam finals.[13] Her win-loss performance in all Grand Slam singles tournaments was 90.12% (210–23). She was 95.31% (61–3) at the Australian Open, 90.38% (47–5) at the French Open, 85.10% (51–9) at Wimbledon and 89.47% (51–6) at the US Open. She also shares the open era record for most Grand Slam singles titles as a mother with Kim Clijsters.[14][15]

The International Tennis Hall of Fame states, "For sheer strength of performance and accomplishment there has never been a tennis player to match (her)."[17] In 2010, the Herald Sun newspaper of Melbourne, Australia called her the greatest female tennis player of all time.[18] Court is one of only six tennis players to ever win a multiple slam set in two disciplines, matching Roy Emerson, Martina Navratilova, Frank Sedgman, Doris Hart and Serena Williams. Court, however, is the only one in tennis history to complete a multiple slam set, twice, in all three disciplines: singles, women's doubles and mixed doubles.

Having grown up as a Roman Catholic, Court became associated with Pentecostalism in the 1970s and became a Pentecostal Christian minister in 1991. She later founded the Margaret Court Ministries, and in this capacity she has been a vocal critic of LGBT rights.

Tennis career

Margaret Smith was born in Albury, New South Wales, the youngest of four children of Lawrence Smith and Catherine Smith (née Beaufort). She has two older brothers, Kevin and Vincent, and an older sister, June Shanahan. She is a natural left-hander who was persuaded to change to a right hand grip. She began playing tennis when she was eight years old and was 17 in 1960 when she won the first of seven consecutive singles titles at the Australian Championships.

Court became the first female player from Australia to win a Grand Slam tournament abroad, when she won the French and US Championships in 1962. The year after that, she became the first Australian woman to win Wimbledon.

After Wimbledon in 1966, Court temporarily retired from tennis. She married Barry Court in 1967, whose father, Sir Charles Court, and brother, Richard Court, served as premiers of Western Australia.[19] She returned to tennis in 1968 and in 1970 won all four Grand Slam singles titles.[20][21] The next year, she lost the Wimbledon singles final to Evonne Goolagong Cawley while pregnant[12] with her first child, Daniel, who was born in March 1972. Court made a comeback the same year and played in the US Open and then played throughout 1973. Her second child, Marika, was born in 1974. She started playing again in November of that year. After missing most of 1976 after having her third child, she returned to the tour in early 1977 but retired permanently that year when she learned that she was expecting her fourth child. Her last Grand Slam tournament appearance in the singles was in the 1975 US Open.[12] Her last Grand Slam tournament appearance overall was in the 1976 Australian Open in the women's doubles.[12]

Court is one of only three players to have achieved a career "boxed set" of Grand Slam titles, winning every possible Grand Slam title – singles, women's doubles, and mixed doubles – at all four Grand Slam events. The others are Doris Hart and Martina Navratilova. Court, however, is the only person to have won all 12 Grand Slam events at least twice. She also is unique in having completed a boxed set before the start of the open era in 1968 and a separate boxed set after the start of the open era.

Court lost a heavily publicised and US–televised challenge match to a former World No. 1 male tennis player, the 55-year-old Bobby Riggs, on 13 May 1973, in Ramona, California. Court was the top-ranked women's player at the time, and it has been reported[12] that she did not take the match seriously because it was a mere exhibition. Using a mixture of lobs and drop shots, Riggs beat her 6–2, 6–1. Four months later, Billie Jean King beat Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes match in the Houston Astrodome.[12]

In January 2003, Show Court One at the sports and entertainment complex Melbourne Park was renamed Margaret Court Arena.[12] Since 2012, the Arena has attracted calls for its name to be changed, on the basis of Court's statements against gay and lesbian rights.[28][29][31]

Playing style, Grand Slam titles and world rankings

During the 1960s Court was considered to have a very long reach which added a new dimension to women's volleying. With a height and reach advantage and being extremely strong, she was very formidable at the net and had an effective overhead shot. She was considered unusually mobile for her size and played an all attack, serve and volley style which, when added to her big serve, dominated conservative defensive players.[32] Part of what helped her win was her commitment to fitness training. Court was dubbed "The Aussie Amazon" because she did weights, circuit training and running along sandy hillsides. This training helped keep her relatively injury-free through most of her career.[34]

Court won a record 62 Grand Slam tournament titles, including a record 24 singles titles, 19 women's doubles titles, and a record 19 mixed doubles titles. The total rises to 64 Grand Slam titles (21 mixed doubles) when the shared[35] titles at the Australian Championships/Open in 1965 and 1969 are considered. The mixed doubles finals of those years were not played because of bad weather and the titles are shared by both of the finalist pairs.

Court won 62 of the 85 Grand Slam tournament finals (72.9%) she played, including 24–5 (82.8%) in singles finals, 19–14 (57.6%) in women's doubles finals, and 19–4 (82.6%) in mixed doubles finals.

Court reached the final in 29, the semifinals in 36 and the quarterfinals in 43 of the 47 Grand Slams singles tournaments she played. She won 11 of the 16 Grand Slam singles tournaments she entered, beginning with the 1969 Australian Open and ending with the 1973 US Open. She also won 11 of the 17 Grand Slam singles tournaments she entered, beginning with the 1962 Australian Championships and ending with the 1966 Australian Championships. She was 146–2 (98.6%) against unseeded players in Grand Slam singles tournaments.

Court is the only player to have won the Grand Slam in both singles and mixed doubles. She won the singles Grand Slam in 1970, the mixed doubles Grand Slam in 1963 with fellow Australian Ken Fletcher and the mixed doubles Grand Slam in 1965 with three different partners (Fletcher, John Newcombe and Fred Stolle).

Court won more than half of all the Grand Slam contests held in 1963 (8 of 12), 1964 (7 of 12), 1965 (9 of 12), 1969 (8 of 12), 1970 (7 of 11) and 1973 (6 of 11).

According to the end-of-year rankings compiled by London's Daily Telegraph from 1914 to 1972, Court was ranked World No. 1 six times: 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1969 and 1970. She was also ranked No. 1 for 1973 when the official rankings were produced by the Women's Tennis Association.

Career timeline

  • 1959 – Competed at the Australian Championships for the first time losing in the second round against eventual tournament winner Mary Reitano.
  • 1960 – Won her first singles title at the Australian Championships but lost the junior girls final there to Lesley Turner Bowrey.
  • 1962 – Won three of the four Grand Slam singles tournaments.
  • 1963 – Became the first Australian woman to win a singles title at Wimbledon. She and Ken Fletcher became the only team to win all four Grand Slam mixed doubles titles during the same calendar year.
  • 1964 – Won three of the four Grand Slam mixed doubles tournaments. Her women's doubles title at Wimbledon completed her career "boxed set" of Grand Slam titles.
  • 1965 – Won three of the four Grand Slam singles tournaments and all four Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, with three different partners.
  • 1966 – After losing to Billie Jean King at Wimbledon in a semi final match, Court temporarily retired.
  • 1968 - Returned to match play late in 1967 and playing a full schedule in 1968, reached the final of the Australian Championships, losing to King.
  • 1969 – Won three of the four Grand Slam singles and mixed doubles tournaments.
  • 1970 – Won all four Grand Slam singles tournaments, defeating Kerry Melville Reid in the Australian Open final, Helga Niessen Masthoff in the French Open final, Billie Jean King in the Wimbledon final, and Rosemary Casals in the US Open final. Maureen Connolly in 1953 and Steffi Graf in 1988 are the only other women who have won all four Grand Slam singles tournaments during the same calendar year.
  • 1971 – Won the Australian Championship for the 10th time. After losing the Wimbledon singles final, temporarily retired to prepare for the birth of her first child in March 1972.
  • 1972 – Returned to the tour after missing the Wimbledon Championships.
  • 1973 – Won three of the four Grand Slam singles and women's doubles tournaments. Became the first mother in the open era to win the Australian, French, and US Open Championships. Lost her match with Bobby Riggs. Her women's doubles title at the US Open completed a "boxed set" of Grand Slam titles won exclusively after the start of the open era in 1968.
  • 1974 – Absent from the game until November because of the birth of her second child. Won the Western Australian Championships on her playing return and reached the final of the New South Wales Championships the following week.
  • 1975 – Played the final Grand Slam singles match of her career, losing to Martina Navratilova in a quarterfinal of the US Open 6–2, 6–4. At her final Australian championships (played in December 1974) she suffered only her second defeat in the Singles prior to the final in all her appearances at the event, losing to Navratilova in a quarter final. Having won the mixed doubles at her last Wimbledon (partnering Marty Riessen), she partnered with Virginia Wade at the US Open to win her 62nd Grand Slam title and 19th Grand Slam women's doubles title, defeating King and Casals in the final. This was Court's last Grand Slam title.
  • 1976 – Having reached the final of the Virginia Slims of Akron tournament in February (losing to Evert) Court was absent from the game for most of the year due to the birth of her third child. In September, she reached the final of the Toray Sillook Open, losing to Stove.
  • 1977 – Played the final singles match of her career, defeating Greer Stevens in the third round of the Virginia Slims Championships of Detroit 5–7, 7–6, 6–3. Court defaulted the quarterfinal to Françoise Dürr upon learning that she was pregnant with her fourth child.

Honours

Post tennis career and religious views

Court was raised as a Roman Catholic but became involved with Pentecostalism in the mid-1970s. In 1983, she gained a theological qualification from the Rhema Bible Training Centre, and in 1991 was ordained as an independent Pentecostal minister. She subsequently founded a ministry known as Margaret Court Ministries.[41] In 1995, she founded a Pentecostal church known as the Victory Life Centre in Perth. She still serves as its senior pastor. Her television show, A Life of Victory, airs Sundays on the Australian Christian Channel and locally in Perth on community television station West TV. She has generally embraced teachings associated with the Word of Faith movement.[41] Since 2010, she has been the president of Victory Life International, a network of like-minded churches, and is a long-standing patron of The Australian Family Association and Drug Free Australia.[14][14]

In her role as minister, Court has been a consistent critic of LGBTI rights and same-sex marriage in Australia.[45] In 2012, she opposed proposed same-sex marriage reforms, saying that they would "legitimise what God calls abominable sexual practices".[14] Court has been criticised for such statements by openly homosexual tennis players Billie Jean King, Rennae Stubbs and Martina Navratilova,[45][14] and in 2012, an LGBT rights protest group called for the renaming of Margaret Court Arena.[28] Court condemned their actions as "a political stunt".[48][14]

Court was strongly criticised in May 2017 after writing a letter to The West Australian decrying Qantas airlines for being a corporate supporter of same-sex marriage and claiming she would boycott the airline. The letter, and further followup interviews, again led to calls from some Australians and tennis players to rename the Margaret Court Arena.[14][14][14][15][15][29][15] Some politicians, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, rejected calls for the change of name, saying the name celebrates Margaret Court as a tennis player.[15]

Portrayal in film

Jacqueline McKenzie portrayed Court in the 2001 TV movie When Billie Beat Bobby. Jessica McNamee portrays Court in the 2017 film Battle of the Sexes.[15]

Grand Slam tournaments

Grand Slam tournament performance timeline

Tournament19591960196119621963196419651966196719681969197019711972197319741975Career SR
Australian Open2RWWWWWWWAFWWWAWAQF11 / 14
French OpenAAQFWQFWFSFAAWW3RAWAA5 / 10
WimbledonAAQF2RWFWSFAQFSFWFASFASF3 / 12
US OpenAASFWF4RWAAQFWWASFWAQF5 / 11
SR0 / 11 / 11 / 43 / 42 / 42 / 43 / 41 / 30 / 00 / 33 / 44 / 41 / 30 / 13 / 40 / 00 / 324 / 47

A = did not participate in the tournament.

SR = the ratio of the number of Grand Slam singles tournaments won to the number of those tournaments played.

Records

  • Records in bold indicate peer-less achievements.

All-time Grand Slam records

  • These are standing records for all time period in tennis history.
Grand Slam records per tournament

Career tournament records

Time spanRecord accomplishedPlayers matched
1960–1977All time women's record of 192 Singles titlesStands alone
1968–1976Open era record of 46 career grass court singles titlesStands alone
1968–1977Open era career singles match winning percentage (all surfaces) 91.17% (593–56)Stands alone
1968–1977Open era career singles match winning percentage (hard court) 91.73% (111-10)Stands alone
1968–1977Open era career singles match winning percentage (grass court) 93.01% (293-22)Stands alone
1970Open era record of 21 singles titles won in one yearStands alone
1973WTA Tour record of 18 singles titles won in one yearStands alone

† Some sources have Elizabeth Ryan winning over 200 singles titles in her career.

See also