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Austin Remains Quite a Winner

Former champion is taking motherhood by storm now and will be inducted Saturday into the Southern California Tennis Hall of Fame.

July 21, 2005|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

When Mrs. Scott Holt of Rolling Hills Estates steps up to be inducted into the Southern California Tennis Hall of Fame on Saturday night at the Riviera Country Club, she will be more than 20 years removed from her days of athletic glory.

For Tracy Austin, they have been a good 20 years.

She is a wife and mom now. She and husband Scott, a successful businessman in commercial real estate, have three boys. Dylan, 9, played in a tennis tournament this week, and was headed off to play in a baseball game Monday afternoon. Brandon, 7, also has started to swing the racket and Sean, 4, is trying that too, now that he has potty-training mastered.

Most days at home consist of mom and the boys, running errands, running to sports events and, well, just running.

"I am the chauffeur," Austin says.

She keeps her hand in tennis with assignments for the BBC and USA Network that take her away from home perhaps five or six weeks a year. And despite the injuries that prematurely knocked her off the tour at the peak of her career, she still plays tennis at least three times a week, even though, at age 42, she is nowhere near the pigtailed little dynamo who weighed 89 pounds when she won her first pro tournament at age 14. No, like all of us, age has affected Austin, who has bulked up to about 105 now.

Despite carrying all that extra weight, she managed to squeeze in a little tournament action recently, between stints in the BBC booth at Wimbledon. Playing in the seniors event there, she and Jana Novotna won the women's doubles title.

"It was good, winning that," she says. "I liked that."

In her life after tennis, Austin has managed to achieve the same thing she achieved during her life in tennis.

Balance.

"It's all planned now, almost orchestrated, for these young players," she says. "With me, it just happened."

Her parents, Jeanne and George, who still live in the same house on the Palos Verdes Peninsula where they have lived in for 50 years, were working people, intent on raising five children, not five tennis stars. Dad was a computer scientist from MIT and mom ran the front desk of the Jack Kramer Tennis Club six days a week, starting two weeks after the facility was opened in December 1962. Mom was there, the courts were there, and all five kids played tennis, eventually at a high level.

But none higher than Tracy, who at age 10 had already won the national girls' 12 title.

The rapid road to fame began early in 1977, when the Austin family got a phone call from Portland, Ore., where older brother Jeff was playing in an indoor tournament. He told his parents that Portland was also playing host to a women's qualifying event for a satellite tour known then as the Avon Futures. Why not come on up, watch me play, and bring Tracy along to give this qualifying event a try, Jeff said.

Tracy soon learned that all she had to do was get to the semifinals to qualify for the Avon event, and when she beat Mary Carillo in the quarterfinals, she had made the main event. Austin jokes that Carillo, now a network tennis broadcaster, takes credit for making her career.

"I got to the semis of the Avon event," Austin says, "then I had to fly back to go to school for a day. But I flew back up, won the semis and beat Stacy Margolin in the final."

At 14 years 28 days, Tracy Austin had become the youngest tennis player to win a pro event.

Later that year, she entered the U.S. Open as an unseeded amateur, made it all the way to the quarterfinals before losing, and got a phone call in the Forest Hills locker room from President Carter.

"I can't imagine what I said, if I said anything at all," Austin says. "I was 14, and so shy."

By then, she was in the top 10 in the world, had won the national 14s and 18s and was a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Open. But since she hadn't won the girls' 16 title, she went back to the junior nationals and won the 16s and 18s.

"Things were so different then," she says. "Can you imagine anybody doing that now? These kids can't wait to get out of the juniors now. You can almost hear their sighs of relief."

By 1979, Tracy Austin was up to around 92 pounds, and was ready to take over the tennis world. She beat Chris Evert in the U.S. Open final, 6-4, 6-3, and became the youngest champion there, at 16 years 9 months.

Her brother Jeff, who had worked so hard to get her ready for that tournament, was back in UCLA law school. When she called him after the semifinals, he hadn't even heard that she had won. She demanded he fly to New York for the final, which he did. When she won, she hurried through her interview sessions so that she and her mother could get Jeff back to the airport in time to make a flight that would get him back to school Monday morning. Once she got her brother delivered to the plane, she realized she hadn't eaten in hours, so she did what any 16-year-old would do. She went to McDonald's.

"I was still in my tennis dress," she says. "Some people recognized me and looked at me kind of strangely."

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