The Runner Sports

American Women Repeat History At US Open: A Look At The Semifinalists From 1981

The quest for a US Open champion now falls on the shoulders of four American women: Venus Williams, Madison Keys, Coco Vandeweghe, and Sloane Stephens. This is the first time since 1981 that all four females semifinalists are American. Back then, Chris Evert, Tracy Austin, Martina Navratilova, and Barbara Potter filled those slots. Tracy Austin would go on to win the title over Martina Navratilova 1-6, 7-6, 7-6. Here is how the rest of their careers went after that US Open. Maybe the present day semifinalists will follow in their footsteps.

Chris Evert went on to finish 1981 as world No. 1. Evert played a consistent baseline game with a trailblazing double-handed backhand. She went on to claim six more Grand Slam titles: two Australian Opens, three French Opens, and one more US Open. Overall, Evert won 157 singles titles, 18 of which were Grand Slams. She also never lost in the first or second round of a Grand Slam. Evert ended her career with a win-loss record of 1309-146 (89.96%), which is the highest winning percentage by a male or female tennis player in the open era history. Evert also had one of the greatest sports rivalries with Navratilova. Today, at 62, Evert is a tennis analyst for ESPN, writes for Tennis Magazine, and has her own tennis academy.

Martina Navratilova was known for her athletic, lefty serve and volley style. Her last Grand Slam title was in 2006, a mixed doubles title at the US Open, a few weeks before her 50th birthday. Navratilova also accumulated 18 Grand Slam singles titles. She is one of three players in history to have achieved the career Grand Slam in all three categories: singles, doubles, and mixed. Navratilova also holds the record for most singles and doubles titles in the open era. While her percentage is not as high as Evert’s, Navratilova still had a win-loss record of 1442-219. Navratilova and Pam Shriver are one of the best doubles tandems in tennis history, amassing 20 Grand Slam titles as a team. Navratilova also became a U.S. citizen in 1981. Now, at 60, Navratilova is a¬†commentator for ESPN and Tennis Channel.

Tracy Austin mirrored her game after Evert, also having a signature steady double-handed backhand and staying back on the baseline. Austin’s career looked even more promising after the 1981 US Open title, including the year-ending Toyota Championships. But sadly, back injuries led to an early retirement. Although Austin made a commendable comeback in 1988, that too was cut short due to a horrific car accident in 1989. She attempted another comeback from 1993-1994, but again called it quits. Austin won two US Open titles, and still holds the record for the youngest US Open women’s champion at 16. Austin, 54, also won a mixed Grand Slam with her brother, John Austin. Austin has a tennis academy as well, and works for NBC and Tennis Channel.

While Barbara Potter’s career may not include Grand Slam hardware, it is still very impressive. After her semifinal showing, Potter would get to the Australian Open quarterfinals in 1982, and reach a career-high ranking of No. 7. The American left-hander also made the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 1982, 1983, and 1985. Potter excelled on the doubles circuit, obtaining 19 titles. She made it to the 1982 US Open doubles and mixed doubles final, and again to the mixed doubles final in 1983, but unfortunately finished runner-up at all three. Potter suffered back problems and was also involved in a car accident –coincidentally the same year as Austin– that cut her career short. She ended her career with six singles titles. Potter, who is now 55, is retired.

Okay, so accidents aside, the four current semifinalists may not have the same career as the semifinalists from 1981. But Venus, Coco, Madison, and Sloane have all carved out their moment in tennis history, which not even time can take away.

Conrad Ellis

Conrad Ellis

Stevenson University graduate, class of 2016
Played tennis for 14 years and counting, favorite shot is forehand
Conrad Ellis