Legend Tracy Austin Weighs in on Most Iconic Moments in Tennis History

International Tennis Hall of Fame’s Tracy Austin reflects on the sport’s most iconic moments in history

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Tennis legend Tracy Austin knows what it takes to smash her way into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

In fact, the American former world No. 1 was the youngest tennis player to be inducted into the historic site located in Newport, R.I., at age 29. Furthermore, Austin remains the youngest U.S. Open women’s singles champion, winning the major at age 16.

The ITHF is giving tennis fans around the world the opportunity to revisit, debate and weigh in on some of the sport’s most impactful moments during the Iconic Moments in Tennis History fan vote, running from April 15-30.

The five different categories to cast votes on include: Most Epic Rivalry, Best Cinderella Story, Best Comeback Within a Match, Most Iconic Celebration and Best Moment of National Pride.

Austin told NBC that engaging tennis fans in this vote is an exciting way to “get everybody back into the conversation about so many storylines that have sparked our interest over the years.”

She added that it is a great opportunity for older tennis fans to remember all of the moments and reminisce but also for younger fans to learn about the moments that shaped the sport of tennis. 

Here we dive into some of the selections Tracy Austin chose for each of the iconic moments in tennis history categories:

Most Epic Rivalry: 

Jimmy Connors vs. John McEnroe vs. Bjorn Borg 

“It was very apparent there was no love lost, and that's what made it so much fun to watch those matches,'' Austin said. “Because, you know, sports, we want to bring up emotions, whether we want this person to win or that person to lose. And now you have this somewhat of a boxing match between Connors and McEnroe. I think that was really amazing rivalry between those three guys.”

The rivalry between Connors-McEnroe was one of the most heated in tennis history. The two battled it out 34 times between 1977 and 1991, and their head-to-head was 20-14, favoring McEnroe.

Borg and Connors faced each other 23 times between 1973 and 1981, with Borg winning 15 of the matches. Borg was known as the emotionless and even-keel competitor while Connors wanted to get the crowd involved and threw in lots of fist-pumps. The duo faced each other 23 times in their careers. Borg leads 15-8 in their official head-to-head.

Meanwhile, Borg and McEnroe only played each other between 1978 and 1981, yet their matches sparked incredible excitement from tennis fans around the world. Their rivalry was described as "Fire and Ice" due to McEnroe's erratic temper and Borg's calm demeanor. Their head-to-head was tied at 7-7.

Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic

“Another rivalry is the one that's possibly starting to come to an end in the next couple of years," Austin said. “They were always in the conversation to win a major and continued throughout those couple of decades to stay motivated and injury-free long enough to push for winning majors and each winning at least 20. That's insane.

"So it really brings up the point that there were so few players that got to win majors because those guys pretty much hoarded them all,” Austin added.

Nadal and Federer first faced each other in 2004 and have played 39 more times since, with Nadal leading the official head-to-head 24-16. Both are elite competitors known for their incredible sportsmanship. 

Djokovic quickly added his name to the rivalry in 2006. He has played Federer a remarkable 50 times and narrowly leads the head-to-head 27-23. Djokovic and Nadal have faced each other in the finals of all four major championships as part of their whopping 58 matches. Djokovic currently leads the head-to-head 30–28.

Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova (1973-1988)

"One rivalry that I have to highlight is Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, just because of the longevity of how long their rivalry lasted," Austin said.

"Actually, I feel very lucky and unlucky in some ways that I was really in the mix," Austin added. "Right in the middle of Chris and Martina's rivalry and played them a number of times.

The rivalry is considered to be one of the greatest in women's tennis history and sports in general as each held the top WTA ranking between 1978 and 1985.

This iconic matchup consisted of 80 matches, 60 of the showdowns being finals. Navratilova led the overall head-to-head 43–37 and 36–24 in finals.

Best Cinderella Story:

Emma Raducanu, 2021 U.S. Open

Great Britain's Raducanu defeated Canada's Leylah Fernandez in the 2021 U.S. Open women's singles final to become the first qualifier – man or woman – to win a Grand Slam. The then- 18-year-old became the youngest player to win a major title in singles since 2004.

“This is something that you would think maybe was from a movie and was not going to be believable,” Austin said. 

Goran Ivanisevic, 2001 Wimbledon

When Croatia's Ivanisevic defeated Australia's Pat Rafter in the 2001 Wimbledon men's singles final, he became the first unseeded player to win a title since 1985 and the first wild card to win a major. Since then, other players have reached this milestone. Ivanisevic's ATP ranking improved from No. 125 in the world to No. 16.

“For Goran to win and then go back to Croatia, where there were tens of thousands in a celebration, in a parade and in a soccer stadium, it was something that was to be remembered,” Austin said.

Best Comeback Within a Match

Rafael Nadal d. Daniil Medvedev, 2022 Australian Open Final

Nadal defeated Daniil Medvedev in five hours and 24 minutes to claim the 2022 Australian Open, coming back from two sets down 2-6 6-7(5) 6-4 6-4 7-5. Nadal broke a three-way tie with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic by claiming his 21st Grand Slam title.

“Rafa somehow gets his way out of that big hole; down two sets to love and comes back and wins in five sets after having that injury last year, COVID-19 and everything tied at 20 [grand slam titles],” Austin said. 

“Rafa’s full of joy, but he seemed the most joyful that I'd ever seen him when he won number 21 at the Australian Open final and it was something that brought tears to everybody that was watching,” Austin added.

Most Iconic Celebration

Billie Jean King’s racquet toss following Battle of the Sexes

On September 20, 1973, female tennis player Billie Jean King defeated male tennis player Bobby Riggs, a former world No. 1, in the "Battle of the Sexes'' tennis match. King defeated Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in front of a television audience of 90 million people, bringing significant attention to women's tennis and gender equality in sports.

“Bobby said he was a male chauvinist,” Austin said. “He kind of put down women's tennis. So this put tennis on the map in a big way… it was really playing for equality, rights and equal prize money.”

Best Moment of National Pride

Ashleigh Barty, 2022 Australian Open 

Barty won the 2022 Australian Open to become the first Australian to win the women's singles title since 1978.

“I think Ash did it for the entire country of Australia; she wanted to win it for them,'' Austin said. “So for her to be able to hold her nerve, knowing that she probably was going to retire soon and win the Australian Open, it was a great moment.”

Althea Gibson, 1957 Wimbledon 

On July 6, 1957, Gibson became the first African American to win Wimbledon. 

“Althea Gibson winning Wimbledon was very, very exciting and coming back to a ticker-tape parade in New York City,” Austin said.

Andy Murray, 2013 Wimbledon 

Murray won Wimbledon 2013 defeating No. 1 Novak Djokovic in straight sets to end Britain's 77-year wait for a men's champion. 

“Andy Murray, the pressure on him that he was feeling to play with all the hopes of the crowd of Wimbledon in that nation on his back,” Austin said.

Virginia Wade, 1977 Wimbledon 

Wade won Wimbledon 1977, becoming the most recent British woman to win the prestigious grasscourt singles title.

“Virginia Wade winning in 1977 at Wimbledon when the Queen was actually there with the Silver Jubilee,” Austin said.

Li Na, 2011 Roland-Garros  

Li Na made history at the 2011 French Open, becoming the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam singles title.

“She really excited and sparked an interest in tennis for the biggest country population-wise, probably in the world,” Austin said.

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