In 1977, Tracy Austin won her first title as an amateur, then turned pro the following year and triumphed in Filderstadt, Germany; and Tokyo. She also fulfilled a personal goal by capturing the title at the 1978 Wimbledon girls’ singles tournament, defeating Hana Mandlikova of Czechoslovakia in three sets.

It was an impressive feat, but one that was nearly expected as the Californian had been making inroads in the senior game for more than a year at that point, with feats rarely achieved by someone so young.

Ascending up the rankings at a breakneck pace, those accomplishments raised expectations for Austin for 1979—and the teenager didn’t disappoint.

She started the year with a title indoors on carpet in Washington, then claimed the top prize in Hilton Head, S.C. A few weeks after that, she accomplished the near-unthinkable by ending Chris Evert’s 125-match winning streak on clay in Rome en route to the title. Further displaying her versatility, the young American advanced to the semifinals at Wimbledon before being stopped by Martina Navratilova.

Leading up to the US Open, Austin won a title on hard courts in San Diego, halting a losing streak to Navratilova, then fell to Evert in the Mahwah, N.J. final a few weeks later.

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40 years ago: American Tracy Austin lives a teenage dream at US Open

40 years ago: American Tracy Austin lives a teenage dream at US Open

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By this point, Austin had firmly established herself as a threat for the title at the US Open. Seeded third, the American opened up play against Argentine Ivanna Madruga, two years her senior, and defeated her in straight sets. Next up for Austin was a countrywoman that was surprisingly, even younger than her.

Andrea Jaeger, who had won the Orange Bowl 18-and-under junior event in 1978, was only 14 when she played Austin in the second round of the US Open. Despite a similar playing style built on consistency and precision from the baseline, Jaeger could not keep up with her more experienced opponent and fell 6-2, 6-2. After another straight sets win in the third round, this time against Kate Latham, Austin would find her title aspirations put to the test in the final 16.

Kathy Jordan—like Austin, a Californian—had also been experiencing a breakout campaign in 1979. The 18-year-old won her first two singles titles in the first quarter of the year and had reached another final shortly before the US Open. Seeded 11th in New York, Jordan pushed Austin to the brink before the younger player escaped in a third set tiebreak.

In the quarterfinal against Sylvia Hanika, Austin got back to her dominant ways to win the match 6-1, 6-1. That win set up the encounter that was drawn up before the start of play: a semifinal date with Navratilova.

40 years ago: American Tracy Austin lives a teenage dream at US Open

40 years ago: American Tracy Austin lives a teenage dream at US Open

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At the start of the year in Washington, Austin had won over Navratilova in straight sets in the final, then proceeded to drop her next six matches against her before snapping the skid in San Diego. In this semifinal, Austin picked up on the tendencies of the attacking Navratilova, and after eking out a tight first set, raced through the second to reach the first major final of her budding career.

In the championship match, Austin would face the top seed Evert, who was seeking her fifth title in a row at the tournament.

In the first set, Evert went up a break to take a 4-3 lead, but a loose game on her serve got Austin back in the set, which the young American would go on to win. That was Evert’s second dropped set of the tournament, which, astonishingly, had been the first two she lost since the 1975 final.

Threatening Austin early in the second, Evert went up 0-40 on her countrywoman’s serve in the first game, but couldn’t capitalize. Having escaped that situation, Austin would go on to win the second set 6-3, claiming the title by beating her two main rivals in the last stages of the tournament.

With the victory, Austin became the youngest-ever US Open champion, establishing herself among the best with a precociousness rarely seen in the history of the sport.

40 years ago: American Tracy Austin lives a teenage dream at US Open

40 years ago: American Tracy Austin lives a teenage dream at US Open

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