Tennis Channel's year-long celebration of the WTA Tour's 50th anniversary, brought to you by Intuit Quickbooks, continues with Chapter 6: Teenage Dream (Watch our feature video above.)

At the age of four, Tracy Austin was featured on the cover of World Tennis. At 13, the same with Sports Illustrated, the headline reading, “A Star is Born.”

At the age of four, Tracy Austin was featured on the cover of World Tennis. At 13, the same with Sports Illustrated, the headline reading, “A Star is Born.”


Tremendous teenagers have long been a part of the WTA’s 50-year-history. These precocious prodigies, to select just four, showcased a sheer love for competition that was captivating and refreshing.

1979: Tracy Austin Makes an Open Statement

As the 1979 US Open got underway, Martina Navratilova and Chrissie Evert had pulled away from nearly all of their fellow competitors. During a decade when Wimbledon and the US Open were by far tennis' most significant majors, Evert had won four consecutive titles in New York, and Navratilova had taken two straight in London.

But a California teenager had begun to add a strong voice to the conversation. At the age of four, Tracy Austin was featured on the cover of World Tennis. At 13, the same with Sports Illustrated, the headline reading, “A Star is Born.” In 1977, playing the US Open for the first time, the 14-year-old defeated 1976 Roland Garros champion Sue Barker to reach the quarterfinals.

Two years later, Austin had vaulted even higher. By the time she arrived at the US Open, Austin had earned six wins over Evert and Navratilova, her success fueled by laser-sharp groundstrokes and unsurpassed concentration. Seeded third that year in New York, Austin by that stage was a significant contender. As she once told journalist Steve Flink, “In the back of my mind it was, ‘Sure, why can’t I win this?’”

On the way to the semis, Austin’s toughest match came in the fourth round versus a highly competent volleyer, Kathy Jordan. Austin won that one in a third set tiebreaker. In the semis, she faced Navratilova. Serving in the first set at 5-all, love-40, Austin escaped from that situation and ending up winning the set, 7-5. She took the second set by the same score.

Having overcome the attacking skills of the likes of Jordan and Navratilova, Austin faced a completely different situation in the final. “With Chris and me,” she said, “it was going to be all about concentration and long rallies.” On this Sunday afternoon, Austin was the one who commanded more of them. She beat Evert, 6-4, 6-3.

At 16, Austin had become the youngest US Open champion in tennis history. Two years later, she’d take a second, beating Navratilova in the finals by the unusual score of 1-6, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (1).


1988: Stefanie Graf’s Golden Slam

When it comes to the idea of letting your racquet do the talking, no one did this more eloquently than Stefanie Graf. Dubbed “Fraulein Forehand” by pundit Bud Collins, Graf’s shot off that side was one of the best in tennis history, a heat-seeking missile she could hit from and to anywhere. Fast as an Olympic printer, focused as a brain surgeon, Graf at 13 had already caught the eyes of such legends as Billie Jean King.

In June 1987, the month she turned 18, Graf won the title at Roland Garros, the first of what would prove a career tally of 22 Grand Slam singles titles. Later that summer, she reached the number one spot on the WTA rankings, ending a Navratilova-Evert stranglehold that had lasted nearly seven years.

But all that was prelude to what Graf accomplished in 1988. At the majors she went undefeated, joining Maureen Connolly and Margaret Court as the third woman in tennis history to accomplish a calendar year Grand Slam. For good measure, Graf also won the tennis event at the Olympics, a feat that’s inspired her 1988 dominance to be dubbed “The Golden Slam.”

Of those 28 Slam match victories, none was more impressive than Graf’s win over Navratilova in the finals of Wimbledon. Navratilova had won the singles title there eight times, including the last six in a row. Most recently, she’d beaten Graf the ’87 final. In ’88, though Graf led 4-2 in the first set, Navratilova rallied to win it, 7-5. And when Navratilova went up 2-0 in the second, a repeat of ’87 appeared likely.

Suddenly, Graf caught fire. Fueled by a flurry of baseline drives and passing shots, Graf won nine straight games to go up 3-0 in the third. As Peter Alfano wrote about the match in the New York Times, “The mood changed as dramatically as the weather has these past few days. It was like trying to stop a runaway train.”

Though Navratilova broke serve in the next game, a 44-minute rain delay derailed her momentum. Back on the court, Graf quickly ran out the match.

'Winning is such a special feeling,'' Graf said. ''I was confident before the match, but the first set made me very angry. I just wanted to hang in there, to show I could play much better than I was.''


2004: Maria Sharapova Lights Up Wimbledon

It’s never clear how well a player will play in her first Grand Slam final. Given the high-stakes circumstances, it’s natural for the newcomer to feel so nervous that they’re unable to perform effectively.

But there was always something preternatural about Maria Sharapova and competition. With $700 and a one-way ticket from Moscow to Miami, her father Yuri had brought Maria to the United States at the age of six to pursue their tennis dream.

By the time she was ten years old, as Sharapova wrote in her autobiography, Unstoppable, “I was developing the persona that would become such an important part of my game. . . No fear. Like ice.”

Twelve months later, Yuri and Maria headed west to Southern California so that she could work with Robert Lansdorp, a man who had sharpened the groundstrokes of dozens of world class players, including three who’d become No. 1: Tracy Austin, Pete Sampras, Lindsay Davenport.

In 2003, at the age of 16, Sharapova reached the fourth round of Wimbledon. In 2004, she was seeded 13th and earned three-set wins in the quarters versus Ai Sugiyama and in the semis over Davenport.

In the finals, the opponent would be two-time defending champion Serena Williams. As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, Sharapova the night before the final wrestled with a sore throat. “And If couldn’t breathe,” she wrote, “how could I possibly play?”

It turned to be one of the finest efforts of Sharapova’s career. She tore through the first set, 6-1. But as the entire world saw for decades, Serena Williams was as formidable a competitor as you’ll ever see. Williams went ahead 4-2 in the second set. But Sharapova was also quite gritty. She fought back. At 4-all, the two played a 14-point game. Sharapova won it, then served out the match at 30. “I'm absolutely speechless,” said Sharapova. “I never, never in my life expected this to happen so fast.”

But it had. Two years later, Sharapova would win another major as a teenager, taking the 2006 US Open title. With a subsequent victory at the Australian Open and two at Roland Garros, she’d become only the 10th woman to earn singles titles at all four Grand Slam events.

No one would have ever predicted that a US Open final between a Canadian lefty and a British qualifier would have captivated New York—but it absolutely did.

No one would have ever predicted that a US Open final between a Canadian lefty and a British qualifier would have captivated New York—but it absolutely did.


2021: A Most Unlikely Final

It was September 11, 2021. The setting was Arthur Ashe Stadium. There stood 18-year-old Emma Raducanu, taking on another teenager, 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez, in the final of the US Open.

It wasn’t the first all-teen major final. But it might well have been the most improbable.

Earlier in 2021, Raducanu had taken her A-levels, the exams a British high school takes in hopes of attending college.

But then, ranked 338th, Raducanu was given a wild card into the main draw of Wimbledon. Recent history is filled with tales of British players granted these opportunities who at best win a single match. Raducanu went much further, winning three matches on her way to the round of 16.

Who’d have imagined that would end up being merely a prologue to what Raducanu accomplished in New York?

Still ranked just 150th in late August, Raducanu entered the US Open qualifying. Three wins earned her a spot in the main draw.

Then there was Fernandez, ranked 73rd in the world and in the US Open draw for only the second time. To reach the final, she’d won four three-setters, including two over a pair of US Open champions—the holder Naomi Osaka, and 2016 winner Angelique Kerber. “Having the crowd there supporting me and backing me up after every point, it’s amazing,” Fernandez said following the Osaka match.

Raducanu got to the final without losing a set. Two wins came versus Top 20 players, No. 12 Belinda Bencic and 18th-ranked Maria Sakkari. "The time in New York has gone so quickly,” said Raducanu. “I've been taking care of each day and three weeks later I'm in the final. I actually can't believe it.”

More unbelievable was what came two days later, when Raducanu beat Fernandez, 6-4, 6-3, to become the only qualifier to ever win a Grand Slam singles title. Not since Virginia Wade’s ’77 Wimbledon run had a British woman won a singles major.

Impressive as the tennis played by these two teens had been, Fernandez following the match made a statement that revealed even more maturity. Referring to the 20th anniversary of 9/11, she said, “I just want to say that I hope I can as strong and resilient as New York has been the last 20 years. Thank you for always having my back. Thank you for cheering for me. I love you, New York.”