September 6, 1975: Maiden US Open title for Chris Evert

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Chris Evert won her first US Open title in 1975 after losing in four consecutive semi-finals, facing off against Australia's Evonne Goolagong.

What happened exactly on this day

On this day, September 6, 1975, 20-year-old Chris Evert triumphed at the US Open for the first time, after she had previously lost in the semi-finals four times in a row. In the final, she took her revenge on Evonne Goolagong, who had defeated her in the 1974 semi-final, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2. Evert took advantage of the fact that the US Open had just switched from grass to clay, the surface on which she had not been defeated in her last 77 matches prior to the tournament. It was the first of three consecutive titles won by Evert at Forest Hills, before she claimed three more at Flushing Meadows. 

The players involved

Chris Evert was born in 1954 in Florida. Coached by her father, she developed a game based on consistency, keeping her opponents away from the net with her deep groundstrokes, and punishing them with great passing shots if they were to move to the net carelessly. She obtained her first remarkable result at the age of 16, reaching the semi-final at the US Open (defeated by world No 1 Billie Jean King, 6-3, 6-2).

In 1973, at the age of 18, she finished runner-up at both Roland-Garros and Wimbledon, beaten by the two best players in the world, King and Margaret Court. In 1974, she eventually claimed her first and second Grand Slam titles, prevailing against Olga Morozova in both Roland-Garros and Wimbledon finals. She finished the year as world No 2, winning no less than 16 tournaments, gaining media exposure by starting a romance with Jimmy Connors.

In 1975, she continued her winning streak on clay, triumphing at the French Open for the second time, defeating her future biggest rival in the final – Martina Navratilova (2-6, 6-2, 6-1). That year, the US Open was to be played on green clay for the first time, which made her the heavy favourite, even if the surface was faster than the European clay.

Evonne Goolagong was born in 1951 in an Australian Aboriginal family. Despite the heavy racial prejudice in rural Australia, she was encouraged to play tennis and in 1965, she was sent to Sydney to attend high school and improve her game. Her breakthrough year on the international scene was 1971, when she triumphed at both Roland-Garros and Wimbledon, where she beat the great Margaret Court in the final (6-4, 6-1).

In the following years, she finished seven times runner-up in Grand Slam events, and she clinched two Australian Open crowns in 1974 (defeating Chris Evert in the final, 7-6, 4-6, 6-0) and 1975 (beating Martina Navratilova, 6-3, 6-2). When she arrived at the 1975 US Open, where she had lost in the final of the two last editions, she had high expectations. Nicknamed “Sunshine Supergirl”, she was renowned for her grace and carefree game style.

The place

The US Open (known as the US Nationals before 1968 and the start of the Open Era), was established in 1881, and, although it is the only Grand Slam to have been played every single year without an interruption since its beginning, it has moved several times throughout the 20th century. First held in August 1881 on grass courts at the Newport Casino on Rhode Island, the tournament moved to New York in 1915, where it was held at the West Side Tennis Club, at Forest Hills. Traditionally played on grass, it had been decided that, from 1975, the American Grand Slam would be held on green clay, also known as har-tru. 

The facts

The final of the women’s event of the 1975 US Open saw two players with contrasting game styles competing for the title. On one hand, Chris Evert’s tactics relied mostly on consistency, patience and defensive skills, while on the other hand Evonne Goolagong played a creative game, attacking with her smooth backhand if she had not already rushed to the net. The two women had faced each other three times already, always on grass, and so far, Goolagong had always prevailed. 

This time though, in the Forest Hills finals, the green clay was supposed to favour Evert and her baseline game. In fact, her winning streak on clay was now 82 and counting. Yet Goolagong was not interested in these numbers: she was focused on her game. And what a game! Alternating top spin and sliced backhands, distributing delightful drop shots, and hitting the most unlikely winners, she made Evert’s life miserable since the first games, and she took the first set, 7-5.

Evert had already said that one of her primary problems when playing Goolagong was not getting distracted by the grace of her opponent. This time, there was too much at stake for her to lose her concentration. While the Australian kept hitting the lines with obscene ease, the 20-year-old American stuck to her plan, hoping that Goolagong would eventually make the few mistakes that could reverse the scenario. It only happened at 4-4 in the second set. Evert seized the opportunity to take the set, 6-4, and in the third set, after being down 1-2, she won the last five games of the match to beat “Sunshine Supergirl” and clinch her first title in New York (5-7, 6-4, 6-2).

“I remember looking up at my mother after the match, and she was sobbing hysterically,” Evert would recall later. “I felt kind of embarrassed because I am more like my dad was in not showing my emotions. That was a seesaw match with Evonne. I felt I had better focus on clay than she did, but Evonne was so brilliant and talented. Winning that tournament meant a lot to me.”

What next 

Chris Evert would triumph three times in a row at Forest Hills, in 1975, 1976 and 1977, remaining the only woman to ever win the US Open on clay, as the event would move to the hard courts of Flushing Meadows in 1978. Her clay-court winning streak would only end in May 1979, after she won 125 consecutive matches on both red and green dirt. “The Ice Maiden” would become one of the greatest players of all time, holding no less than 18 Grand Slam titles when she would retire, in 1989.

Evonne Goolagong would claim a total of seven major crowns. At Wimbledon, in 1980, defeating Evert in the final (6-1, 7-6), she would become the only mother to win the title at the All England Club in the Open Era, three years after the birth of her first child, Kelly.

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