Tracy Austin Holt is the youngest ever U.S. Open singles champion and youngest inductee of all time in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Austin won her first professional tournament at age fourteen in 1977. Over her professional tennis career she won thirty titles including three Grand Slam’s winning two Grand Slam singles titles at the U.S. Open 1979, 1981 and one mixed doubles title at Wimbledon in 1980 with her brother John. It was the first brother and sister team ever to win a Grand Slam event. Her tennis career was slowed after back injuries and recurring sciatica began to impair her mobility on the tennis court. By 1983 before her twenty-first birthday Austin’s tennis career due to injuries was waning. Though in 1988 she began the road to a successful comeback reaching the semi-final of the 1988 U.S. Open Mixed Doubles with partner Ken Flach. Her comeback was ended by a near fatal car accident in 1989. The car accident damaged her knee and inhibited her from training intensely enough to continue to compete at the elite level. This life change eventually redirected Austin’s professional career into television commentating. She currently is an analyst covering major tennis events for The Tennis Channel through-out the year and the BBC during Wimbledon.
Examiner: One of your big world impacts was when you became the youngest player ever to win the U.S. Open. As an adult besides family and children what accomplishments to date are you most proud of?
Tracy Austin Holt: Starting a new career in television after retiring from professional tennis and finding a nice balance staying stimulated between working and raising a family. Trying to strike that balance is very tough and everyday I’m constantly trying to balance everything. I’m really into trying to be centered and balanced. There are adjustments I have to make everyday in achieving that balance.
Examiner: There’s not a lot of lull time. You also have foundation that puts on charity events.
TAH: For twenty-seven years I had a charity event for under privileged children that is no longer going because the two gentlemen that ran it passed away. But for those twenty-seven years it was a huge impact for needy families. The money raised provided services for dentistry, psychology and health needs. That was very important to me for all those years. More recently I’ve participated in about five tennis celebrity events to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis research because my brother John has M.S. I believe that if an athlete has a platform and is able to give back it’s certainly very rewarding I was telling my husband the other day that I need to stay in shape because I still participate in tennis exhibitions, I stay knowledgeable because of my commentating job, then there are the different needs of being a mom, and wife. I am leaving for Singapore later this week to cover the 2015 WTA Finals. I will be away for eleven days which is great for my commentating career but tougher for the family. I’m constantly trying to find that right balance.
Examiner: Even though juggling multiple responsibilities can be overwhelming it’s nice that you are able to continue to use all your skills, knowledge and insight. These opportunities keep life interesting and stimulating.
TAH: The key like anything else in life is to find a balance. Yes, I do commentating but not too much. I keep my foot in the door so that I’m engaged and knowledgeable so I’m very much a part of it, but the majority of my time is spent at home.
Examiner: What is your commentating schedule for the most part?
TAH: I work for The Tennis Channel through-out the year mostly in the studio but attend the Indian Wells, the BNP Paribas Open, as well as the Miami Open. I cover some of Wimbledon for the BBC, and usually work at the U.S. Open.
Examiner: Do you have a favorite tournament?
TAH: I love Indian Wells. I just love how relaxed it is. It’s like a mini Grand Slam in a beautiful location. That’s probably my favorite.
Examiner: What’s a typical day like when you commentate?
TAH: There isn’t a typical day. For example I just received my schedule for Singapore and I don’t start working until 4pm on some days. There is a lot of research and I must say research is so much easier now than it was fifteen years ago with the internet and the WTA/ATP websites. Before the internet trying to extract information about player’s head to head’s and all that it just wasn’t readily available. Now I can read about what a player says, and how they felt after each match. I enjoy doing that type of research and preparation. When I work from the studio in Los Angeles I am now commentating on the men’s matches as well as the women’s and that’s opened up a whole new category for me which is exciting.
Examiner: Are you assigned certain objectives or an agenda in match reporting?
TAH: No, it’s never like that. The network will tell me I am going to cover certain matches and sometimes they pair me with another commentator. I frequently work with Paul Annacone and we’ve worked together enough that we have a feel for how much we each talk during a match. We do have a meeting about forty-five minutes prior to going on air. During that meeting we discuss about what we will talk about on camera and assess whether we need a graphic to illustrate certain information. For example; right now there are four spots left on the road to Singapore, so we may create a graphic that highlights the first four players (out of eight who have the most points) in yellow, then show the next four players and their point total leading into the tournament, followed by the next eight players that have a possibility of qualifying and the conditions that it would take for them to make it into the final eight. That creates a fluid discussion as we simplify the information for the viewer yet highlight why the matches are important to the players.
Examiner: This summer you played in the Wimbledon Ladies Invitational doubles event. During the year you play in several tennis exhibitions. What do you do to stay physically fit and tennis sharp?
TAH: I play a couple of times a week just because I enjoy it. Playing a few times a week also makes it easier when I play events. I also played the U.S. Open this year.
Examiner: Do you go to the gym?
TAH: My life for so long was, “I have to go to the gym, I have to do this, I have to do that.” These days I take hikes, walk, swim, go to yoga sometimes, and stretching class. My exercise is not set in stone and I like it that way.
Examiner: Nothing like a TRX class or pilates?
TAH: There are certain parameters that I have with my body at this stage of my life. I do some yoga but it’s in the effort right? In the trying.
Examiner: Yoga is the most uncomfortable….
TAH: It’s very difficult but in the trying I feel better the next couple of days, then stiffen up again. Or I will be in a yoga class and look up at others in class and think, how did they get their body to do that? But that’s okay. We are all good at different things.
Examiner: In your book, “Beyond Center Court: My Story” at age two your mom enrolled you in a program with Vic Braden at the Jack Kramer Tennis Club, in Rolling HIlls. You credit Vic Braden for making tennis fun for you. What do you remember about the experience that made it fun for you?
TAH: Vic had such a large personality. It wasn’t about enrolling me in his class because I basically just rolled out the pro shop door to play with Vic. He was just a lovely man with an infectious personality which drew me to his court. There were lots of kids, lots of balls and lots of games. He just made it fun. It wasn’t about perfect technique or perfect footwork. It was about engaging the kids with a lot of laughs, a lot of smiles and I just got hooked.
Examiner: Most kids pull away from demanding expectations. Reflecting back to the early days when you were coached by Robert Lansdorp, how did Lansdorp’s “tyrant” coaching style help mold/motivate your tennis skills and contribute to your young playing success?
TAH: I think Robert’s personality and his persona drives a lot of kids away because it’s very demanding. He is a tyrant. He demands perfection from players but also from himself. I’ve never seen the guy give less than one hundred percent in any lesson whether that player was nationally ranked or a casual player. I respected him immensely and I respected that he wanted everyone to become better. That’s what his goal was in every single lesson. I wasn’t pushed by my parents, I was self driven. I recall feeling like no-one was going to get in my way. I wanted to go in the direction I was going. I woke up everyday with goals and with the desire to become better. I felt that when Robert was pushing, working me hard it gave me confidence that he thought I could do more. That’s how I interpreted it. I think others may take his coaching as being critical but to me I saw it as a positive that he had confidence that I had more there.
Examiner: His pushing was in alignment with your inner belief that “I can do this.”
TAH: Yeah, I mean I felt that he wanted the best for me. If he thought I could do more that gave me confidence that I could do more. When you think you can….it’s like certain people come across a coach and that coach says the right thing, then all of a sudden, the person goes, “Wow, okay this person believes that I can win Wimbledon.” Hana Mandlikova coached Jana Novatna to the 1998 Wimbledon singles title and a career high ranking of number two in the world. Because Hana thought Jana could win Wimbledon, Jana believed she could win it. All of a sudden Jana was a changed player.
Examiner: Your son Brandon Holt is going to attend and play for USC next year. A hot topic in junior tennis these days is the issue of gamesmanship, poor line calls, coaches intimidating opponents etc. As a parent have there been times when your son has had to deal with this issue while playing an opponent?
TAH: This is a timely and appropriate question. It’s an issue everyday. There are some kids that actually play tennis and complete matches without cheating, without swearing, without throwing their rackets, and without medical time outs There are plenty of those kids but unfortunately in my opinion there are way too many kids that are pulling a bunch of shenanigans on the court. The disruptive kids use everything. It’s just disappointing and I’m very vocal about this. I’m very vocal that if you are fourteen years old and are still cheating, throwing your rackets, swearing wildly which my husband was at a match and the kid yelled, “F ***” as loud as he could while a grandmother and her six year old granddaughter were sitting watching the player’s. That’s when my husband decided to get on the Southern California Disciplinary Committee. Because you know who’s fault it is that at fourteen years old kids are still behaving like this, it’s the parents. They have not come down on the child for his/her behavior. If my son ever thought of pulling these shenanigans it wouldn’t happen because the chance of these kids becoming professional tennis player’s are so slim that I want to build a great human being instead of a mechanical tennis player with bad manners.
Examiner: I watched an ESPN documentary on Roger Federer and one of the statistics they cited was that he has won more sportsmanship awards than any other professional player.
TAH: Apparently as a child he wasn’t a great sport as his parents at one point took away his rackets. They let him know that poor behavior wasn’t going to be allowed to continue. The boundaries were set. Whereas clearly there are junior players doing rotten things on court, bad manners, bad sportsmanship, and creating distractions to change the momentum of the match. They are clearly not being given any boundaries. The only thing important to their families is the “w.”
Examiner: What’s your advice to parents that are on the end of their child being cheated in matches?
TAH: There’s nothing you can do. I mean you can go ask for a lines person. But what happens is the umpire comes onto the court for two games and then they leave. Because there are very few umpires at these junior tournaments. My husband suggested paying more money for entry fees so there can be additional roaming umpires at tournaments. My third son chose not to play tournaments because the experiences were so bad in the first few tournaments he said he didn’t want to continue. I told him okay because I am not sure I wanted to sign up for this again either.
Examiner: But that’s huge….
TAH: But it’s not going to change. It’s not going to change cause they aren’t coming down hard enough on it.
Examiner: If the USTA would provide for umpire money for tournaments I think there’s an opportunity for change. I would like to see the USTA say, “Hey this is where money needs to go so we attract, develop and keep really good players in our sport.” We are losing talented players to other sports.
TAH: I know so many players that have been lost from tennis and my third son is one of them. I’ve already gone through the tournaments with my second son and I’m now like, okay that’s fine. It takes a certain mentality to stick it out. First of all it’s a one on one sport so that’s more difficult than some of the team sports. Players are responsible for calling their own score, their own lines, then all of a sudden someone throws in
cheating, medical time-outs, bathroom breaks and everything else. My son played a match where his opponent called seventeen lets in the match. There aren’t seventeen lets in a month when you play. It’s just crazy.
You have to make an impact on the parents to create change because they are the ones that need to change their child’s behavior, when the child is ten, eleven or twelve. If a child is still acting up at age fourteen I’m not blaming the child because the child has obviously gotten signals from the parent that what he/she is doing is condoned in their house. If the parent were to change the messages then the child is going to change his/her behavior. I believe change starts at the top like everything in parenting. Words say so much but modeling says a lot. If you are modeling bad behavior or condoning it, without saying a word that sends a message.
Examiner: I still don’t understand why the rules allow for bathroom breaks during a set. At the end of a set sure.
TAH: We can go on with this discussion for days.
Examiner: Along with your son Brandon, which junior players should fans keep an eye on for the future of the game?
TAH: Taylor Fritz obviously as he just won his first Challenger. It’s only the second Challenger that he’s ever played. So Taylor has a huge upside. I think this group of young men, the Tommy Paul’s, Frances Tiafoe’s, Jared Donaldson, Taylor Fritz, these kids have a real opportunity to make a big impact. Now who knows, they are working very hard and they have great promise which is very exciting.
Examiner: Tracy thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview.