The fans and the film crews flocked to the West Side Tennis Club today hoping to see Tracy Austin, the 14-year-old charmer who had captivated the U.S. Open tennis championships, beat Wimbledon runner-up Betty Stove. But this was the way the fairy tale ended.
When they went on court, it was easy to imagine Austin as Little Red Riding Hood in a checkered pinafore, Stove as the Big Bad Wolf in conventional tennis dress. But this wolf wanted no part of youthful fantasies. Quick as Tracy could say "My, what a big serve you have," she was overwhelmed, 6-2,6-2.
Stove, 33 years old, is 6-foot-1 and weighs 165 pounds. On this day, Stove, who started playing international tennis year after Austin was born, was whacking most of her hugh-powered shots in the court, and Austin did not have the weapons to retaliate.
Austin scramnled well, getting as many balls back as she could, but was always on the defensive - streching, and consequently not hiting with much depth or power. Stove controlled the match, thumping winners from the backcourt, the net even some from the no-person's land in between.
Stove - who once flipped the man who gave her the nickname "big Bad Betty," and made his promise never to call her that again - did not make anywhere near her ususal quota of wild shots.
She refused to be intimidated by the partisan crowd of 11,799 or the fact that she was playing a 14-year-old girl. After the first game, in which Austin held serve after five deuces, until the 56-minute match was hers.
Thus Stove, the No. 5 seed who is having by far best year, advanced to the semifinals here for the first time and a meeting with winner of tonight's match between 1975-76 champion Chris Evert and her predecessor, Bellie Jean King.
"I think that she just overpowered me . . . I was lucky to get into a rally today. She made me hit short most of the time and just put them away," said Austin, whose next big opponent will be algebra when she enters the High School next week.
"There was nothing I could do. I could barely get her serve back because I'm little yet . . . On my serve, she'd hit a hard return, that I could barely get back and put it away again."
'What can you do against somebody who makes winners from crazy positions? Tracy just got run over.
She didn't know where the ball was coming and she got wrong-footed many times," said Bob Lansdorf, who has coached Austin since she was 6. "I was waiting for Stove's rollercoster-type game, when she makes five winners and six errors, but she didn't miss many shots. Her first serve was good. The first time Tracy tried to slow it down by hitting a lobby ball. Stove came in and hit a drive volley from between the service line and the baseline for a winner.
Stove had a really good day. She played remarkable tennis. At this stage, Tracy doesn't have the game to counteract that - the extra step and the power that Chris Evert has. When an opponent can get Tracy reaching all the time, her shots become too weak," Lansdorp continued.
"If they can hit three balls from corner to corner with that pace, Tracy doesn't have an answer yet. You can work on Stove's forehand with a heavy slice, because she stands up straight and his it very flat, but Tracy doesn't have a good slice yet to keep the ball low. That will take another year and a half.
"Tracy can outrally an awful lot of the gals from the baseline, but not when they play like Stove did. I wasn't disappointed at all with Tracy. I wasn't disappointed at all with Tracy. I was very impressed with Stove," said Lansdorp, who was born in the Dutch East Indies of Dutch parents. "I was sitting there thinking, 'Jeez, I thought all Dutch people were erratic; this is unreal."
Technically, Stove played about as well as she can. Into the barrage of deep, hard shots, eh sifted some telling drop shots, well-disguised off the same stroke with which she hits her slice forehand. She punished Austin with forehands down the line, slicing them low. She worked over the forehand that Austin sometimes leaves open because she is protecting the backhand, which has a slightly limited reach because she hits it two-fisted.
Stove was also psychologically well-prepared. "She's only 14, but she entered here as a competitor and I treated her as a competitor . . . If I had played her five or six years ago, I probably would have been sentimental, too, and probably would have lost to her. But I've played a lot of matches, I've grown tremendously the last couple of years," Stove said.
"It was a very difficult match for me. I had to concentrate extra hard. Actually, I never saw Tracy at all. I only saw the ball.
And that's how the Big Bad Wolf gobbled up this Little Red Riding Hood, the youngest player ever to compete in the U.S. championships.