Young ice smothered old fire in a gripping match on Centre Court at Wimbledon today, as 16-year-old Tracy Austin refused to melt under the heat of intense pressure, and beat 35-year-old Billie Jean King, 6-4, 6-7, 6-2.
Austin, eager to become the youngest player in this centuryy to win the oldest and most cherished of tennis tournaments, came back from 0-2 down in the third set with a formidable display of will and shot making to extinguish the six-time single championship, who brought out every shot in the book but lacked the mental toughness that used to be her incomparable strength.
King had an advantage point on her serve for a 3-0 lead in the final set, but Austin recalls telling herself at that point, "Move faster and try and fight harder."
She nervelessly ripped a forehand winner down the line to get to deuce, broke serve with two winning backhand returns, held her own serve easily, and then produced three of her most scintillating passing shots to win the game on which the match hinged.
Serving at 2-2, King four times got to game point. Four times she got in first serves. Four times Austin blistered her returns, and eventually won the points -- three of them with passing shots that lit up a gray afternoon at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.
Austin was concentrating so intensely that she could not remember this magnificient game 20 minutes later, but it was the one that snuffed out the fire King had summoned after being two points from defeat at 5-6 in the second set.
"I think I played terrible from then on. Just shocking. I wasn't mentally tough at all," said King. "I think I let her back in after 2-0, but Tracy held up great in the fifth game . . . Overall, she was competitively much tougher than I was."
Austin, a semifinalist for the first time, next will play defending champion Martina Navrotilova, who today tottered but did not topple from her throne.
Still suffering from a nagging cold. Navratilova started sluggishly and was down, 2-6, 3-3, 15-40 against Austrialia left-hander Dianne Fromholtz.
At the precarious point, the champion crunched an overhead smash and then muscled three of her most glorios volleys to escape danger. She did not lose another game, accelerating to a 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 victory.
Chris Evert Lloyd, the champion of 1974 and 1976 and 1971 champion Evonne Goolagong Cawley -- who have played several wonderful matches at Wimbledon since meeting for the first time on Centre Court in 1972 -- will contest the other women's semifinal on Wednesday.
Evert beat Australia Wendy Turnbull, her longtime "pigeon," for the 12th consecutive time, 6-3, 6-4, today while Goolagong ousted the Last British Hope, 1977 champion Virginia Wade, 6-4, 6-0.
Wade lost eight of the first nine points, missed two break points in a game that went to eight deuces as she tried to break back to 5-5, then disintegrated in a dismal flurry of lobs that were too short, second serves that were too weak, and volleys that were too eager to find the net.
Evert kept Turnbull pinned to the baseline most of match, hitting with greater depth and consistency, and won almost all the long points. She took a few more gambles in the second set, taking away the initiative from Turnbull, who was not quick enough to change a losing game.
The dramatic and tactical highlight of the day, though, was the Austin-King match. It turned out to be a splendid battle pitting King's cunning and peerless variety of shots against Austin's youthful speed and remarkable instinctive passing shots.
It was a grand and dramatic ocassion, this first meeting between "The Old Lady" King, who has won a record-tying career total of 19 Wimbledon titles in singles and doubles, and the iron-willed kid she calls "Babycakes."
"I think this was a really good match for me because she really pushed me, made me work really hard, made me pull out everything I had in order to win," said Austin, who in eight months as a professional has swiftly risen to No. 3 in the world rankings. "I hope it will make me play better in the semis."
As they went on court, turned and curtsied to the Duchess of Kent in the Royal Box, Austin was smiling -- unintimidated as she had promised by King's larger-than-life reputation and tangible intensity.
"I just had to keep telling myself to forget who I was playing, because otherwise I would have been awed. I tried to put that out of my mind completely, that she has won 19 Wimbledon titles and just about everything you could win. If I thought about that, it would have really hurt me," she said.
King, who was seeded No. 7 even thought she was playing only her third tournament since surgery on her left heel last December, used every shot in her vast repertoire.
She cleverly changed spins and pace, came in behind some second serves and stayed back on others, mixed in lobs and drop shots, chips and chops.
King was extremely steady from the baseline for the first two sets, making hardly any unforced errors. And she punished Austin's short second serves, moving two to three feet inside the baseline to receive them, and then either whacking or chipping her returns and following them to the net for slashing volleys.
"It was like a clinic in hitting every different shot. Tracy likes a good solid ball, and Billie Jean really broke up her rhythm. It was working, but Tracy is a fighter. She is best under pressure, and she showed leal guts today," said Austin's coach, Robert Lansdorp.
Indeed she did. After King broke back from 1-4 to 4-4 in the first set and saved three set points from 4-5 0-40, Austin kept running and hammering.
King had tow game points for 5-5, but Austin cracked a backhand cross-court return winner on the first, and King netted a low forehand volley on the second.
A sizzling, sharply-angled cross-court return winner off a good first serve wide to the forehand got Austin to set point for the fourth time, and another backhand cross-court pass -- the shot that shone most brightly on a day when she served and lobbed poorly -- clinched the set for Austin.
King was two points from defeat at 5-6, 30-30 in the second set when a forehand cross-court angled volley went just wide. She disagreed with the line call, and flushed with ager on the next point, waving an Austin passing shot long, then bashing the sideline with her racket and snarling at the linesman who had made the call that upset her.
Red-faced and volcanic with sparks seemingly coming out of her ears, King whipped herself into a frenzy and won the ensuing tie breaker, seven points to five.
King's pyrotechnics unsettled Austin. "I think a few times she did some distracting things, which made me mad . . . she does some weird things on the court that most people don't do. I think that's her way of getting herself psyched up," said Austin, who clearly thought that King glares influenced linesmen into making several late calls in her favor.
The barrage continued through the first two games of the third set, but Austin's wonderful, disguised forehand down-the-line screamer as King served at 40-30 halted it.
"That one point was the match, I think," said Tracy's father, George Austin, who still had sweaty palms 20 minutes later.
If not, the marvelous fifth game certainly was. King put in 13 of 14 first serves as it went to deuce four times, but Austin proved utterly unshakeable. Her last blazing return -- a forehand cross court -- forced a linging low backhand volley error for the break to 3-2, and King never recovered.
Austin held her serve to 30, and broke at love as King double-faulted twice and then netted an easy forehand.
"The Old Lady" did fight off one match point in a game that went to deuce three times, but a bad backhand error put her head on the block again, and Austin chopped it off with her coup de grace -- another backhand cross court that forced a desperate backhand volley error. CAPTION: Picture 1, An unhappy Billie Jean King (left) ponders her loss to sixteen-year-old Tracy Austin (right) in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon yesterday. UPI; Picture 2, Tracy Austin reaches for shot against Billie Jean King in winning effort to reach the semifinals at Wimbledon. AP