Episode 1. A Little Girl’s Dream
One of the things we do in this world of super stars, is we compare ourselves to them, and sadly, so often come to the conclusion that we’re just not good enough. That God would never show up for us!
Join Berni Dymet and tennis legend Margaret Court as they take a look at life, from a Different Perspective.
One of the things we do in this world of superstars, is that we compare ourselves to them, and sadly, so often, we come to the conclusion that we’re just not good enough. That God would never show up for us!
Berni: Margaret Court, thanks for joining us.
Margaret: Been wonderful to be here.
Berni: Now Margaret, just before we start, I’d love to … there’s this rumour going around about your comeback trail, can you confirm anything for us at all?
Berni: I know that leading tennis players today are a bit concerned about the rumours.
Margaret: Not quite right at my age but I still play a little bit, a couple of times a week which keeps me fit.
Berni: Do you ever wonder, as you look back on that career, in a quiet moment, ‘I wonder how I’d go today amongst the players?’ Have you ever had that thought?
Margaret: I’ve been asked that many times and I think with the racquets and everything today I believe Rod Laver and myself would just fit in very nicely. You know it’s much easier today because there’s so much money there, you’ve got your own coach with you and masseur and family …
Berni: The whole entourage.
Margaret: You can just about have your own plane; I think it would be absolutely wonderful.
Berni: Was it like that in your day?
Margaret: No, it wasn’t. We went 10 months of the year, didn’t stay in very nice hotels, played week in week out, 3 events in each tournament and I don’t think they’re fit today compared to what we were, particularly match fit.
Berni: You look back on that career, I mean by any standard it’s a remarkable career: 24 singles, 19 women’s doubles, 19 mixed doubles, 62 Grand Slams. No-one else has done that have they?
Margaret: No, no man or woman and I really didn’t know I had done that until … it was John Barrett, commentator from England that started to do some statistics and study our past history of the game, who had done what, and I learnt about what I did do.
Berni: How do you look back on a career like that? Sitting here now, looking back on that, what do you think?
Margaret: I think, “Did I ever really do it?” (laugh) Seems to be a part of your life that the door closed, you get on with your life, you look back and think, “Yeah, I did enjoy it.”
Berni: When was the first time you picked up a tennis racquet and thought, “Mm, maybe this is me?”
Margaret: Well, I came from a small country town in New South Wales, Albury. I happened to live across the road from 24 grass courts but my first racquet was a paling off a fence and I used to hit up against our garage and one of my Mum’ friends came around and saw that I was contacting this piece of wood with a ball. She happened to say, “I’ve got a big old wooden racquet at home and it’s not being used, maybe you would like it.”
So she bought it around. I remember it having an enormous grip, it didn’t have a leather grip, it had a wooden grip and I remember putting a transfer on it and thinking it was the most wonderful piece of equipment that I had because I was a real tom boy and I loved cricket and football and swimming the Murray River, so I was always in the outdoors.
Berni: Wow, so tell us about your childhood, what was that like?
Margaret: Family background – it wasn’t all that happy as a youngster. My Mum didn’t drink but my Dad did in those early years, later on he gave it up. But I had two older brothers, an older sister. My brothers were very good cyclists at the velodrome and my sister was into dancing, my escape was to the outdoors.
Berni: As a girl, when did you start to dream that maybe something was possible here in this tennis thing?
Margaret: Well, I’d had a very good coach there, there was man called Wally Rutter who came from Sydney, had a very good style, they didn’t have family, him and his wife, he was running the tennis courts. He started to take a great interest in me. I think he saw I was a very good athlete ’cause I was also a very good runner. He started to sort of sow some time into me and I started to win some age championships, school girls and country championships.
I guess it was around the age of 13 some of the top pro’s came through our home town because it was a very good tennis centre, strong tennis centre. Somebody said to me, “You could be the first Australian woman to win Wimbledon.” Somehow that goal dropped into my heart and after that people would say, “What do you want to do with your tennis?” And I’d say, “I want to be the first Australian woman ever to win Wimbledon.”
So I practised and trained and then my coach came to me and said, “Well, I think there’s coming a time you’re going to have to move out of Albury.” Because back then it was only a population of about 15,000, it’s up over the 100,000 today, and so he said, “You’re going to have to go to Melbourne or to Sydney.” And he looked down in Sydney and we approached a coach there and he said, “No, she’ll never make it. She’s too skinny and too scrawny.”
Berni: I guess he ate those words, yeah.
Margaret: I think he did some years later. He went down to Melbourne and Frank Sedgeman who was one of our all time greats, he was still touring and playing and he approached him and said, “Would you come and have a look at her?” And he brought another coach and they said, “Well, she’s a bit like a race horse, a bit like a thoroughbred but I guess we could do something with her. She’ll have to go to gym.” He owned a gymnasium and I used to go into that gymnasium five mornings a week and pump weights before all the men came in – and that’s something women didn’t do back then. So I loved it and I loved all the training. I was blessed to have the people that I did have behind me, coaching me and working with me.
Berni: I guess, here’s this girl in Albury, you’re not known by anyone, you have this dream in your heart. Looking back on it all now, I mean I’ve heard you speak recently on the theme of ‘Your Best Is Yet To Come’. You know a lot of people feel like ‘nobody’s’, it’s such a big world, it’s such a world of superstars, what would you say to someone like that? Is their best still to come?
Margaret: Yes. I believe we’re given gifts, given talents. For some youngsters doors opened and the door opened for me and I had to take that. I had people who played a big role in my life, they believed in me more than I believed in myself. I was very shy, inferiority complex. Here was this girl from a country town that really didn’t know how to hold a knife and fork properly, and I did a radio thing and I couldn’t speak properly. And I remember staying with the Sedgeman’s in Melbourne and I said to Jean Sedgeman, “Would you teach me how to speak properly? Would you teach me how to do things properly?”
So I stayed with the family and I guess I was teachable, I wanted to learn. Another man, Keith Rodgers who was a state tennis coach, knew all about foot work, teaching me and putting hours into my life. And I always remember later in my career when I did become top I used to hear their voices saying, “Well, you’re the best, you can do it”, when I didn’t believe them myself. So I put in the training, I put in the work, I loved it. I didn’t want to get out of bed at 4 o’clock in the morning and run the streets and when it was windy and wet and cold in Melbourne you didn’t want to be getting out on the court, there was a lot you didn’t want to do but you did it because you wanted to be the best.
Berni: Just quickly, if there’s somebody sitting there thinking, “I think I’ve got something to do with my life but I just don’t know, I’m a ‘nobody’.” What would you say to them right now?
Margaret: Well I believe that they’re a “somebody” because there is a gift and a talent there. It’s whatever you love that you go with that strength, not because somebody else says you can do something but I loved it, I was passionate about it. That was where I put everything into and then excelled to become one of the best in the world.
Berni: Margaret Court, thanks for joining us today.
Margaret: Thank you.