Written by the WTA Tour
ST. PETERSBURG, FL, USA – Australian tennis legend Evonne Goolagong Cawley has been officially recognised as one of only 16 women to have attained the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour’s World No.1 singles ranking since computer rankings were introduced in 1975.
It was recently discovered that Goolagong ascended to the top spot for one ranking period (rankings were issued bi-monthly during 1975-1990) shortly after her gripping 63 57 63 win over Chris Evert at prestigious 1976 Virginia Slims Championships held at the Forum in Los Angeles.
The belated accolade comes about following a recent search in the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Rankings archive in St. Petersburg, Florida, which revealed that a handful of paper records were in fact missing between April and July 1976, most notably was the ranking period April 26 to May 9.
On looking at the point differential between No.1 Evert and No.2 Goolagong on the April 12 printout, there was little separating the two. When the Jenkins method was applied to compute the rankings following the results of the Virginia Slims Championships on April 17, and with the 1975 Family Circle Cup points (which Evert won) from the 52 weeks previously coming off on April 26, Goolagong moves into the No.1 spot by 8/10ths of a Rating Point.
Two weeks later on May 10, when Evert’s victory at the 1976 Family Circle Cup and Goolagong’s non-entry are factored in, the American moves back into the No.1 spot for and would continue to hold it for 112 consecutive weeks until Martina Navratilova’s victory at Wimbledon in 1978.
To celebrate the achievement, the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour sent Goolagong Cawley a Waterford Crystal trophy, something new No.1s in recent years have received. She is pictured in this story with the trophy.
“I’m simply delighted,” said Goolagong Cawley from her home in Noosa, Queensland. “In Australia at the end of 1975 and during the ’76 Virginia Slims Tour (which finished just before Easter – Chris and I then played World TeamTennis with no more official tournaments until the WTT break for Wimbledon) I played at the highest level, the most consistent tennis of my career. The tournaments were on grass and on mostly quick carpet which helped the serve and volley part of my game and for five or six months I felt virtually unbeatable.
“Prior to this time, I had lost to Chris a number of times in a row mostly on clay – her best surface – but strangely during that time it was my ground strokes that improved and subsequently gave me such an edge on everyone, including her. Today I am happy and gratified that what I felt at the time has now been recognised officially. It’s personally very satisfying and this has been the best Christmas present.”
“Evonne was always one of the most beloved and gracious of champions,” said Sony Ericsson WTA Tour CEO & Chairman Larry Scott. “We felt once it came to light that she did in fact assume the No.1 ranking for a period in 1976, it was important to recognise the achievement, just like we had with all the other 15 women who have achieved that pinnacle in women’s tennis.
“Unfortunately our record keeping wasn’t perfect in those early days of women’s tennis and our ranking system was viewed as a means of just accepting tournament entries. It wasn’t until the early 1980s that the media and players started to pay attention to the changes in the rankings during the year as opposed to only the end of season rankings. Media coverage has evolved to the point now when a player cracks the Top 10 for the first time or attains the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour No.1 Ranking that it attracts world-wide attention and deservedly so.”
Veteran observers of the tennis writing community had this to say:
“Back in the Seventies, most of us as tennis writers didn’t pay much attention to the weekly rankings; we were more concerned with where the players stood at the end of the year, and that was when we paid serious attention. The computer rankings in the seventies were only just evolving and most of us were still writing on typewriters; of course there was no internet.
“Hence, when the WTA, through an innocent mistake, did not give Evonne Goolagong the honor she deserved as an authentic No.1 in 1976, that error went right by us in the press. We knew that Evonne was having a great year and was involved in an exciting battle for the top spot with Chris Evert, but the oversight regarding her rise to No.1 during that season was simply not noticed. Blame that on the times, the circumstances, and the fact that the week in, week out rankings were not a top concern of many writers, and that is why Goolagong never got her due.
“She was one of the great players of the Open Era and it is a very good thing for all of us historians that she is finally getting recognition for having achieved the No.1 ranking in the world. It adds to her legacy of seven Grand Slam singles championships and a wonderful overall record through the years.
“I do not blame the Tour in the least for what happened; in fact, it is setting the record straight now, and 31 years later Goolagong is at last being officially given an honor she deserved long ago. It is good for her and good for the game. When historical errors are made, they should be corrected, and that is the case right now. Good for the Tour and good for Goolagong, because now everyone will know that she was indeed the No.1 player in the world during her prime.”
“Evonne was certainly one of the most graceful and charming of champions – a delight off the court and on. She was very shy as a young player and I think she surprised many of us by maturing into a powerful advocate for the Aboriginal people. I would imagine a strong family life when she got married helped her develop the confidence off the court and on it. 1976 was most certainly her most consistent year.
“The rankings were, indeed, less noted on the women’s tour than the men’s in those early days and records were badly kept so week by week would have been difficult to check at the time. It’s terrific that she gets her just reward now. But Evonne’s game transcended statistics. As Bill Tilden might have said, she played her own sweet game.”
“Hurrahs to the diggers who discovered that Evonne Goolagong should have been ranked No.1 during 1976, not No.2. It took a while, but never too late for justice. This fact will be noted in the next edition of my Tennis Encyclopedia in 2008.”