Anne Smith still smashing in major tennis tournaments
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ When Anne Smith was busy collecting 10 grand slam doubles titles, she was the quiet, hardworking type who relinquished the spotlight and focused more on setting up partners like Kathy Jordan and Martina Navratilova.
Ask her what she does since retiring six years ago and tennis isn’t even on the radar.
Unlike many former pros who retire to a life of teaching tennis at a plush country club, Smith is a full-time student in the third year of a six-year doctorate program in educational psychology at the University of Texas.
The same tennis duffel bag that used to carry rackets onto the court for matches against the likes of Chris Evert now totes textbooks to classes on the Austin campus.
It’s not until she gets on the court _ which is rare these days _ and carves out a perfect down-the-line slice backhand, steps into a punishing crosscourt forehand or delicately lands a drop volley, that she acknowledges tennis hasn’t completely disappeared from her life.
``When I hung it up in 1991, that was it,″ says Smith, clutching the pink grip tape around her racket. ``I really didn’t think I would ever play the big tournaments again.″
That was before what she jokingly refers to as ``the old ladies doubles.″
Now, at 38, she is the two-time defending champion of the women’s 35-and-over doubles division at Wimbledon and will seek her third ``senior″ title when she plays the same event at the U.S. Open next month.
``When they first contacted me about playing in the senior events, I really didn’t give it much thought,″ the Dallas native said. ``But after a couple years, I was like, why not? It could be fun.″
Because of her studies, Smith waited until one month before Wimbledon in 1996 to start practicing. She teamed with Briton Jo Durie and defeated Mima Jausovec and Yvonne Vermaak 6-3, 6-2 for the senior title.
``I’m lucky because I never needed much practice to be ready for a match, even when I was on tour,″ she said.
This year, Smith felt the pressure of being defending champion and began training eight weeks before the grass court championship, primarily by lifting weights to strengthen a surgically repaired right shoulder.
Nonetheless, she and Durie defended their title with a 6-1, 6-2 defeat of Wendy Turnbull and Virginia Wade in the finals.
The triumph brought back memories for Smith, who won her first grand slam doubles championship at Wimbledon in 1980 with longtime partner Jordan.
``Probably the most cherished wins for me are my Wimbledon titles,″ said Smith, who played collegiately at Trinity University in San Antonio.
``Wimbledon is the most prestigious tournament. I think any player will say that. When I went back last year, I didn’t care if it was over 35, it’s still a Wimbledon title.″
Smith was ranked as high as No. 12 in the world in singles in 1982, but is known primarily as a doubles specialist.
She may not have the name recognition of fellow Texas tennis pros Zina Garrison and Lori McNeil, both of Houston. But Smith has more grand slam titles than they do.
``Anne Smith’s been great since she was a junior. As a junior in Texas, she won every tournament in sight and she just continues winning,″ said Charlie McCleary, the 84-year-old founder of the Texas Tennis Hall of Fame in Waco.
Smith, who was inducted into the hall in 1985, won at least one women’s doubles championship in all four of the major tournaments _ the Australian Open (1), French Open (2), Wimbledon (1) and U.S. Open (1).
Four of those grand slam titles came with Jordan, a tall, fiery, hard-hitting redhead from Pennsylvania who relied on Smith’s cool consistency for balance.
While Jordan mobbed the net, providing intimidation with swinging volleys and stinging overheads, Smith did the dirty work, chasing down lobs and directing shots at her opponents’ feet to set up Jordan for easy putaways.
Smith also won two mixed doubles titles at the U.S. Open and another at Wimbledon with Kevin Curren and two French Open mixed titles with Billy Martin and Dick Stockton _ all in the early ’80s.
Smith picked up $10,000 for her senior Wimbledon title and marvels at the prize money available on the tour today.
Seeing this year’s Wimbledon doubles champions Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva each clear $150,000 for winning the title made Smith ``want to cry.″
``I made over a million dollars in my career, which at the time, was pretty good,″ Smith said. ``But now, I think, my gosh. I wonder how Billie Jean King feels. She’s the pioneer of the sport and could have been making $50 million now versus back then.″
Smith might have earned more prize money during her pro singles career if she didn’t keep colliding with Navratilova.
``I swear in 1982, it felt like 10 times that I kept running into her,″ Smith said. ``And, of course, I never came out on the good end of that.″
Later that year, Smith and Navratilova paired up and won the French Open doubles title.
``It was a lot nicer to have her on my side of the court,″ Smith said.
End Adv for weekend editions, July 26-27.