The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

May 22, 2012

Beattie part of 1960s tennis hotbed in St. Louis

— In the 1960s, St. Louis was a hotbed for women’s tennis.

Three of the top-10 players in the United States in 1964 lived in St. Louis — Carol Hanks Aucamp, Justina Bricka and Mary Ann Eisel Beattie.

“Back in the day is before indoor tennis clubs were all over,” said Beattie on Tuesday after finishing in a fourth-place tie in the Missouri Women’s Golf Association Senior Championship at Twin Hills Golf and Country Club. “There was one indoor club where we all played all winter long in the armory. They had five indoor courts, and every player out of St. Louis came and played in the armory. Everyone competed against each other, and we all became good friends.

“And there were two great coaches, Earl Buchholz Sr. and Bill Price. Bill Price was my coach, and he coached as a hobby. He never charged any of us a fee. Bill Price was the type of coach who never got on the court with you. He’d sit and watch you, and when you came off the court, he did tell you one or two things, and you never forgot those one or two things. He was not like a lot of coaches, standing out there telling you do this, do that, and you don’t remember anything. It was a neat time with some really good athletes and two great coaches.”

Beattie played in the Wimbledon Championships from 1964-72, advancing as far as the quarterfinal round in singles and semifinals in doubles. She played several times on Centre Court but never in front of the Queen of England.

“We were all amateurs,” Beattie said, “but as an amateur, they picked us up in a Rolls Royce or a Bentley from the hotel, and they drove through the front gates  of this ivy-covered stadium. The atmosphere was just tremendous, as it still is as I understand. But as an amateur it was a whole different feeling.”

Beattie, who was ranked in the top-10 nationally from 1964-71, won the U.S. Indoor singles title three times, and she won the U.S. Indoor doubles title with Aucamp by beating Billie Jean King and Judy Dixon. Beattie also won the U.S. mixed doubles title at Forrest Hills in 1968 with Peter Curtis.

Beattie also owns one singles victory over King, indoors in the 1967 New England Invitational.

“Billie Jean did everything for tennis,” Beattie said. “When it started to become open tennis playing for prize money, she could have said I’m going to take seven players and we’re going to go play exhibitions all over and get guarantees. Instead, she said we’re all going to play for prize money. She was the right leader at the right time. (Women’s tennis) would have ended up this way eventually, but she got it going much sooner than it ever would have.”

Beattie also played matches against stars Margaret Court and Virginia Wade as well as a young Chris Evert and Martina Navartilova.

One of Evert’s earliest big-stage victories came at Beattie’s expense in the second round of the 1971 U.S. Open as Evert rallied to win 4-6, 7-6 (1), 6-1.

“That was my toughest loss ever,” Beattie said. “I was up a set and had like six or eight match points and lost the match. I did cry. You never forget those matches.

“We all knew Chris was good, but as far as the public, that was her first big stepping stone because she beat three or four top seeds, and it took off from there.”

After tennis, Beattie learned to play golf from her husband Don, who also played tennis. Beattie won the MWGA senior amateur in 2009 and is a past National Women’s Club Champion.

“The similarity (between golf and tennis) is you have to hit through the ball,” Beattie said. “The big thing is mentally golf is tougher. In tennis you can play poorly for an hour and a half, and if it’s a two-hour match, you can still win. In golf, if you get down, it’s really tough. You have to sustain that concentration for the whole 4 1/2 hours.

“And in tennis, the points come quicker in between shots. You miss a shot, you get it out of your mind. In golf, you miss a shot and you have a minute or so to think about missing that shot. Mentally you can really beat yourself up. In tennis, it’s move on to the next point.”

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