In her 17-year career, Margaret Court amassed more tennis titles than any other player in history. She was the first woman in the open era (and second woman in history) to win the singles Grand Slam—that’s all four majors—in the same calendar year; she holds the record for the most open titles (24) ever won; and she’s won 19 women’s doubles titles and 19 mixed doubles titles.
Court also has the all-time record for the greatest winning percentage, achieved on all surfaces: hard, clay, grass and synthetic. She is the first Australian mum (Court married husband, Barry, in 1967 and they have four children) to win Wimbledon and, along with Belgium’s Kim Clijsters, have the most Grand Slam singles titles as a mum.
And to crown those achievements, in 1967, Court was made Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), for her services to sport and international relations. In November 1999, she was nominated as one of the Sportswomen of the Century.
Court grew up in a family that “hardly had anything, not even owning their own home,” but, she adds brightly, “I still had a very happy childhood. As a little girl, I loved the outdoors and the absolute freedom of being outside and being active.”
She credits her mother with being a “very moral person,” recounting how she taught her as a child that “God was watching me and that He wanted me to be responsible for my actions.”
It is a lesson Court believes helped her understand her responsibilities in life as a public figure during her tennis career.
The more you talk to Court, the more you realise that she has the unique ability to turn things around and not be overwhelmed by the circumstances of her life. Court recalls making a lot of sacrifices to fulfil her goal of becoming the world’s number one female tennis player.
At 15 year of age, she left home to train and says it wasn’t easy being away from her family. When it came to developing that famous winning attitude, Court recalls the times she spent with her “great coaches who really instilled great confidence in me, that I was the ‘best.’"
“They used positive words of encouragement and affirmation, saying things like, ‘You know, you’re the best and you can do it.’ They helped me believe in my own abilities.”
Later, as a tennis champion, she would become known worldwide for her physical strength and very high fitness levels, which she attained through much self-discipline and a rigorous training regime.
Court’s secret to success is simple: she’s always had goals throughout her career and one of those was to be the first Australian woman to win Wimbledon. Then, later in life, it became the first Australian mum to win Wimbledon.
“The idea,” she says, “is to put your goals out in front of you and persevere to achieve them.” This, according to Court, includes not giving in during a match simply “because you have an injury.”
Court goes on, saying, “I put a lot into tennis. I was always very focused—tennis is very much a mental game.” Her amazing tennis career record is testament to her focus and determination, which enabled her to win those tough mental battles she faced.
A nominal Christian during her tennis career, when Court retired from the game, she studied to become a pastor. She currently works as the senior minister at the Victory Life Centre in Perth, a church she founded and nurtured.
When I ask if she misses the excitement of being on the circuit, she says, “As thrilling as the tennis circuit was, I don’t miss it. I fulfilled every goal I had.”
She doesn’t see any conflict between her former tennis career and current ministry, saying they are just “two different parts of my life.”
While on tour, Court always found time to attend church, recalling, however, that “everything was in Latin and didn’t make sense to me.” It wasn’t until meeting other Christian friends and going to church with them that she saw “they had something I didn’t.”
After praying that she would know the reality of having God in her life, she believes He began to change her life for the better.
“Tennis was a gift from God, and I always knew it was,” she says. “But if I knew Christ personally back then [Court converted to Pentecostalism in 1975, a year before officially retiring from the game], I believe I could have won six, and not three Wimbledons.”
Today, Court still loves the sport. “I still play tennis and enjoy the fitness of it and the social aspects of the game.” Now, though, her focus is on God and her work as a Christian minister.
Working For God
Court enjoys her life as a minister, saying that she has been able to help a lot of people through that role. “I’ve seen families healed, lives changed and hearts given to Christ, particularly in the young people who come to my church,” she says.
“Some of them come to church in a mixed up state. It’s been my greatest joy in life to see them make decisions for Christ and see the positive changes that He makes to their lives."
“God is bigger than anything that we are going through. When we meet Christ, His life becomes our walk, His purpose our purpose, His goals our goals. So much so that to get through things, we don’t end up relying on ourselves. We accept Christ’s way instead, we accept His purpose for our lives instead, we rely on His love, His power, His purpose, His forgiveness, His faith and His joy.”
Throughout our conversation, I get the impression that in whatever she does, she’s as focused and determined as ever. Court’s life as an athlete is comparable with her walk with Christ.
“Like playing tennis at an elite level, being a Christian involves entering a battle,” she says. “We need Christ to renew our minds. The Bible says [Romans 12:2], ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.’ ”
She may have achieved all her goals as a tennis player, but Court’s goals now are all tied up with her Saviour, Jesus Christ. Her famous determined focus today isn’t so much on accomplishing the same personal success she had in the sporting arena; rather, she’s about making sure Christ receives all the exaltation that is due Him, because He loves her and she, in return, loves Him.