Tracy Austin: 'I learnt to enjoy the little things after I was in a major car accident'


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The Independent Online

Champions are born You can get better with practice but what separates the top few in the world from the rest is sustained focus and supreme confidence. Most athletes in crucial moments tend to deflate, while athletes such as [Maria] Sharapova or [Rafael] Nadal elevate, and it's down to [innate] mental toughness.

I had to give up some things as a professional athlete People say, did you go to your prom? And I say, "No, I was at Wimbledon." The important thing, though, is that the enjoyment of it trumps missing those moments. I have a son who plays in national tournaments; does he have the same supreme focus as I did? No, but he gets a bit more balance in his life, which is what he wants.

I come from a family of tennis players I have three older brothers and an older sister and we developed a passion for tennis at the local tennis club where my mum was working; four out of five of us have played at Wimbledon.

Playing with my brother at Wimbledon took the pressure off me Knowing one another emotionally was crucial to our mixed doubles win in 1980, as he knew what to say to me when we were down and had to fight off a match point. Right before the crucial serve, he said something silly, knowing it would make me laugh and it calmed me down.

Having a major car accident changed my life I was 25 when it happened and I realised then that it can all be taken away from you at any moment, so I learnt to really enjoy the little things in life. If I was a negative person I could have been like, "Geez, I've ruined my leg, and for the rest of my life I won't be able to come back from this." [The accident prematurely ended her return to professional tennis.]

Too many kids are playing today because their parents pushed them They see what happened to Anna Kournikova and the parents think, I want to have a kid like that – but it's the player who must have the desire; I was the driving force behind my success because the fire in my belly was burning so strong.

Maria Sharapova handles her beauty wonderfully She could have gone glamour and Hollywood, like Kournikova – though Kournikova didn't have the talent level Maria [currently world number one] has. Maria's been out there for a decade now, and nothing is diverting her focus, not even what could have been a career-ending injury.

I go a little crazy over my garden My big indulgence is going to a nursery with my kids and buying lots of colourful flowers. I'll say to them, "Just one more flower," and they're like, "Mummy, you said that five minutes ago." I come back home with the truck filled with hydrangeas, roses, all sorts...

Tracy Austin, 49, was the youngest ever winner of the US Open, at 16, and became the world number one at the age of 18. She will be commentating for the BBC at this year's Wimbledon; coverage starts across the broadcaster's channels tomorrow