(Reuters) – Karen Krantzcke played tennis at a time when Australia was routinely producing the world’s best women’s players, but her premature death at the age of 31 cemented her legacy far beyond anything she achieved on court.
Krantzcke collapsed while jogging following victory in the doubles final of a tournament in Florida on April 11, 1977.
She had told organisers she had not built up enough of a sweat in the victory, so would collect her winner’s cheque after her run but collapsed about 200 metres from the venue and died shortly after arriving at hospital.
“There’s no telling what could have caused this,” Comer Cherry, a cardiologist who had been watching the tournament and tried to save the Australian, told media at the time.
“I tried cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. There was little I could do.”
Born in Brisbane in 1946, Krantzcke won the Australian Open junior title in 1966, but she reached the senior ranks at the same time Margaret Court was cutting a swathe through the women’s game.
She was also a contemporary of Judy Dalton and Kerry Melville Reid, while Evonne Goolagong was starting to make a name for herself on the rural courts of New South Wales.
Court, Dalton, Melville Reid and Goolagong have all been inducted into Tennis Australia’s Hall of Fame.
Standing 1.85m, Krantzcke was tall for the female players of the time and had an attacking, power-based game.
Given the company she kept, however, it was easy to see why she failed to cement herself amongst the world’s elite.
Her best years were between 1968-70 when she reached at least the quarter-finals of all four Grand Slams and a top-10 singles ranking.
She also won the Australian Open doubles title with Melville Reid in 1968 — her only senior Grand Slam win — and dominated the Fed Cup tournament on clay in West Germany in 1970 as she and Dalton combined for Australia’s fourth title.
Dalton, who was part of Billie Jean King’s breakaway group in 1970 that led to the establishment of the WTA Tour, told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2013 that Fed Cup victory had been her proudest achievement in tennis.
Krantzcke’s career, however, tracked downwards from there and a battle with illness necessitated an 18-month break.
She spent much of 1975-76 out of action with an arm injury and while she made the Australian Open semi-finals in early 1977 she died about three months later.
Her death prompted the WTA to name their annual sportsmanship award, voted for by the players, in her honour.
Goolagong was the first recipient in 1978.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Ossian Shine