(Reuters) – Karen Krantzcke played tennis at a time when Australia routinely produced the best players in the world, but her untimely death at the age of 31 cemented her legacy far beyond anything she could achieve on the court.
Krantzcke collapsed while jogging after winning the double finals of a tournament in Florida on April 11, 1977.
She had told the organizers that when she won, she hadn’t sweated enough to collect her winner’s check after her run, but collapsed about 200 meters from the venue and died shortly after arriving at the hospital.
“There is no telling what could have caused this,” said Comer Cherry, a cardiologist who had watched the tournament and tried to save the Australian, the media at the time.
“I tried cardiopulmonary resuscitation. There was little I could do.”
Krantzcke was born in Brisbane in 1946 and won the Australian Open junior title in 1966. At the same time, she reached the senior ranks when Margaret Court broke through the women’s game.
She was also a contemporary of Judy Dalton and Kerry Melville Reid, while Evonne Goolagong made a name for herself in the rural courts of New South Wales.
Court, Dalton, Melville Reid and Goolagong have all been inducted into the Tennis Australia Hall of Fame.
Krantzcke was 1.85 m tall for the players at that time and had an offensive, force-based game.
Given the society she was leading, however, it was easy to see why she was not consolidating in the world’s elite.
Her best years were between 1968 and 1970 when she reached at least the quarter-finals of all four Grand Slams and a top 10 individual ranking.
She won the Australian Open double title with Melville Reid in 1968 – her only Grand Slam victory for seniors – and dominated the Fed Cup tournament on clay in West Germany in 1970 when she and Dalton won Australia’s fourth title together.
Dalton, who was part of the Billie Jean King runaway group that led to the founding of the WTA Tour in 1970, told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2013 that the Fed Cup win was her proudest achievement in tennis.
However, Krantzcke’s career went down from there, and fighting the disease required an 18-month hiatus.
She spent much of the years 1975 to 1976 with an arm injury out of action and when she reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open in early 1977, she died about three months later.
Her death prompted the WTA to honor the annual sports award the players voted for in her honor.
Goolagong was the first recipient in 1978.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; editing by Ossian Shine)