Almanac Tennis: The last Aussie champ

With the defeat of Ash Barty this afternoon, the now perennial question remains in play. Who was the last Australian to win a singles title at the Australian Open?


You would need to be a tennis buff to remember the answer.


For the record, the year was 1978. The winner was Newcastle’s own Chris O’Neil. Chris defeated Betsy Nagelsen of the USA 6-3, 7-6.


This was Chris’ only Grand Slam victory in a career that eventually boasted the modest win/loss record of 19-52. Chris’ highest career ranking was 80. Chris was the first unseeded player to ever win the Open. It would take until 2007 for that feat to be equaled by Serena Williams.


These were the days when the Australian Open could only offer small prizemoney. For her victory, Chris took home $32,000. To put things in context, this year’s winner takes home $2.75 million.


As a consequence of the small prizemoney, many of the top international players often didn’t fly down to Australia to compete in the Open. The top women’s seed in 1978 was England’s Sue Barker, who lost in a quarter-final to Australia’s Diane Evers. Chris O’Neil defeated Evers in the semi-final.


Unfortunately, no footage of Chris’ victory has been uploaded to YouTube. Perhaps there is a chance for the rights holder to fix that?


Interestingly, complete footage of the men’s final has been uploaded. You can form your own conclusions about this situation.


As the now 43 years since have shown, it is no easy thing to win your own national championship, whatever the field.


We salute the effort of Chris O’Neil in 1978.




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  1. That same tournament saw Australia’s John Marks ride his luck to make the final against Argentina’s Guillermo Vilas. Vilas proved too strong.

    Marks is just one of the Australian males including Kim Warwick, Pat Cash,Lleyton Hewitt to reach the final but not be able to win it since early 1976.

    Gee Whizz, Eddo’s ‘moment in the sun’, is a long way back.

    Always next year.


  2. I have long held the belief that the Australian Open is the hardest Grand Slam title to win for any top Australian female or Australian male player to win, especially if you are one of the favourites to win that tournament.

    I believe this is due to the pressure and expectations on an Australian player to win at home.

    Pat Cash was the closest to win the Australian Open since Mark Edmondson, when Cash lost to Wilander 8-6 in the 5th set in 1988 and Wilander was ranked higher at the time.

    Lleyton Hewitt had the added pressure of being favourite to beat Marat Safin the 2005 Australian Open, so the public expectations were higher.

    Kim Warwick and John Marks basically made Australian Open finals as underdogs, which helped them to reach those finals without the expectations of the Australian public.

    Mark Edmondson, like Chris O’Neill, won their Australian Opens as underdogs, which meant they weren’t expected by the Australian public to win those Australian Opens.

    John Newcombe won the 1975 Australian Open against Jimmy Connors, when Jimmy Connors was ranked higher than Newcombe, so Connors was the favourite to win, putting less public expectation on Newk.

    Even overseas, Sam Stosur won the US Open as the underdog to Serena Williams in 2011.

    Pat Rafter won 2 US Opens in a row in 1997 and 1998 when he wasn’t among the favourites to win those tournaments.

    When Lleyton Hewitt won the US Open against Pete Sampras in 2001, he was the underdog.

    Although Hewitt won Wimbledon in 2002, he wasn’t among the pre Wimbledon favourites to win that tournament on grass.

    Barty wasn’t among the pre tournament favourites to win the French Open in 2019 but she did win that tournament but couldn’t win the Australian Open in 2020 and 2021 as one of the pre Australian Open favourites in both of those years.

    Pat Cash won Wimbledon in 1987 but had to beat higher ranked players in Wilander, Connors and Lendl to win the tournament, so there was less public expectation.

    In theory, for Australians, it should be easier to win if you are the favourite instead of the underdog because of the quality of your opponents, but it turns out to be the opposite in many cases, because of the public expectations if you’re a favourite or the lack of public expectations if you’re an underdog.

  3. Philip Mendes says

    I was a ball boy that year at Kooyong, and we were kindly given a prime position on the side of the court to watch both the womens and mens singles finals. I was lucky enough to actually ball boy the Womens Doubles Final which featured the dazzling Renata Tomanova.

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