Austin possessed a solid baseline game with a strong forehand and reliable two-fisted backhand. She struck the ball deep, with substantial pace (given the wooden racquet era of her prime), and with pinpoint accuracy, hitting on or near the lines. Often this aspect of her game has overshadowed her solid net game which resulted in a Wimbledon mixed doubles title with her brother John. Austin's first serve was a mid-paced high percentage shot that functioned well on all playing surfaces, and although her second serve has been described as lacking penetration, she rarely double faulted.
Austin turned professional in October 1978. That same month, she won her first professional singles title, defeating Betty Stöve in the final of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Filderstadt, West Germany.
Austin defeated 35-year-old Billie Jean King in the quarterfinals of the 1979 Wimbledon Championships before losing to Martina Navratilova in straight sets in the semifinals. Austin then became the youngest ever US Open champion, aged 16 years and 9 months, by defeating Navratilova in the semifinals and Chris Evert in the final. Evert had been attempting to win the title for the fifth consecutive year. Earlier that year, Austin ended Evert's 125-match winning streak on clay by beating her 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 in a semifinal of the Italian Open. The Associated Press named Austin its Female Athlete of the Year for 1979.
Austin lost in the semifinals of both Grand Slam tournaments she played in 1980. Evonne Goolagong Cawley, seeded fourth and the eventual champion, defeated Austin at the Wimbledon Championships. As the top seed and defending champion at the US Open, Austin was expected to extend her five-match winning streak against third-ranked Evert. Austin took a 4–0 lead in the first set before Evert won 16 of the final 20 games to win the match. Evert went on to beat Hana Mandlíková in the final, thus securing for herself the year-ending World No. 1 ranking. Austin was ranked the World No. 1 singles player in 1980 for two weeks (April 7–20) and then for nineteen weeks (July 7-November 17), partly because she captured the two sponsors' tour-ending events. Austin defeated Navratilova to win the Avon Championships in March and Andrea Jaeger to capture the 1980 Colgate Series Championships in January 1981. In 1980, Austin won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title with her brother John, becoming the first brother and sister team ever to win a Grand Slam title together.
During the first four months of 1981, Austin played only two events because of chronic injuries. On grass, she won the BMW Championships in Eastbourne, United Kingdom without losing a set before Pam Shriver beat her in a Wimbledon quarterfinal. Austin then won 26 consecutive matches and four consecutive tournaments. She defeated Shriver in the final of the Wells Fargo Open in San Diego and, three weeks later, she beat both Navratilova and Evert in straight sets to win the Canadian Open in Toronto. As the third-seeded player at the US Open, Austin defeated fourth-seeded Navratilova in the final. Navratilova, however, ended Austin's winning streak in the final of the U.S. Indoor Championships. In Europe during the autumn, Austin lost to Sue Barker in the quarterfinals of the Brighton International in Brighton, United Kingdom, but recovered the following week to defeat Navratilova in the final of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, West Germany. At the final Grand Slam tournament of the year, Austin was seeded second but lost to sixth-seeded Shriver in the Australian Open quarterfinals. The 1981 year-ending Toyota Series Championships featured two matches against Evert and one against Navratilova. Evert won her round robin match with Austin, before Austin defeated Evert in their semifinal. Austin then won the tournament with a three-set defeat of Navratilova. The Associated Press named Austin its 1981 Female Athlete of the Year for the second time.
Austin was the first opponent of Steffi Graf when the German made her professional debut at the 1982 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart. Austin defeated the 13-year-old Graf 6-4, 6-0.
Back injuries and recurring sciatica then began to impair Austin's effectiveness and sidelined her for long stretches. Billie Jean King, seeded twelfth, upset third-seeded Austin in the 1982 Wimbledon quarterfinals. Several weeks later, however, Austin won her 30th and final top-level singles title in San Diego. Austin had a good showing at the 1982 season-ending Toyota Series Championships where she defeated Jaeger, the World No. 3, in straight sets to reach the semifinals. However, she was unable to repeat 1981's victory over Evert, who double bageled her in the semifinals.
In 1983, she was the runner-up at the Family Circle Cup, losing the final to Navratilova in three sets. She also reached the quarterfinals of the French Open. But by the end of 1983, before her 21st birthday, Austin was essentially finished as a top ten player.
Austin began her first comeback on the tour in 1988, when she played in seven doubles tournaments, and in 1989, when she played in one doubles and two singles tournaments. A highlight of this comeback included a semifinal showing in the 1988 US Open mixed doubles with partner Ken Flach. This comeback was ended by a near-fatal motor vehicle accident on August 3, 1989.
In 1992, Austin became the youngest person to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, at the age of 29.
She attempted a second comeback in 1993 and 1994 but was not particularly successful. In 1993, Austin upset Renee Stubbs and Katerina Maleeva at the Evert Cup in Indian Wells, California where she reached the round of 16. At the WTA Manhattan Beach event she upset both Gigi Fernández and Elena Likhovtseva before losing to Gabriela Sabatini in the round of 16. The wins over Maleeva, Fernandez, and Likhovtseva began a buzz that Austin might become at least a top twenty player again. However, in 1994, her results were not as promising and at the Evert Cup in Indian Wells, California, Austin lost in the second round in two bagel sets to Steffi Graf, and Austin soon retired in June 1994.
Austin's older sister, Pam, and her older brother, Jeff, were also professional tennis players, as were brothers Doug and John. She is the sister-in-law of fitness author Denise Austin. She is married to Scott Holt and is the mother of three sons, Sean, Brandon, and Dylan.
As a child, Austin lived next door to Air Force Colonel Keith Lindell, who was responsible for the training of the original seven Project Mercury astronauts.
Since retiring as a player, Austin has worked as a commentator for NBC and the USA Network for the French Open and the US Open. She worked for the Seven Network, who broadcast the Australian Open and usually participates in the BBC's Wimbledon coverage. She began working for Tennis Channel in 2010 and joined their US Open team and later their Australian Open team in 2012. Austin has also worked for Canadian television for their coverage of the Rogers Cup since 2004.
Austin is the focus of David Foster Wallace's "How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart" (1992).
SR = the ratio of the number of Grand Slam singles tournaments won to the number of those tournaments played.
Note: The Australian Open was held twice in 1977, in January and December.