It is a custom with Australian tennis players to engage from time to time in a ritual known as a beer-drinking relay race, the stein being passed from one man to another, each quaffing in turn. It is also an old Aussie custom to pass around the world's top tennis titles. Roy Emerson, currently the senior member of the relay team, had earlier this year won the Australian and French titles, but last week at Wimbledon he passed the stein to John Newcombe, a good-looking, husky 23-year-old. In a tournament riddled with upsets in the men's division—six of the eight seeded players failed to make the quarter-finals—Newcombe overpowered West Germany's Willy Bungert in the final 6-3, 6-1, 6-1 and gave every indication that it may be some time before he himself is ready to relinquish the stein to his younger countrymen.
In the women's division, Billie Jean King successfully defended her title without losing a single set, beating England's Ann Haydon Jones in the final. Not satisfied with that, Billie Jean also won the women's doubles with little Rosemary Casals and the mixed doubles with Australia's Owen Davidson, the first such sweep in 16 years. U.S. tennis prestige may be dragging, but not as far as the girls are concerned. Four Americans made it to the quarter-finals, three to the semis. Two youngsters, Kathy Harter and Mary Ann Eisel, displayed particular promise with surprise performances. Miss Harter, who is 20 and ranked only 15th in this country, upset Australia's Lesley Turner before losing to Billie Jean in the semis. Miss Eisel, a 20-year-old blonde, knocked fifth-seeded Nancy Richey out of the tournament, then came within a few strokes of making it four out of four for the U.S. in the semifinals before losing to Mrs. Jones.
Good as these two young ladies looked at Wimbledon—and both of them are good to look at—it was once again Rosie Casals, that sprightly Minnie Mouse in sneakers, who showed she is the biggest threat to Mrs. King's supremacy. Rosie reached the semifinals, too, beating three-time Wimbledon champion Maria Bueno on the way and playing all her matches to the theme It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To. As soon as Rosie hits the court she feels she must smash every shot, run every step, dance every dance, win every heart and steal every show. Such an all-out approach is her downfall, no matter how appealing—the British loved her—and as soon as she learns a bit of moderation, she will be really serious competition for her friend Billie Jean.
This was a special Wimbledon in many ways. The weather was excellent, the upsets unusual and the crowds the largest ever—more than 300,000. There is no telling how large the figure might have been had the accommodations permitted more. Besides, all three networks televised the action, and most nights there were reruns of the play and critiques of it in color on prime time. The day before the men's semifinals Mrs. Elsie Lee, a housewife from Cheam, England headed a queue for 19 hours, hoping for a standing-room ticket. For the finals, the line formed 26 hours in advance. Tickets were scalped for as high as ¬£25, with scalpers operating right outside the gates as genial bobbies looked the other way.
The British were understandably effusive in support of the home players. Mrs. Jones was the first British woman to make it to the finals since 1961. Roger Taylor, a husky British left-hander, got to the semis, and for a few moments England dreamed of its first men's title since Fred Perry won in 1936. Memories of Perry and his golden years are forever being recalled during Wimbledon, yet curiously, when the man himself strolls the grounds, drawing on an unlit pipe, he goes virtually unnoticed. Most of the kids, scratching for autographs, swarm about journeymen players like Bobby Wilson. Perry just looks on, amused.
The first of this year's rash of upsets occurred in the opening round when, for the only time in the history of the tournament, the defending champion was defeated. Manuel Santana was beaten by Charlie Pasarell, thus regaining for the U.S. a measure of satisfaction after the Davis Cup team's massacre in Ecuador a week before. In fact, it seemed that in the early days of the tournament all of the American men, none of whom were seeded, were charged up and ready for revenge. Cliff Richey whipped Tony Roche of Australia, the fourth seed. Marty Riessen beat seventh-seeded Jan Leschly of Denmark. Riessen's doubles partner, Clark Graebner, knocked out Edison Mandarino, the Brazilian who helped beat the U.S. Davis Cup team last year.
Then, abruptly, the party ended. Richey, fatigued after his five-set match with Roche the day before, lost to a young Australian named Ray Ruffels. Riessen was beaten by another young Aussie, John Cooper, brother of former Wimbledon champion Ashley Cooper. Graebner was put out in straight sets by Newcombe and, finally, Pasarell went out to Thomas Koch of Brazil in the fourth round. Exit U.S.
Meanwhile the upsets continued. Emerson, who was trying for the Grand Slam, lost in the fourth round to Nicki Pilic of Yugoslavia. Fifth-seeded Cliff Drysdale was beaten by Roger Taylor. And Bill Bowrey of Australia, the eighth seed, lost to Bobby Wilson.
In the eye of this storm Willy Bungert moved calmly ahead, winning mainly because seeded players kept losing before he had to play them. Unlike most Wimbledon players, who stay in the elite of London hostelry, Bungert had chosen a small hotel near Putney Bridge named The Star and Garter. Likewise forsaking the tournament's lavish limousine service, he simply took the public bus every morning and stood in the crowd, unnoticed, till the gates opened. After the first couple of rounds he also took the precaution every morning of packing and checking out of his lodgings.
A few years ago Bungert was a high-ranking, if unspectacular, world player. In 1963 and 1964, in fact, he reached the semifinals at Wimbledon. But now, at 28, he is married, expecting his first child in August and running a successful sporting goods firm in Dusseldorf. He may truly be described as an amateur. He played most of one of his early-round matches barefoot. Out of shape, he decided that his only chance to win was to run only when he had to. After he had beaten Taylor in the semifinals, the Englishman said: "At any stage of the match I'd look down and he'd just be standing there, really." Bungert made the finals tired, unseeded and without having met a seed, losing nine sets and 46% of the games he played. By his own blithe count he committed more than 100 double faults.
The Bungert-Taylor semifinal, a five-set battle, proved to be one of the most exciting of the tournament. Taylor, the son of a Sheffield steelworker, is a distant, independent and even brooding young man, characteristics generously attributed to all Yorkshiremen. He is also so handsome—a chiseled, dark face with sideburns—that every time he loses a match he is accused of neglecting tennis for girls. As he won match after match at Wimbledon, where players are treated like film stars, Taylor's good looks for once served him well. The mystique of Wimbledon involves not just the play but the private lives of the players. The young girls in attendance far outnumber the boys. There is a certain Beatlemania—totally unknown to U.S. tennis—which is mixed heavily with the tradition and the strawberries and cream in the garden buffet. Thus, speculation of Taylor's alleged romance with his mixed-doubles partner, Frances MacLennan, held, along with Cliff Drysdale's surprise marriage, front-page space in the interim between the Rolling Stones' pot trial and the knighting of Sir Francis Chichester.
While the two improbable semifinalists, Bungert and Taylor, were moving through the upper half of the draw, John Newcombe was blasting his way through the lower. He lost one set to Stan Smith, the U.S.'s most promising young player, in the third round, and one in the semis to Nicki Pilic, an expressive, underrated Yugoslav. But he won the match rather easily—it was one of those abysmally boring serve-and-volley exercises that Australians always win—to put himself in the finals and avenge his leader, Emerson.
Before the final, Bungert lost his head and asked to have his dress suit shipped from home. In the event that he beat Newcombe, he would need the suit to wear to the Saturday night ball when he gave his victory speech. Watched kettles never boil. Poor, tired Willy played miserably as the powerful Newcombe ripped him to shreds in little more than an hour.
Billie Jean had more trouble in her final than Newcombe did, but not much. She started the day saddened and subdued. The afternoon before, while watching her semifinal doubles match, her coach of many years, Frank Brennan, had collapsed with a coronary thrombosis. Billie Jean rushed to the hospital with her husband Larry, a law student at Berkeley, as soon as she left the court. But somehow she remained competitively attuned, however disheartened, and the next day beat Mrs. Jones 6-3, 6-4 with only one loss of her service. It was a predictable contest of Billie Jean's power over Ann's tenacity. Mrs. King made all the points and all the errors, for when Mrs. Jones found it impossible to penetrate early in the match, she was forced to content herself with staying in the backcourt and retrieving. Indeed, she hit only five volleys during the entire match, a number Billie Jean equaled in many games. Ann had her chances—13 points for a game break before she finally won one—but Billie Jean was too fast and too strong on the firm grass.
With this second Wimbledon title Billie Jean now envisions the greater horizon of the Grand Slam, even if that does mean extended separations from Larry. "Oh, well," she sighs, in the wonderful perspective she has always possessed and which seems to appeal particularly to the British, "Larry and I seem to accomplish our separate goals better apart. He'll probably get all A's if I try it." She must also conter d with a serious intestinal inflammation which she suffered last fall, and which she believes "will force me to watch my diet for the rest of my life." The diet is very restricted and requires fattening starches, of all things, to be the monotonous staples. "Oh, and will you look at these little chubbies already," she cries, squeezing her legs.
Chubbies or not, Billie Jean looked her apple-pie best as she shared the traditional first dance that night with John Newcombe. After he had beaten Bungert and had accepted his silver trophy from the Duchess of Kent, Newcombe fought his way to the men's locker room where he was joined by Roy Emerson. There, in relative privacy, the old leader and the new champion split a beer.