Pity Ken Rosewall. Sixteen years ago he stood on Wimbledon's center court in the finals against Jaroslav Drobny, a 19-year-old boy against a Wimbledon favorite. Drobny won, a popular decision, and little sympathy was wasted on Rosewall. Surely he would have other opportunities. Two years later Rosewall reached the finals again and this time he lost to his doubles partner, Lew Hoad. When Rosewall turned pro, he became ineligible for Wimbledon and by the time open tennis arrived, Rod Laver had supplanted him as the best player in the world.
And yet last week, on a damp, humid afternoon, there was Ken Rosewall, now 35, back on center court and in the finals, back for perhaps his last try at the one major title he had never won. Across the net was John Newcombe, another Australian—this was the 10th All-Australian final in the last 15 years—a big, strong, good-looking 26-year-old with a crashing serve and volley and the stamina to run all day. It would be pleasant to report that little Ken, with his lightning backhand and delicate touch, cut the bigger man down, as almost everyone in London wanted him to do. In truth Newcombe won and it was not really close, that is if you can call a five-set match not close.
Rosewall won the first set by breaking Newcombe's big serve in the 11th game and then holding his own.
But for the next hour it was all Newcombe. Whenever Rosewall missed with his first serve, Newcombe would take the weak second one on his forehand, perhaps the strongest in tennis, and pin Rosewall back on his heels. Newcombe won the second and third sets 6-3, 6-2 and when he immediately broke Rosewall to start the fourth set, the rout appeared to be on. Rosewall looked exhausted, and he would seize the brief rest periods to sit at the base of the umpire chair, waiting until Newcombe took his position on the court before rising.
Losing 1-3, Rosewall fell behind love-30 on his serve and it seemed certain that Newcombe was about to apply the crusher. There then occurred one of the most remarkable reversals in Wimbledon history. Rosewall won four straight points to make it 2-3. He won four more on Newcombe's serve to even the set. Four more made it 12 straight points and 4-3 Rosewall. Again Rosewall broke Newcombe, held his own serve and won the set 6-3. From that black moment in the fifth game he had won 20 out of 23 points.
The applause around the stadium was, by Wimbledon's standards, enormous—but it was applause for a dying man. Newcombe may be young, but he does not shake up easily. Leading 2-1 in the fifth set, he broke Rosewall's serve and rattled off four more games in a row for the match. For Newcombe it was his second Wimbledon title—he won in 1967—while Rosewall had only the sad distinction of the most years between losses in the finals.
In women's singles, the title went to another Australian, Margaret Court, who survived a strained left ankle and a marathon final match with the only woman in the world fit to rally with her, Billie Jean King. The girls are old rivals. In 1962 they met in the first round—it was Miss Smith and Miss Moffitt then—and Billie Jean, an unknown, startled everyone by upsetting Margaret, who was seeded No. 1. In the years since then, Billie Jean had won three Wimbledon titles, Margaret two. This year Margaret had already won the Australian and French championships, so at Wimbledon she was seeking the third leg of the grand slam.
Wimbledon treasures its great matches and this year's Court-King battle has already been slashed away as a classic. To recount all the peaks and valleys is impossible, but it should be remembered that the girls were on center court for 2½ hours in a 14-12, 11-9 match that set all sorts of endurance records.
For most of the first week of Wimbledon it was a quiet tournament, with plenty of time for ice lollies in the tea garden. The crowds were enormous, lured by the sunny weather, and at the top of the day, which at Wimbledon is about 6 p.m., it was impossible to move along the pathways between the outside courts.
For the players the early days were much like a class reunion, for it is only at major championships such as Wimbledon and Forest Hills that all of them get together. Laver confided that this was the first time he had ever come to Wimbledon feeling on top of his game—a staggering thought-then went out and crushed young Butch Seewagen to open the tournament. Newcombe admitted his back was better than last year, when he had been forced to sleep on the floor of his London hotel room. "Bit embarrassing, you know," he said, "looking up to the wife to say goodnight."
It was on Saturday of the first week—middle Saturday, the British call it—that the tournament suddenly came alive. Laver, winner of four Wimbledon titles and 31 consecutive matches, took center court for his fourth-round test against Roger Taylor, a rugged lefthander from Yorkshire. Almost from the start it was clear that Laver was dramatically off form. In the first set Taylor was no better and he gave it away to the champion 6-4. But as Taylor watched Laver's first serve miss repeatedly and saw him hit shots low into the net or far wide of the lines, he realized he could win and his game improved. Nothing Laver did was right—a truly remarkable negative performance—and he dropped the next three sets, winning only seven games. At match point, with the capacity crowd hardly believing it and with thousands of people outside the stadium watching the electric scoreboard, Laver double-faulted away his title.
Less than an hour after Laver's defeat, America's third-seeded Arthur Ashe was on center court, his chances of winning the title now greatly increased. Against him was Andres Gimeno, a seasoned and underrated Spaniard, but not in Ashe's class on grass. When Ashe had heard about Laver, he had said to himself: "Just give me four more good matches." As it turned out, he didn't get even one. Playing with supreme casualness, which is his style, he went down without a gurgle in three straight sets.
Ashe's defeat capped a disastrous fourth round for U.S. players. Six of them had been among the last 16 in the tournament. After the round, only Clark Graebner remained. Ashe, Dennis Ralston, Stan Smith, Marty Riessen and young Tom Gorman, who had upset Cliff Drysdale to reach the fourth round, all lost, winning only three sets among them.
The second week of the tournament the weather changed, turning gray and cold. The London newspapers had a field day with Taylor, just as they had in 1967 when he had reached the semifinals. TAYLOR THE FANTASTIC was One headline. He was "the Sheffield steel-worker's son" and "full of true Yorkshire girt." His left arm was "a shining scimitar." Taylor made the semis again by rolling over Graebner, but Rosewall, who had reached the round by upsetting Tony Roche in one of the really good matches, beat him in four sets to "shatter the golden dream," as the papers screamed the next day.
Gimeno also reached the semifinals, beating unseeded Bob Carmichael, while Newcombe defeated Roy Emerson in five bitterly fought sets—another good match. Against Newcombe, Gimeno was tense and uncomfortable and he was never in contention.
So it was Rosewall against Newcombe and if sentiment counted it would have been Rosewall in straight sets. The BBC put Drobny and Hoad on television and both picked their former Wimbledon opponent to finally win one. So did Jack Kramer, who was acting as the BBC color man. When Rosewall rallied to win the fourth set, older newsmen in the press section, those who have seen every Wimbledon since Borotra and Lacoste were having at it, began warming to one of the epic stories. But John Newcombe wouldn't allow it. "It's not that I was unsympathetic," he said later. "But let's face it, I wanted to win, too." Then he turned to Rosewall, who was sitting beside him. "You're going to Bristol next week, aren't you? Good. You can win that."
NOW SEE HERE, MY DEAR
Good old Wimbledon worries about its image. There are those who still haven't recovered from the shock of that first pair of men's shorts nearly 40 years ago, even though they were white, and each year since, it seems, someone makes a new Hank attack on fashion. So, in 1970, here came Arthur Ashe in a cream-colored, high-collar tunic right out of Ben Casey, and then that regal Italian beauty, Lea Pericoli, showed up all covered with sequins, enough to give anybody the shivers, by George. But Lea didn't last beyond Mrs. Billie Jean King, naturally, and that left fresh young lovely Carol Kalogeropoulos, at right, who really shook the Establishment with—horrors—the first see-through tennis costume. True, the cut was sedate, even a bit on the midi side, but there was all that, well, all that sort of air of transparency about it. But Carol did not last, either. Tradition did. There will always be a Wimbledon. Until next year.