A WALTZ AT WIMBLEDON

Her name was not Matilda, but Evonne Goolagong, a lass from the Aussie Outback, had them singing her praises as she and her countryman, John Newcombe, won the most esteemed titles in tennis
July 11, 1971

When she came out from under the green enclosure beneath the royal box and strolled onto center court, she appeared to be smiling. Smiling. Now you just don't do that at Wimbledon, especially for the finals. When you play a match on that hallowed lawn the knees should turn to jelly and the elbow to stone; you are supposed to look humble and reverent and, above all, scared stiff. Margaret Court knows how to do it properly. She has won the championship three times but there she stands, looking scared stiff. So where does this 19-year-old kid, this Evonne Goolagong (see cover), get off waltzing out there as if she were about to play a practice match?

What she did to Mrs. Court when play began just isn't done either. This is the sort of thing that happened: Evonne would hit a short second serve—one of the few weaknesses in her game—and Margaret would move in, crack a deep return and continue confidently to the net, a winning position. But then Evonne would rifle a cross-court backhand, or forehand, an inch over the net and maybe an inch inside the line. Over and over again. She gave a vivid demonstration of how wide and how long a tennis court can be, and in the process she destroyed the defending champion 6-4, 6-1. On previous days she had beaten Nancy Richey Gunter 6-3, 6-2 and Billie Jean King 6-4, 6-4. Six straight sets from the reigning queens. So goodby, Nancy, goodby, Billie Jean, goodby, Margaret. And hello, Evonne.

Evonne Goolagong was hardly unknown before the tournament began (SI, Feb. 15). In fact she was seeded third, thanks to her spectacular improvement since last year's Wimbledon, where she was beaten in the second round. Early this year she barely lost to Mrs. Court in the finals of the Australian championship, beat her in the Tasmanian championships and last month beat her on clay in Paris to win the French championship. The world had learned that she was from the Australian Outback town of Barellan in New South Wales, that she was part aborigine, that she was one of eight children of a sheep shearer. When she was 10 she was spotted by Vic Edwards, a leading Australian tennis coach, who liked her movement on court. When she was 14 he made arrangements with her parents for Evonne to move in with him and his wife so that he could coach her daily.

Edwards had publicly predicted that Evonne would win at Wimbledon in 1974, but last month on a hunch he phoned his wife from Paris and told her to join him and Evonne in London. The family—for that is how they feel about one another—stayed in a flat, eating in, with Mrs. Edwards washing the dishes and Evonne drying. Before matches Edwards would watch Evonne warm up with Kim Warwick, a young Aussie, correct minor flaws and caution her about playing a "walkabout," his term for falling asleep on the court—a failing she has displayed in the past. Only once did Evonne do that at Wimbledon, losing a set—the only set she lost—to Lesley Hunt 1-6 before beating her 6-2, 6-1.

A moment after Evonne, the champion, had shaken hands with Margaret Court, she looked up to where the Edwardses were sitting, crinkled her nose and waved to them. Later she announced she would celebrate by "going to a disco." And what would the stern Vic Edwards say about that? "Tonight I have the right of way," Evonne answered. At 19, she may have the right of way in women's tennis for years.

The men's singles final the next day could have used a little of Evonne's artistry and stimulation. John Newcombe, the defending champion, and Stan Smith, a tall blond from Pasadena, engaged in Wimbledon's first all-mustache final. But the glamour seemed confined to the mustaches as they put on an exhibition of heavyweight slugging that for much of the time pushed the crowd to the brink of boredom. Boom went the serves, crash went the returns—long, wide, in the net. There were no memorable rallies; the average exchange was maybe three shots. Early on it was all Newcombe, but at 4-4 in the second set, having lost the first, Smith rallied bravely from 15-40 and suddenly started hitting shots that made Newcombe look bad. Perhaps Newcombe was overconfident—he has a walkabout way of his own. Smith won the second and third sets, and it seemed that the U.S. might have its first men's winner since Chuck McKinley in 1963.

But Newcombe is a fighter and a smart one. Just as Smith was winning a point to take a 3-2 lead in the fourth set, Newcombe fell heavily near the net in a futile try for the ball. Nor did he rise. The crowd grew silent. Smith approached apprehensively. At length Newcombe struggled to his feet, his right arm bent crazily as if broken in 10 places. Big joke. The crowd loved it and a certain mood was established, one that did not suit Smith. His concentration was never the same. The handsome Australian with his droopy Zapata mustache and his charming smile had captured the audience and the match.

Smith lost the next time he served, which cost him the fourth set. And at 2-2 in the fifth poor Stan pulled a total self-destruct, double-faulting twice in succession and then fluffing an easy volley. This can be disaster when Newcombe is on the other side of the net. The final score was 6-3, 5-7, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Although he did not really play well in the finals, Newcombe was brilliant for most of the two weeks, especially in the semifinals against Ken Rosewall. Little Ken had just won the match of the tournament, a five-setter against Cliff Richey chock-full of rallies, but Newcombe cut him down 6-1, 6-1, 6-3. This was the third Wimbledon singles title Newcombe has won, and it puts him in good company. The only players to win more than twice since World War I are Bill Tilden, Fred Perry and Rod Laver.

Rod Laver? Well, he was around for a while, and he did win his first doubles title with Roy Emerson, but for the third time in his last three major grass-court championships—Wimbledon, Forest Hills and Wimbledon again—Laver failed to reach the semis. The four-time champion and winner of $200,000 so far this year went out with a thud in the quarterfinals.

Even to those who were inspecting him closely for cracks, Laver seemed solid in his early matches. When he is going sour, Laver's serve usually offers up an early warning—wild with the first, not enough depth with the second. But at Wimbledon the serve seemed sharp enough. True, Ray Moore needed only to hold serve at 5-4 to take his match to a fifth set and Clark Graebner was twice serving to win sets, but each time Laver rallied with aplomb. When he beat the agile Tom Okker, winning 14 of 17 games at one stretch, all guns seemed to be firing. Okker might well be Laver's toughest opponent until the finals, some people thought, because look, who was he playing next? This fellow Gorman. American chap.

But it was the American chap who gave this Wimbledon what many felt was its most electric moments. At least insofar as the men were concerned.

Tom Gorman is 25, with dark wavy hair and eyes that sparkle like an Irishman's which he is in part. He is also a fine player when his back is right. In 1965 he hurt it trying to make a sensational catch in a touch football game and it has kept him out of the Army. It also may have prevented him from a crack at Newcombe's title.

When Gorman arrived in London he was remembered only as "that fellow who made it to the fourth round at both Wimbledon and Forest Hills last year." And that is no big deal. Nor did his upset of Laver at the Queen's Club Tournament the week before Wimbledon cause a great stir. After all, it was on boards and it was Queen's, not Wimbledon. But it meant something to Gorman. "I found out it was possible to beat him," he said.

The night before the match Gorman put in a call to Dennis Ralston and asked him for advice on how to play Laver. Ralston had beaten Laver at Forest Hills last year and is one of the best students of other players' games. The morning of the match the two of them met at the club to discuss strategy. In effect, Ralston told Gorman he should chip back Laver's service returns, that he should not slug the ball. "Laver plays so well off other people's power that it gets discouraging," Gorman says.

The day was gusty and chilly, and the wind seemed to help Gorman and bedevil Laver. Whereas Gorman's big top-spin serve was not bothered by the breezes, Laver had trouble controlling his own slice serve. Even so, Laver matched service with Gorman until 4-5, when six times he had a set point against him. Gorman tried a number of tactics, including belting the return, trying for an outright winner—"A stupid thing and the last time I tried it"—but Laver held on to make it 5-5. "No, that didn't discourage me," Gorman said later. "I felt there would be other chances."

And there were. Indeed, it was a one-sided match and if it had not been Rod Laver out there getting beaten it might have been routine. Gorman won in straight sets 9-7, 8-6, 6-3, the first time that has happened to Laver at Wimbledon since his 1959 final against Alex Olmedo. Laver never once broke Gorman's serve, and no one could remember when he had failed to do that. Moreover, only four times during the entire match did Laver have a break point.

Still, everyone kept waiting for an explosion. Late in the final set Gorman lunged for a volley and felt a sharp pain in his lower back. When the players changed courts at 5-2, Gorman dropped to the ground and began doing sit-ups, trying to get loose. When Laver served the next game, Gorman barely swung at the ball. Now it was 5-3, but Gorman won four points in a row and Laver was gone from Wimbledon.

Gorman was also gone, although no one realized it at the moment. In the dressing room he could not bend to pull off his shoes and socks, and three days later, despite heat treatments and massages, he was still in bad shape for his semifinal with Smith. The big blond drove him off the court 6-3, 8-6, 6-2.

Laver was not the only top name to exit sooner than expected. In an attempt to create more interesting early-round matches, Wimbledon seeded only eight players in the field of 128, a decision that was viewed with general disapproval by the leading players. And sure enough, several big names departed early. Tony Roche, a finalist at Forest Hills last September but plagued since with an assortment of aches, lost in the first round. Ilie Nastase went out in the second. Arthur Ashe lost to Marty Riessen, serenely as always. Win or lose, Arthur keeps it somewhere inside himself.

But then everyone had to lose sometime—the old players like Pancho Gonzales and Frank Sedgman and the promising youngsters like Jeff Borowiak of California and Byron Bertram of South Africa. Everyone, that is, except John Newcombe. It would have been pleasant to have seen a showdown between Newcombe and Laver, who definitely stand apart, yet seem to meet so seldom. It's good to win anytime, but it's even better when you beat the best. Just ask Evonne about that.

FOUR PHOTOSGERRY CRANHAMWimbledon time is gala time. The strawberries are ripe, the girls riper; Evonne holds her plate, and Margaret fails to hold court. FIVE PHOTOSGERRY CRANHAMIt is easy to spot a winner after the fact. Thus John Newcombe smiles, Ken Rosewall falls, Stan Smith is tense, Rod Laver is a defused Rocket and Tom Gorman is in a sweat.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)