Mae'n bleser cael y tenis yna yng Nhogledd Cymru," Mr. Gordon Griffiths from the Isle of Anglesey announced expansively at the start of the matches at Deeside Leisure Centre. For the benefit of any illiterate Saes—that is, Englishmen—who happened to be around, he added, "It's great to have this class of tennis here in North Wales." Outside the center what the Liverpool Daily Post reckoned as the worst fog to hit Britain for almost a decade was being rapidly dispersed by a determined-looking blizzard and agonized messages kept pouring in. Please stop them parking on the hockey pitch; it's beginning to flood. We must have printed too many tickets for section 10; can they sit in the aisles? But Mr. Griffiths' euphoria, and the euphoria of every Welshman at Deeside, remained undiminished. Two years of plotting and planning had come to fruition: World Championship of Tennis was holding its first European tournament of the season right there in the tiny Welsh county of Flintshire.
Well, the first part of it, anyway. The fancy second part and the finals would be in London. But Ken Rosewall, Arthur Ashe, Fred Stolle and company would fight out the preliminary rounds at a sports center built by the Hawarden Rural District Council to serve an area of 50 square miles and a population of 40,000. At Deeside last week the quickest way to instant unpopularity was by unguardedly referring to the venue as Chester. Certainly the players, the press and officials from the sponsors, Rothmans, the tobacco company, were all based in the English city on the wrong side of the River Dee, with its Roman wall built to keep the cattle-stealing Welsh from the lush plains of Cheshire. But just a mile or so through Chester's suburbs you come on a sign—"Croeso i'r Cymru" it says, "Welcome to Wales." It is Wales right enough, and within 10 miles of Chester you can hear the old language spoken in the streets.
Understandably this was all a little bewildering for WCT players who are perhaps more used to playing in Dallas, Rome and London. Arthur Ashe, though, had at least heard of Wales. "What I was really hoping to do up here," he said, "was go down a coal mine. Isn't Wales all coal mines?" It would probably be sound policy for the Welsh tourist board to buy up and destroy all available prints of How Green Was My Valley. Meanwhile Ashe, Marty Riessen and Tom Okker had to settle for a stroll along the road, where the shops are perched high over the traffic and you walk along an open gallery at first-floor height. "I'm going antique crazy," said Ashe, forgetting the coal mines for a moment and diving into a shop that sold Georgian silver, grandfather clocks and what could have been Hepplewhite chairs.
Back at the Leisure Centre preparations were going ahead for the first day's play, supervised by Mike Evans, a 36-year-old Welshman from Cardiff who came to Deeside two years ago, an ex-pro tennis coach who from the very start worked toward getting Rothmans and WCT to North Wales. At Hoylake he had met Geoff Rust of Rothmans and forcefully put his case based on the great popularity of tennis in the area (Hoy-lake, just over the border in Cheshire, runs its tennis right after Wimbledon). "It was a hell of a risk for them to come outside London," Evans says, "and they were pretty skeptical at first, but I sold ¬£1,000 worth of tickets before any publicity went out at all."
January 29, 1973
There was no need at all for Evans to be ashamed of his Leisure Centre. Eventually there will be four floodlit tennis courts, four squash courts, an ice rink, a solarium and a banquet hall, which only goes to show how cattle raiders can change their life-style. Last week's tournament was played on a new Supreme-Court surface. All the facilities were fine, said a somewhat surprised Marty Riessen. The players had been worried about traveling into the Welsh wilderness but the lighting and the court turned out to be first class.
There was an endearing amateurishness about other facilities, though. "I've lost me teapot," screamed a local lady who had been hurriedly drafted to man the cafeteria. When asked for a cup of tea she said, "No matches, luv. You'll have to wait till the bar opens."
Most of the fans were a little bewildered at first, clapping at every rally, laughing nervously at mild shows of temper from the stars like hosts who are embarrassed by the behavior of their guests but who aren't going to show it. And they were a lot less partisan than a Wimbledon crowd, even when British players like Roger Taylor and Graham Stilwell were eliminated.
The crowd thinned out a bit on Saturday, the last day of the semi-tournament. After all, the England-Wales rugby match was on television that afternoon and in Wales first things must come first. By urgent popular demand a color telly was installed in the lounge high above the court so that everyone could watch the ritual clobbering of England (25-9, it was this time). Below and unregarded, Mark Cox was achieving the only significant English victory of the day by beating Vladimir Zednik of Czechoslovakia.