You remember John Newcombe, surely. That handsome chap from Sydney whose serve and forehand volley could pierce armor plate? He played the Davis Cup Challenge Round for Australia at age 19 and went on to win a Forest Hills and three Wimbledons, but he has been semiretired from tennis lately, busy turning himself into a conglomerate: helping run a tennis ranch down in Texas that is about to branch out all over the Southwest, organizing an autumn tour of the Far East, even planning to act in a tennis mystery movie, Game, Set, Murder, in which he will die in mid-serve in the first scene. He has played in only nine tournaments this year, winning the Australian Open, which does not mean much anymore, and losing his first matches at the French and Italian Opens. During the U.S. Open at Forest Hills last week one newspaper even called him a "relic."
Some relic. John Newcombe is only 29, nine years younger than Ken Rosewall and only three years older than Stan Smith. When he sets his mind to it, and has enough preliminary tournaments under his belt, he can still look like the best tennis player in the world. He proved that last Sunday at Forest Hills, beating the amazingly quick Wimbledon champion, Jan Kodes, in a tough, very good five-set final and winning the $25,000 first prize and a new car.
Newk's triumph was only one of many for Australia over the weekend. In an all-Aussie women's final, Margaret Court won her fifth Forest Hills championship by beating Evonne Goolagong. Newk and countryman Owen Davidson won the men's doubles. Court and Great Britain's Virginia Wade took the women's doubles, and Davidson took the mixed doubles with Billie Jean King. About the only things Americans could be happy about were the facts that this was probably the last Forest Hills to be played on grass (it was as lumpy and pitted as ever and will be replaced by a synthetic surface next year) and that the event was smoothly run and a resounding financial success: the 12-day attendance was a record 137,488 and the tournament grossed more than $1 million.
For the first seven days Forest Hills was a giant steam bath, plagued by 90°-plus heat and a sweaty, tropical humidity that even wilted the red plastic geraniums lining either side of center court. The only comfortable people on the grounds seemed to be two Indians, the strikingly dark Amritraj brothers, Vijay and Anand, who come from Madras on the Bay of Bengal, in the same latitude as the Sudan, Nicaragua and Hades. Everyone else at the West Side Tennis Club was moaning and melting:
September 16, 1973
•Ilie Nastase won in straight sets the first round and walked off the court gasping. "I could not breathe out there," he complained. He was upset in the second round and left, forsaking his doubles partner.
•Evonne Goolagong, part Australian aborigine, said after one match, "I feel like I've just gone through a sauna."
•Mlle.—or whatever the French equivalent of Ms. is—Fran√ßoise Durr was leading Sally Greer when she had to default in the second set because of heat prostration. Durr was reared in Algeria, which is not exactly snow country.
•Patrick Proisy had to retire in the second set against Stan Smith, though Smith was about to retire him anyway.
Finally, the heat and humidity claimed one more victim, an important one, Billie Jean King.
The Wimbledon heroine and defending Forest Hills champion had strengthened her injured knee (hurt in a recent New Jersey tournament) by lifting weights, and she seemed as fit as ever, ready to justify her top seeding and charge into the final against second-seeded Court, another confrontation between the two best women players in the world. They had met in the final at Forest Hills once and at Wimbledon twice, Court winning each time. King intended to change that situation.
For a while all was well. She raced past Peggy Michel and Karen Krantzcke in straight sets and then met Julie Heldman, to whom she had lost only twice in innumerable encounters. Curiously, the match was scheduled for Court 22 out in the boondocks. Well, actually, in front of the clubhouse terrace, where the members can sit, relax, sip their drinks and watch such matches as Isabel Fernandez versus Kathy May. King seemed miffed throughout the match, perhaps because the court was no smoother than a rock garden or perhaps because she felt she should be about 300 yards away, in the Stadium. Nonetheless, she beat Heldman 6-3 in the first set and was leading 4-1 in the second when she became ill, suffering from chills, feeling faint and moving no better than a statue. Heldman won five games in a row to take the second set 6-4 and was leading 4-1 in the third when King quit.
Knowing Billie Jean was in bad shape, Heldman asked the umpire if the one-minute rest period was up. She was not going to permit her opponent any more time than the rules allowed.
"O.K.," said King. "If you want it that badly, you can have it."
The tournament doctor examined King and reported that she had been battling a cold and taking penicillin. In addition, she had not taken enough salt tablets. Defaulting was the best thing she could have done, he said.
"I started getting goose bumps," King said later. "I couldn't see the ball. I couldn't react. I did the best I could. I was just hoping I could do better."
Everybody had figured that King, Court, Goolagong and Chris Evert would reach the semis, but King's departure left a vacancy and it was surprisingly filled by Helga Masthoff of West Germany, a tall, delicate woman who serves off one leg like a flamingo and whose strokes would not dent a cream puff. One could picture her on the cover of Vogue but never World Tennis. Goolagong was lucky enough to have Masthoff in her half of the draw and battered her 6-1 in the first set. But Masthoff grew on the spectators with her accurate pit-a-pats, gained confidence and actually forced Goolagong to go three sets before Evonne won 6-4 in the third.
Court, who had beaten Great Britain's Virginia Wade in two tie-breaker sets in the quarterfinals, drew Evert in the semis, just as she had at Wimbledon, where Evert beat her in three sets. Although no longer the crowd's cute little Chrissie of two years ago, Evert is still a bit of an ingenue at 18, still gets a Stadium court assignment for almost every match and still, as she admits, has a lot to learn, namely how to volley effectively and hit overheads. Court won 7-5, 2-6, 6-2, Evert's third-straight loss in the Forest Hills semis.
"When Margaret comes to net, she's so tough to get past," said Evert.
In the final on Saturday, Goolagong gave Margaret a good battle for two sets despite her weak second serve, losing the first in a tie breaker 7-6, winning the second 7-5. But Court broke her first serve in the third set and won rather handily 6-2.
Last year Billie Jean King received only $10,000 for winning the women's title, as opposed to Nastase's $25,000, but this year the people who make Ban deodorant donated $55,000 to make the female prize pool equal, even though the women play three sets instead of five and have only half as large a draw to get through. So for her victory Court earned a whopping $25,000 and a new car, the same as Newcombe. She now has won $157,400 in prize money in 1973 and seems eminently capable of passing the $200,000 mark before Christmas. If she does not earn another penny, she already has enjoyed the most lucrative year in the history of women's sports, a thought that must soothe her when she thinks of Bobby Riggs.
Court insists she is not a true Women's Libber, but, as King points out, she certainly is. After all, she has a job and her husband does not. She travels the tennis circuit with Barry, a former wool broker and yachtsman in Perth, and their son Danny. Someday—she will not say when—they are going to return home and buy the whole west coast of Australia.
On the men's side of the program youth was the byword in the early rounds. Seventeen-year-old Bj√∂rn Borg, the handsome, blond Swede who had every teeny-bopper in Britain in love with him during Wimbledon, upset veteran Arthur Ashe in four sets in the third round, then fell to Nikki Pilic. The younger and better of the two Amritraj brothers, 19-year-old Vijay, who improved his game considerably by spending a week taking lessons from Pancho Gonzales in Las Vegas last October, upset Rod Laver in a tough Stadium five-setter, then breezed past Aussie Allan Stone before losing to Ken Rosewall in the quarterfinals.
America had a good youthful entry, too, in 21-year-old Jimmy Connors, another one of Pancho's pupils, who reached the quarters before losing in straight sets to Newcombe. But it was Amritraj who drew the rave review of the tournament.
"He needs about 10% more effort on his physical movement," said Gonzales. "If he had that, and could improve his second serve, he could be a great, great champion. He's the hardest hitter off ground strokes since Don Budge, and has the same style."
But when the tournament got down to the semis, bad grass or no, youth movement or no, the four who remained were seasoned pros: Newcombe, Rosewall, Kodes and Stan Smith. Newk's serve was too much for Rosewall, who at 38 may have taken his last serious fling at Forest Hills, but Kodes' battle with Smith was probably the best match of the 12 days.
Kodes—for years it has been hard to resist calling him the Bouncing Czech—won a tough first set 7-5 and led 4-0 in the second, but Smith broke back twice in a row. Smith is usually a slow starter and now his fans relaxed, figuring he was warmed up and ready to roll. But it was no time for anybody to relax.
The set went to 6-6 and into the nine-point tie breaker. At four points apiece, Smith served for the set. Kodes returned and, after a short rally, put a forehand into the net. Fine, except that Kodes believed Smith's serve had been three or four inches out. Kodes yelled at the service linesman, who wouldn't change the call. He yelled at the umpire, who wouldn't remove the linesman, and he yelled at the tournament referee, to no avail. Then, with an expert technique acquired as a fine junior soccer player in Czechoslovakia, he kicked over his chair.
Kodes had lost all concentration and Smith blew him out in the third set 6-1. Then Smith let up and Kodes blew him out in the fourth 6-1.
The final set, played in the gloom of evening, was more like the first two. In the 10th game, leading 5-4, Smith had a match point but could not capitalize on it. It was really too dark to play tennis, but neither man wanted to have to finish Sunday morning and then play the final. Kodes broke Smith the next game and won his own serve easily to take the match 7-5, 6-7, 1-6, 6-1, 7-5.
The Kodes-Newcombe final the next day not only had no controversial calls, it actually finished in daylight. In a sense it was a confrontation between two defending Wimbledon champions. Newcombe won at Wimbledon in 1970 and '71, then was not allowed to defend in 1972 because contract pros were banned, or this year because the Association of Tennis Professionals boycotted (Kodes is not a member). Newk, with his crushing serve, intends to play constant tennis through next May and prove himself No. 1 in the world, and he wanted this Forest Hills final to be his first step. Kodes, sore at the accusations that his Wimbledon win was tainted because the field was emasculated, was intent on proving his critics wrong. To battle Newk's serve, he presented one of the finest returns of serve in the world.
In long stretches Sunday, diving and scrambling over the faded green turf, Kodes had Newcombe outclassed, but he could not sustain his brilliant play. Newcombe, helped by 14 aces and some lovely, streaking ground strokes of his own, won 6-4, 1-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.
"I knew that if I kept hitting the same shots at him," said Newk, "he could keep it up for 50 minutes or an hour, but not for an hour and a half."
So what's next in Newcombe's drive to become both a tycoon and the No. 1 tennis player? The Davis Cup. He's playing for Australia for the first time since 1967. The Aussies must get by Czechoslovakia and Kodes, then face the U.S. in Cleveland in late autumn.
"It's been a five- or six-year drought since we had the Davis Cup," he said. "I understand Rod Laver wants to play, and Neale Fraser is captain."
Then he cackled: "You think we've got experience?" Yeah. And a Forest Hills champ, too.