The meticulous guardians of tradition and decorum at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, led by Air Chief Marshal Sir Brian K. Burnett, G.C.B., D.F.C, A.F.C., R.A.F. (Ret.), face their stiffest test every summer during "The Wimbledon Fortnight," but they are steadfast. On the Saturday before play starts, the coddled grass on Centre Court is broken in by four senior ladies who play a set and a half of genteel doubles—no more, no less. Then come two weeks of the most prestigious tournament in the world, when the London suburb of Wimbledon is invaded by taxis, ticket scalpers and all those annoyingly good players from the colonies.
Wimbledon '74 was particularly difficult to manage. Strikes periodically blacked out the daily BBC telecasts. Because of rain, play on six of the 10 days began at noon instead of 2 p.m., the sacred starting time for 87 years. Sweden's teen-age star, Bjorn Borg, needed an escort of three bobbies to get through swarms of schoolgirl admirers ("They must realize Wimbledon isn't a pop concert," huffed an offended club official). Hammy Ilie Nastase tried to receive service while holding an umbrella and was chastised by the umpire. America's Erik van Dillen was upbraided for daring to break the all-white dress rule by wearing red sweat pants on a chilly day.
Somehow, despite raindrops and teeny-boppers, the tournament finished on schedule, with an ending that was mushy, but not from the weather. For the first time in memory the traditional opening dance at Saturday night's Wimbledon Ball was reserved for two singles champions who were sweethearts as well—Chris Evert, 19, and her mop-topped fiancé, Jimmy Connors, 21.
On Friday Chris, wearing her engagement ring, earrings, a necklace and polished fingernails, demolished her doubles partner, Olga Morozova of the Soviet Union, 6-0, 6-4. It was Evert's 36th victory in a row and seventh straight tournament championship. The next afternoon Connors met a man who played his first Wimbledon before either Jimmy or Chris was born, Ken Rosewall, 39, who had been in three finals and never danced the first dance. Connors showed no respect for his elder, just superb ground strokes and volleys, and won easily 6-1, 6-1, 6-4. Together, the future Mr. and Mrs. Connors added $40,800 and two Triumph automobiles worth $6,000 apiece to their treasure chest.
July 14, 1974
The two singles finals were distinctly lacking in excitement, but that is not unusual at Wimbledon. The dramatic comebacks, the pranks, the marvelous international flavor usually come earlier, sometimes on a court out by the car park. There was Rolf Thung, half-Dutch, half-Chinese, who reached the third round by beating the young American Alex Mayer. There was a teeny 17-year-old South African, Linky Boshoff, who upset fourth-seeded Rosie Casals in the fourth round. And there was a continuation of the BBC's longest-running soap opera, Our Gal Ginny.
Virginia Wade has played every Wimbledon for the last 13 years and each year the tennis-mad British public fastens on her as its great hope. The crowd groans when she so much as misses a first serve and finally the nervousness on her behalf transmits itself to her and she blows a match she should win. Despite having the most powerful serve in women's tennis and the gliding moves of a pantheress, she never makes the semifinals and the headlines say something like "Ginny Fizzles Out Again." There is a play in London in which the female lead, making self-conscious small talk, says, "I hear Virginia is doing very well at Wimbledon this year."
Prophetic. This year Our Ginny finally made the semis. Defending champion Billie Jean King was in her half of the draw, but Morozova caught King on a bad day, volleyed beautifully and won in straight sets. Casals was in that half too, and was removed from Ginny's path. A perfect chance for Wade to set Britain on its ear by getting into the final—Portia facing life and conquering.
Wade won the first set 6-1 over Morozova. Olga took the second, but then Wade got a 4-2 lead in the third and could hear the champagne corks popping. From that point Morozova won four straight games and the match. Instead of champagne, it was the patented sloe Ginny fizz. And a Russian was in the women's final for the first time, which perhaps made up a bit for an act of vandalism earlier in the week in which the bust of Karl Marx was knocked off his tomb in a London graveyard.
In the bottom half of the draw Evert came within one of her mascaraed eyelashes of losing in the first round to Australian Lesley Hunt. They were tied 9-9 in the third set when darkness forced a postponement. In the morning Chris went out with Connors to practice against his tough serve. It paid off, or something did. She broke Hunt's service when their match resumed, held her own serve and won 8-6, 5-7, 11-9.
Third-seeded Evonne Goolagong had been knocked out in the quarters, so Evert breezed to the final, once in a while even coming to the net, which she used to treat as if it were crawling with spiders. It was disappointing that neither King nor Goolagong was on Centre Court to meet her. Evert is considered a clay court specialist and has never beaten King or Goolagong on grass, a fast surface that is conducive to their serve-and-rush-the-net styles. Instead, Evert's friend Morozova was there, but only for 59 minutes. Evert walked out on the court, heard the distinctive whistle that Connors always gives to let her know where he is sitting, and neatly put the Russian away. Morozova gave her a congratulatory kiss on the cheek. "I never expected to win Wimbledon this year," Evert said later. "I was thinking maybe in two or three years, when Billie Jean and Margaret Court retire. I'd still have to say Billie Jean's above me."
(At 19, Evert is not the youngest woman winner. Maureen Connolly won three times before she was 20. But Chris is the first woman to take Rome, Paris and Wimbledon in two decades—Connolly did it in 1954.)
The men's draw shaped up as one of the most interesting in years because there were, in a sense, three defending champions on the grounds. John Newcombe won in 1971 but was banned the following year because he was playing with the "outlaw" World Championship Tennis troupe. Stan Smith won in his absence, but neither Newcombe nor Smith played last year because of a players'-union boycott and Jan Kodes of Czechoslovakia won. This year Kodes was seeded only sixth and was miffed. But then Kodes always seems to be miffed about something. He shoved a referee in Rome and got himself disqualified, and in Paris he demanded that his victorious French opponent be given a drug test.
Down there ninth in the seedings was old man Rosewall, who was just a lad of 17 when he and Lew Hoad did impressively well in the doubles at Wimbledon in 1952. Rosewall and Pancho Gonzales are the only two Hall of Fame-quality players who have never won Wimbledon. Rosewall lost to Jaroslav Drobny in 1954, to Hoad in 1956 and to Newcombe in 1971. Could he finally win a Centre Court final at his advanced age? London bookies were giving 15-to-1 odds against him. "There's no way he can beat Ashe, Newcombe and Smith in a row," said Hoad after looking at the draw.
Newcombe, who beat Bjorn Borg in the WCT finals earlier in the year, was seeded on top and proceeded to justify it by marching through his first four opponents in straight sets. "If I'm still in on the second Monday," predicted Newcombe, "I can win the title again."
He was still in on Monday, but he did not last through the day because he was stopped by Rosewall, 5'7", 142 pounds and nicknamed "Muscles." Rosewall had a difficult draw. It took him four sets to beat the young Indian Vijay Amritraj. Then in the fourth round he met Roscoe Tanner who had upset Arthur Ashe. Against the young, strong-serving Tanner on Centre Court, Rosewall won the second set from 2-4 down and the fourth from 2-5 down. In the twilight at match's end he was returning Tanner's cannonballs as if they were marshmallows shot from a popgun. "If I play against Newcombe as well as I did at the end against Tanner, I have a chance," said Rosewall.
He did indeed. He beat Newcombe by the surprising score of 6-1, 1-6, 6-0, 7-5. Newcombe could not remember the last time he had lost a love set.
"I think he can win it and I hope he does because he's running out of time," said Newcombe. "If there's someone I'd like to see win it, he'd be the one."
Muscles was now in the semis vs. fourth-seeded Stan Smith, nine inches taller and with a serve several megatons more explosive. Here, surely, the nostalgia trip would end, although 99% of the fans in the stadium had their fingers crossed for Rosewall. "I'd be rooting for him, too," said Smith, "if I weren't playing him."
Smith won the first two sets and got a 5-4 lead in the third, serving for the match. Well, gallant try, Muscles, see you in the veterans' doubles in a few years. But Rosewall was thinking differently, not being as closely attuned to the groans of the Centre Court crowd as Ginny. He easily broke Smith's serve, forced the set to 8-8 and into a tie breaker, held off one match point and won 9-8. Suddenly Smith lost his confidence. Rosewall's cross-court backhands and streaking service returns were practically untouchable. He won the last two sets 6-1, 6-3.
Connors' draw was easier but still no carefree stroll across Wimbledon common. He fought his way through two four-setters and two five-setters before he reached the semis and knocked out Dick Stockton in four more sets. Stockton had beaten Nastase, the No. 2 seed, but Connors himself had to remove defending champ Kodes.
While Rosewall was surely the most popular man inside the All England walls, Connors was easily the most unpopular. Most of the other players dislike him because he is sometimes a smart aleck. He has declined to join the players' union (the Association of Tennis Professionals); he has declined to play Davis Cup for the current coach, Dennis Ralston; and he has declined to play the WCT circuit, preferring to compete in the tournaments run by his manager, Bill Riordan. During his tough five-set match against Aussie Phil Dent in Round Two, virtually everyone watching on TV in the players' tearoom was fervently cheering for Dent.
Connors did have a devoted coterie of rooters—Chris and her mother, the Riordans, his old tutor Pancho Segura, his mother Gloria and his pal Nastase. Riordan was shouting encouragement to Connors between points of the Kodes match on Court One when suddenly Kodes stopped and snarled at him, "Why don't you shut up!" And a reporter for The Times wrote very indignantly about a Connors "clique, led by his manager and other large, red-faced Americans, the men among them wearing big cigars in their mouths."
Mama Gloria had to be shushed by the decorum guardians at Centre Court the first time Connors played there in 1972. Last week she sat quietly during his matches and fingered rosary beads. "Jimbo made me promise to keep my mouth shut, and I did," she said after the Kodes match. "But what an effort!"
It did not boost Connors' popularity when, early in Wimbledon's second week, news came from the U.S. that his lawyers had filed a suit against two officials of the players' union and Commercial Union (sponsors of the International Grand Prix circuit) for, among other things, allegedly conspiring to keep him out of the French Open, which was the French Closed this year for anybody playing team tennis in the U.S. The union voted to raise a defense fund for the two officials, considering that the suit was against them all.
Union president Arthur Ashe, twice a Wimbledon semifinalist himself, said: "The pressure facing any young player at such a critical moment of his career is intense enough without the added burden of knowing that, when he walks out on court, he will be suing his opponent—in this case Dick Stockton."
If he felt any pressure, intense or otherwise, Connors did not show it. He lost the first set to Stockton but fought back to take the match 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, bashing forehand and two-fisted backhand winners with the same accuracy as his fiancée and twice the velocity.
"Playing Connors is like fighting Joe Frazier," Stockton said afterward. "The guy's always coming at you. He never lets up."
Old pro Segura, who used to tour with Rosewall and who has worked on Connors' game since the kid was 15, gave his pupil some tips on how to play the final—mostly technical things about returning service. They must have been dandy tips, or Rosewall must have been badly worn down, because during one stretch in the short match Connors broke Rosewall's service eight out of nine times, winning the first and second sets handily and moving out to a 4-2 lead in the third.
Almost before the Duke of Kent could get settled in his seat in the Royal Box, Connors was at the same place Stan Smith had been the day before—two sets up on Rosewall, leading 5-4 in the third and serving for the champagne. Rosewall saved two match points with beautiful backhands, then succumbed. Connors threw his racket high in the air and leaped over the net to shake hands.
Standing by the umpire's stand waiting for the trophy presentation, Connors thought to himself that he had been dreaming about this moment since he was six years old and "that it might be the only time in my life I win Wimbledon," and he started crying. He was more tearful than Chris had been the day before.
Those who dislike him so intensely probably felt a little tearful, too, though for different reasons. But they had better grit their teeth and get used to the idea of Mr. and Mrs. Connors strolling up for the first dance at the Wimbledon Ball.