Pat Cash, Wimbledon 1987

Extract from Pat Cash’s autobiography Uncovered:

To my mind I wasn’t just taking on Jimmy Connors, I would also have the crowd against me. He knew every trick to get them on his side, and he would be doing everything possible to break my focus. It didn’t matter that he was nearly thirty-five years of age and hadn’t won a tournament since 1983. Zivojinovic hit twenty-five aces against him, but Jimmy had still won. A round earlier he had fought back from an abysmal start and a two set deficit to beat Mikael Pernfors.

Many people perceived Jimmy to be something of an arsehole, but in my opinion he was a great player. He had such an unusual style, nobody ever played like him and nobody ever will. He was a great athlete, but tough as nails in the bargain. Barkers [Ian Barclay] and I regularly used to watch Jimmy practice and were amazed by his drive. Every point was regarded as the most important of his life: it was inspirational to see, and that was exactly how he played his matches. Maybe that’s why he made so many comebacks and reached the US Open semifinal at the age of thirty-nine. I make no secret of the fact that I was a fan, besides which I ever had any problems with Jimmy on court. Sure, he used to play to the crowd and joke with the line judges in a thinly disguised attempt at giving himself a little rest, but tennis is all about entertainment. The first time we ever played one another was at the Canadian Open in Toronto. I was told he was making faces at me for miss-hitting a ball; I didn’t see him, so I don’t know, and I will keep an open mind. However, it’s fair to admit that opponents can certainly goad me.

Jimmy and I didn’t really socialize. He never seemed to mix with the rest of the guys, but that’s understandable – who would, if they were married to a Playboy centerfold? He had a certain style. In the States he played the true super star by climbing out of his limousine and walking straight into the court. McEnroe doesn’t hold his countryman in such high esteem as I do, but that’s because he is consumed by a competitive jealousy.

I couldn’t have a better start in the semi-final, hitting an ace with the first ball. But Jimmy was intent on being no pushover, and fought fiercely to break back at five all, after I’d served for the first set. Walking back to the baseline to return, I knew this was a crucial moment. I was determined not to fold under the pressure, and broke back immediately before taking control. This was again testimony to the work of Jeff Bond, who had instilled in me that following any loss of concentration, I should immediately snap myself back awake. Late in the third set the fire alarm went off, although I didn’t pay attention. I had moved into a 5-0 lead, dropping just four points. The bell seemed too late to save Jimmy, but he was trying all his tricks with the crowd to disrupt my concentration. I knew he’d spotted I was tense, and I didn’t want him to be inspired into another comeback as he’d managed against Pernfors. Summoning up all my focus, I managed to finish him off. The relief was immense.

Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, Wimbledon 1979

Extract from Tennis’s strangest matches by Peter Seddon:

Saturday 7 July 1979 is a date that still sits proudly in the record books for the legendary Californian Billie Jean King, for it was the day she clinched her twentieth Wimbledon title, a feat which even the most recent legend of the ladies’ game, Martina Navratilova, has been unable to match despite repeated ‘final’ efforts to advance beyond 19. [Navratilova since then equalled King’s record of 20 Wimbledon titles in 2003]
Ironically enough it was the then 22-year old Navratilova who helped King clinch the record that day when they paired to win the ladies’ doubles against Betty Stove and Wendy Turnbull in a 5-7 6-3 6-2 victory.

Remarkable as the feat was, the match would struggle to gain admission to the gallery of strangeness but for the events off-court which surrounded it. From there we enter the world of the positively spooky.
It was another Californian, Elizabeth ‘Bunny’ Ryan, whose record 19 Wimbledon titles King had been trying to pass ever since she equalled it with her singles win over Evonne Goolagong in 1975. But try as she might the record eluded her as she drew a blank in 1976, 1977 and 1978, and at age 35 it seemed it might never happen.

Elizabeth Ryan had looked on rather quizzically as each attempt failed. This gutsy grand old lady of the court, once a veritable Amazon but then well into her eighties, had confined to friends that she hoped to take the record to her grave. It was that sort of winning attitude (and a rather good regular partner by the name of Suzanne Lenglen) that had brought her the record, all comprising double wins, between 1914 and 1934. But it was Lenglen too who generally baulked her in the singles, earning miss Ryan, with her robust approach and famous forehand chop, the title of ‘the best player never to win a Wimbledon singles’.

As each year passed, Miss Elizabeth Montague Ryan, born 1892, became quietly convinced that she would never be surpassed. Living in London she was sprightly enough to get to Wimbledon, her spiritual home, whenever she fancied. She was there on Friday 6 July just 24 hours before her record fell, but she wasn’t there the next day to see Billie Jean make history.

The headline in the Guardian simply read ‘A CHAMPION CHAMPION TO THE END’. For, while walking around the grounds of the All England Club during her Friday visit, the 87-year old champion collapsed from a heart attack and died in the ambulance before reaching hospital. She had first fallen ill watching the antics of McEnroe and Fleming during the men’s doubles final, although there was nothing in their rather modern behaviour to establish cause and effect.

In the Guardian obituary David Gray, secretary of the International Tennis Federation, captured the mood succinctly: ‘Miss Ryan died,’ he wrote ‘as she had played – determined not to be beaten.’
Her niece Miss Elizabeth Partridge, meanwhile, gave a gutsy reaction:

‘I’m glad she didn’t live to see Mrs King’s win. It’s good that it’s happened this way. It’s much better for my aunt that way.’

There is never a good time to call it a day but Elizabeth Ryan’s sense of timing was certainly uncanny as the record ‘passed on’ in the strangest way possible.

Extract from Inside tennis – a season on the pro tour by Peter Bodo and June Harrison:

Jimmy Connors just wasn’t there. For once in his life, the eagerness of his mind did not reach his arms and legs. On a clear, fine day, he let Borg walk right by him, into the pantheon of tennis, as he was trounced 6-2 6-2 6-3. The match had an eerie symmetry. Each set lasted thirty-six minutes. It was as if the deities, having determined that Borg had proven himself before the final, allowed him 108 minutes in which to demonstrate why he deserved their approval.

Connors played two dazzling games to start the match up, 2-0. Then Borg ran off the next six games. He served impeccably. He returned magnificently. The turning point, if the expression applies, came in the fourth game of the second set, with Borg already up a break at 2-1. Two sizzling winners by Connors and a forehand error by Borg made the score love-40. But Borg served his way past the three break points to retain command. Connors could not mount an effective challenge the rest of the way.

The occasion had called for an epic battle, but it produced an exhibition. The most impressive statistic was Borg’s service return; he missed only two returns throughout the entire match. When Connors drove a backhand volley deep on match point, the crowd responded with a shriek. Borg began to raise his arms. His legs melted away; in a moment he was knelling on the turf, clutching his temples. He had done it, but the means were still incredible – no player in the world responded to a big match as well as Connors. But today, for reasons nobody will ever understand, much less explain, Connors just wasn’t there. Call it Wimbledon.

When Borg came to see the press, he looked like a man who had been relieved of an enormous weight. He was no more gregarious than usual, but he smiled freely and easily. He said the match was probably the best he had ever played.

The Swede had not gotten tight until 4-3 in the final set, after he missed two relatively easy volleys. “I just say to myself, if only you get to 5-3, if only you make this one more game, it will be okay.” Borg knew he had to serve well to beat Connors – his feeling that he could break Connors’s serve was vindicated, and his execution was letter-perfect.

“Now, Bjorn, about the Grand Slam,” someone said.
“No way I can dream to do that. Maybe it is better to do it first, then think about it, you know?”
“Did Connors say anything special to you after the match?”
“No.” Borg shrugged.
“How about Perry – what did Perry say?”
“He said congratulations – and that I must shave now.” A few days earlier, Perry had promised to take Borg out to dinner if he equaled his record. But now it did not look like the two would be able to get together until next Wimbledon, Borg explained, without elaborating. It seemed a shame.
The questions wandered. Borg was asked what he was thinking about when he saw the match ball go long and fell to his knees.
“I was praying.” He laughed.
“To whom?”
“To my parents,” said this man of unfathomable simplicity.
As the press conference broke up, I asked Borg how he would like to be remembered by future generations.
“That I’m a nice guy,” he said unsurely. Then conviction illuminated his face. “No. I think I want to be remembered as a winner. Yes, put that!”

When Jimmy Connors entered the pressroom, it was evident that he did not intend to hang around. He masked whatever disappointment he felt; defiance sparkled in his eyes.
“My serve took a day off,” he said. “I never got into it mentally. I got off to a decent start and I was eager, but it wasn’t there.”
Someone mentioned that the fourth game of the second set had increased Borg’s confidence, because he had come back from love-40 to hold service. “If that was the turning point in his eyes, great,” Connors said flatly.

When a reporter asked him why he hadn’t attacked more, Connors suggested it was because he wasn’t serving well. More technical questions followed, but Connors soon had enough.
“It’s all history now,” he announced. “I don’t care about history. I’m not going to brood. I play again in eight day…” He thought for a while.

“The matches Borg and I play are going to be around a lot longer than we are. Maybe when we’re seventy or so, people will still be talking about them. I don’t want them to talk about this one particularly, but there’ll be plenty more. The season is young.”

An Australian writer asked if Connors would play Down Under if Borg won the US Open and had a chance at the Grand Slam. “I may follow him to the ends of the earth now,” said Jimmy Connors.

Martina Navratilova, WImbledon 1978

Extract from Inside tennis – a season on the pro tour by Peter Bodo and June Harrison:

On Friday, the morning of the women’s final between Navratilova and Evert, the air is cool and crisp; the packed galleries of the Centre Court hum with anticipation.

The women exchange breaks to start the match, then play the next few games lightly and elegantly. It is elevated, pleasant tennis, free of corrosive personal antagonisms. Breaks in the sixth and eight games give Evert the first set. The match is reminiscent of the Navratilova-Goolagong semifinal, with the Czech again taking the first game of the second set. Again, she is extended in the next game. But this time she mistimes an easy overhead at deuce and misses the ball completely. Disconcerted, she hits a poor volley and is handily passed by Evert to give the break back.

But the overhead blunder awakens Navratilova. She takes Evert’s serve at 15 in the next game and then holds at love. The match has climbed a level; the ethereal beginnings have yielded to tennis that takes on increasing grandeur. Evert holds to trail, 2-3. At 15-30 in the next game, with both players at the net, Evert hits a backhand volley that strikes her opponent in the head. Navratilova collapses, more from embarrassment than pain. When she gets up, smiling, Evert is waiting at the net to give her head a friendly rub. Again, the fluky occurrence stimulates Navratilova’s game. She forces Evert into an error and then makes short work of an overhead to reach deuce. Although Evert wins an advantage point, three crushing volleys by Navratilova take the game. There are no more breaks; Navratilova takes the second set, 6-4.

Evert begins the final set with a tentative game; a double fault for 15-30 and a flurry of errors give Navratilova another break. Two games go by routinely before Evert stirs again, holding four break points against her opponent. The game is a classic, with Navratilova’s booming serves and forcing volleys offset by Evert’s uncanny anticipation and precise passing shots under acute pressure. In the end, Evert finally gets the break when Navratilova floats a sliced backhand approach shot too deep in her eagerness to get to the net.

It has become one of those matches in which breaks cease to matter because the level of skill is so high. Although Chris breaks again for a 4-2 lead, Martina is unflappable. It seems as if this match will go to the player who mounts the most furious assault through the closing games, and that proves to be Navratilova. She hits her peak with a love game that levels the score at 5-all, and she takes twelve of the last thirteen points. Evert simply lacks the mental and physical stamina to stay with her, and when Navratilova hits yet another winning backhand volley right to the corner of court, it is over.

While club officials unrolled the crimson carpet for the presentation ceremony, Evert and Navratilova stood by the umpire’s chair.
“How come you’re not crying?” Evert asked.
“I don’t know,” Martina replied with embarrassment. “I don’t want to, not in front of all these people.”
“I did, the first time,” Evert said.
Navratilova was speechless.
“I can’t believe it,” Evert continued. “I hit you in the head with the ball and you started playing better.”
The winner remained incapacitated.

When the Duchess of Kent presented the trophy, she offered to assist in Navratilova’s efforts to win travel privileges for her parents.
Nobody on earth can conduct a ceremony as briefly and decorously as the English. Within minutes it was over. When Navratilova came to the pressroom, she was surprisingly coherent. She said she did not know whether to cry or laugh; all she wanted to do was share her joy with her family, whom she would call later. She felt a chauvinistic flush of pride, the first since her defection, because she considered her victory a triumph for the Czech people.

By the time the formalities were concluded and Navratilova returned to the Inn on the Park, the champion was able to get right through to her parents on the telephone.
The televised image of Martina was the first her parents had seen of her in over two years. However, the first topic of conversation between Martina and her father was the forehand volley. He told her that she was starting her backswing too high. She laughed and told him that she wasn’t calling for a lesson.

Wimbledon 1978

Extract from Inside tennis – a season on the pro tour by Peter Bodo and June Harrison:

The sign on the railroad platform reads Southfields – alight here for Wimbledon tennis. Upstairs, newspaper vendors crowd the sidewalk, each wearing a sandwich board advertising one exclusive or another pertaining to the chances of “Our Ginny”, “Stormy Ilie”, or “The Mighty Man from Michigan”. A long line of black taxicabs provides transportation to the grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, two miles away.

Traffic thickens as you approach Wimbledon. Soon you see a long queue that has formed in the predawn hours at the wrought-iron main gate of the club. When the cab pulls up, a ticket tout opens the door and offers a pair of Centre Court seats a twenty-five pounds each. The markup is still a modest 500 percent; by final days the seats will fetch at least £100 each. The fortunate people at the front of the queue have a chance to buy one of the 300 Centre Court seats that are available to the public daily, but the vast majority are waiting to purchase grounds passes that do not guarantee seating anywhere.

If you have tickets or the proper credentials, you pass through the gate beneath the club crest, the green-and-mauve club flag, and the Union Jack. Inside you have a choice of wandering about the field courts, hoping to get close enough to watch part of a match, or going directly to any of several other queues. One is for standing room alongside the Centre Court, another for the handful of seats available for Number One Court. The bleachers at the other six show courts are filled fifteen minutes after the gates open at noon. Many spectators spend the better part of the day standing in line both inside and outside the grounds. The critical attendance point at Wimbledon is 31,000; it is exceeded almost every day.

Every few moments, the main gate swings open to admit a vehicle, usually a delivery truck, a Rolls-Royce bearing royalty, a Wimbledon courtesy car, or a rented limousine carrying players like Connors or Gerulaitis. Over three hundred competitors are eligible for official transportation. A few years ago, the club maintained a fleet of elegant Daimlers to ferry players back and forth from their London hotels. Now the job is left to British-Leyland, which uses fifty sedans and as many drivers. These courtesy cars are painted to advertise the tournament and the automobile company.

Wimbledon is gigantic in spirit, but the grounds cover just about ten acres. Stewards check the ebb and flow of spectators at each court; inside the clubhouse an electronic counting device registers the click of each admission turnstile. Each afternoon, a committee of club men wearing green-and-mauve ties surveys the crowd from the balcony above the main entrance to the Centre Court. They decide whether to keep the gates open or shut them down for the day. Then they adjourn for tea.

The Centre Court is an eight-sided edifice connected to the rectangular Number One Court by a common wall. The complex looks as if it has been pieced together from odd scraps of steel and random slabs of concrete. It is a maze of cream and loden halls and staircases rambling in myriad directions, with ivy-covered walls and window boxes of blue and pink hydrangeas.

The focal point of the grounds is the large scoreboard opposite the Number One Court enclosure. This enormous green panel, which bears the legend of results and the schedule for each court, faces the players’ tearoom. Spectators on the macadam walkway below can look up and spot the contestants through the tall glass windows or on the balcony above.

There is a public dining area near the main gate, flanking a small grassy picnic area. A variety of tents house bookstalls and souvenir shops, a Pimm’s bar and the famed strawberries and cream concession, as well as a gallery of food and beverage concessions built into the side of the Centre Court.

A sloping roof extends over most of the seats in the Centre Court, leaving only the standing room along either sideline exposed to the elements. The roof adds intimacy and turns the most significant piece of sod in tennis history into a stage suitable for Elizabethan drama. Number One Court is covered at both baselines and where the east stand is a towering structure that adds a breathtaking quality to the court. Courts Two, Three, Six, and Seven, directly across from the main enclosure, also have grandstands. The only other show court is Fourteen, in a distant corner of the grounds. The rest of the twenty-three courts are divided by low fences, narrow walkways, and tall hedges reminiscent of the mazelike gardens found on baronial estates.

The Wimbledon field courts, with the steeple of St. Mary’s Church in the background:

Wimbledon 1978

Southfields Station, on the District Line

Wimbledon 1978
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