Martina Navratilova Wimbledon 1990

From Hard courts: real life on the professional tennis tours, by John Feinstein:

Zina Garrison was now facing a woman on a mission. Navratilova had played almost perfect tennis for two weeks. She had lost just twenty-four games in six matches and hadn’t come close to losing a set. Off the court, she had been hyper almost the entire two weeks, but whenever she stepped on court, she was ready. Now, with one match to go, the nearness of it all hit her.

On Friday night she sat with Billie Jean King and Craig Kardon at her kitchen table to talk about their game plan for the final. This had become a ritual. Now King changed the ritual.

“You make the game plan,” she said. “Get out your journal and tell me what you need to do.”

Navratilova pulled out her journal and began going through it frantically. She finally boiled it down to four pages of notes.
“Not good enough,” King said. “I want one page. I want your mind clear.” Navratilova was becoming hysterical. She looked at King and Kardon. “This is the most important match I’ve ever played in my life,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be this close again. Do you think I’ll be able to play? Will I be able to hit the ball at all?”
King nodded. “You’ll play well,” she said. “You’ve never been prepared in your life.”

Navratilova calmed down. She got her notes down to one page: “Stay in the present,” she wrote.

“I had to keep my mind off winning,” she said. “Winning was the future. I had to be in the present. Think about that point and that point only.”

She also knew she had to attack, especially off Garrison’s weak second serve. Get on top of her, don’t give her the chance to come in. All tournament she had intentionally not thought about playing Graf in the final, in case that very thing happened. Now, she was thinking only about Garrison. Navratilova was 27-1 against Garrison, lifetime. She knew she was ready to play. That night, for the first time in two weeks. She slept soundly.

At 2pm precisely, Garrison and Navratilova walked on court for the final. Navratilova had walked on to Centre Court for the final. Navratilova had walked on to Centre Court for the Wimbledon final eleven times; now she was trying to walk off it with a major piecey of history. Garrison had no thoughts of history or, for that matter, of the match as she walked out. She thought, instead, of her mother.

“My mother never would have believed it,” she said later. “She just wouldn’t have believed it,” she said later. “She just wouldn’t have believed it was me going out there to play the Wimbledon final. She would have been impossible to talk to.”

Thinking about her mother, Garrison could feel tears welling up but forced herself to focus on tennis. She started well, holding serve, then having beak points in the second game. But Navratilova held and, following her game plan perfectly, moved into a zone that was untouchable. She was on top of the net all day, never missing a volley. Her serve was almost flawless, her returns low and at Garrison’s feet. In many ways it was a repeat of all their matches of the past. The styles were similar. One player just played it better.

It ended on one last Navratilova backhand. Overwhelmed, drained and exhausted, Navratilova fell to her knees. She raced up through the stands to her entourage, kissing Kardon, hugging King and hugging Nelson. Once she would have been afraid to hug Nelson in public; now she did it without hesitation.

Nine times she had been handed the plate by the Duchess of kent, but this time the duchess gave her a kiss before handing it over. Navratilova cried as she held it above her head.
The biggest cheer was reserved for Garrison. Navratilova had won; Garrison had inspired. She had overcome so much to get there that losing the final couldn’t diminish what she had achieved.

That night, both women celebrated. Garrison, her entourage, and about twenty friends went to a London restaurant and toasted what they had accomplished. Navratilova threw a party at her house and got drunk.

“Two whiskey sours did it,” she said. “I hadn’t had a drink other than a glass of wine with dinner or a sip of beer for years. I just sat in the corner and laughed.”

The joy at the two parties was genuine. Both women deserved to eat, to drink, to be merry. To laugh. And to cry.

Wimbledon 90: Becker vs Edberg

From Hard courts: real life on the professional tennis tours, by John Feinstein:

When Becker walked on court for the final, on a glistening, postcard-perfect day, there was another problem. Katarina Witt, the glamorous German ice skater, had come to town earlier in the week. She was in the process of making a deal with Tiriac, and he had invited her to Wimbledon. Becker, single again, had spent some time with her.

It didn’t take long for the London tabloids to get cranked up. Now, as Becker walked on court, he looked up toward the friends’ box, expecting to see Brett and Tiriac’s assistant, Heather McLachlan, sitting there. That had been the drill the entire tournament. But now, in addition to Brett and McLachlan, Becker’s sister was there. That was fine. So was Katarina Witt. That wasn’t fine.
From his seat, Brett saw a look pass over Becker’s face. “It was a shock,” Becker said later. “I never expected to see her there. Heather had just given her the ticket to sit there without thinking about what it would me. She told me later she was sorry, that she made a mistake.”
What it meant was tabloid mania. Front page pictures galore, rumors about a Becker-Witt romance everywhere. It wasn’t what Becker needed starting a Wimbledon final.
Those thoughts, his feeling of satisfaction after the semifinal, and Edberg’s brilliance made Becker look helpless the first two sets.

“I just didn’t feel like I was in a Wimbledon final,” he said. “I didn’t even feel nervous going on court. Then I got a little distracted at the start (by Witt), and the next thing I know it’s 6-2 6-2. Then, my only thought was to not make a complete fool of myself.”

Edberg was also as shocked as Becker. How could it be so easy? He had lost three Grand Slam finals in eighteen months. Maybe it was in turn at last.
Or maybe not. Edberg had a break point in the first game of the third set. It was, for all intents and purposes, a match point as far as Becker was concerned. He came in and Edberg teed up another backhand. He ripped it crosscourt. Not this time: Becker read it perfectly and knocked off a sharp backhand volley. From there, he held. Given a glimmer of life, he broke Edberg for the first time in the next game. Maybe, he thought, I can win a set.
He won it. Then he won another. They had played for two hours and fifteen minutes. Now they would play the first fifth set in a Wimbledon final since McEnroe-Connors in 1982. Becker was wound up, stoking. Edberg was reeling.

“I was all the way to fifth gear,” Becker said. “He wasn’t there yet. I needed to take him out before he got there.”

He had his chance. Serving at 1-2, Edberg served two double faults, the second one an ugly balloon that almost went over the baseline. Becker was up 3-1. The match was on his racquet.

“But somehow I could’t keep my mind right there on the match,” he said. “I started to think about holding that trophy again. I knew that if I served the match out, I would be on the same side of the net where I had been the other three times I had won. Those were wrong thoughts at that time. If I win the game at 3-1, he’s finished. But I couldn’t keep my concentration.”

Becker needed to, as Navratilova would put it, stay in the present. Instead, he had let his mind wander into the future. At 30-all, Edberg chipped a backhand and Becker didn’t get down far enough for the volley. He netted it. Break point. Becker came in behind a serve and had an easy forehand volley. He pushed it wide.

Edberg pumped a fist. Becker had let him get into fifth gear. “He was in fifth and I was out of gas,” he said later. With Edberg serving at 4-4, Edberg came up with the shot of the match, a perfect backhand topspin lob that landed on the line, to get one last service break. He skipped to his chair while Becker slumped. Becker tried to talk to himself into it one more time but it as too late. Edberg served it out, finishing with a perfect kick serve that Becker just got to but pushed wide.

As the ball landed, Edberg hurled the ball he had in his hand toward the sky as Pickard leapt from his seat, screaming. Becker, never classier, climbed over the net and hugged Edberg. His eyes were glassy.

“I really couldn’t believe I had lost after coming so far back,” he said. “I went home the next day and wrote for hours and thought and tried to figure it out. In the end, I thought maybe it was his time. He had lost three straight finals. He had been hurt in one that he probably would have won. We’ve played so many times that we both deserve some good things. He’s a good guy. He’s different than me, it doesn’t show his emotion, but he is a great player. I decided he deserved this Wimbledon.”

For Edberg, this second Wimbledon was even better than the first because of the travails of the past two years. He even got to go to the champions’ dinner. In 1988, with the final postponed until Monday, he hadn’t been able to go. This time, he got to go. When he arrived at the dinner, he raced up to Navratilova, panicked.

“What kind of dance do we have to do?” he asked her.

Navratilova laughed. Once, it had been part of Wimbledon tradition for the two champions to dance the first dance together. But in 1978, the dinner had been moved to the Savoy Hotel. There was no room in the ballroom for a dance floor and no more first dance.
Edberg was relieved. The thought of dancing in front of a thousand people was far more terrifying than the thought of being down 3-1 in the fifth. He had survived that and he didn’t have to dance. A perfect day.

Edberg and Navratilova sat at the head table and got to hear the toast that climaxes every Wimbledon. Shortly before midnight, John Curry stood up and raised his glass.

“To the Queen,” he said

Everyone in the room stood. “The Queen,” they chorused back. The Championships of 1990 were over.

Also read:
Wimbledon 1990: Becker and Edberg in a Centre Court reunion
Wimbledon 1988: Edberg, a new deserving champion
Portrait of Stefan Edberg, by Rex Bellamy

Becker and Edberg, Wimbledon 1990

By Andrew Longmore, London Times, July 7, 1990

Rarely can the ball have been hit as hard for as long as it was in the men’s semi-finals on centre court yesterday. At the end of the bombardment, Ivan Lendl‘s odyssey had ended, Goran Ivanisevic‘s had just begun and Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg were left to contest their third consecutive Wimbledon final. Fearful of an unhealthy sense of continuity, the centre court crowd were mostly sympathetic to the two Ivans, one out of sympathy, the other novelty. But Lendl, by his own admission, was never in the match, losing in straight sets, and Becker survived the loss of the first set and an edgy second set tie-break before beating the explosive young Yugoslav 4-6, 7-6, 6-0, 7-6. He even won the battle of the aces, 15 to 14.

“It was the best grass-court match I have played. Goran went out there and played very strongly for a set and three-quarters. I’m glad it’s all over,” Becker said.

After their varying adventures over the past fortnight, Becker and Edberg will meet in the final like a pair of long-lost school friends.

“I know his game blind and he knows me,” Becker said. “It’s going to be a matter of who wakes up in the better frame of mind on the day.”

Two years ago, it was Edberg who won in four sets; last year, it was Becker in three. Neither match quite lived up to pre-match billing, so they owe us a classic.

Lendl, the No.1 seed, was unlucky again, not in the way that he played, but in the way that Edberg played. In an hour and 48 minutes, the No.3 seed gave an almost flawless exhibition of grass-court tennis, winning 6-1, 7-6, 6-3. So complete was the Swede’s superiority that, even after all his painful preparations, Lendl did not feel too distraught in defeat nor too downcast to go through the same agonies again next year.

“Last year was more disappointing because I had a real chance against Becker. Today Stefan outplayed me and I really could not get into the match,” Lendl said.

There is a touch of the Stan Laurel about Edberg. At any moment, you expect him to scratch the top of his head. He looks perplexed whether he is playing like a drain or a dream and as he can do both with equal facility, he lives life in a permanent state of puzzlement.

Yesterday, was one of the dreamy days when his volleys are controlled as if by radar, his serve hums off the grass and even the usually wayward forehand comes to heel. On such days, Edberg explores areas of grass-court play forbidden to less instinctive players. Lendl might have been blindfolded for all the chance he had of finding that promised land.

The Czechoslovak had only one chance to break Edberg’s service in the whole match. The moment came in the second set, the game after Lendl had saved five break points to lead 4-3. Lendl drove a cross-court forehand, which threatened to leave a hole in Edberg’s frail torso, but the Swede, almost standing on the net, parried the pass and the ball dropped sadly into the acres of vacant green grass.

If the tie-break was to be Lendl’s last stockade, it proved to be a flimsy barrier against the arrows which shot from Edberg’s racket. The Swede will not hit a more telling series of ground strokes as long as he graces Wimbledon than the passes, three forehand and one backhand, which left Lendl looking forlornly up into the players’ box for inspiration. He found none. Edberg took the tie-break 7-2.

The decisive break came in the sixth game of the third set. In desperation, Lendl lunged to his left to intercept an Edberg forehand on break point and the ball ballooned over the baseline. With it went the world No.1’s hopes and dreams, 12 months’ thought and three months’ preparation.

Becker had to conquer a strange feeling of nostalgia in his match. Five years ago, he was the big-serving unseeded semi-finalist, hurling himself about the centre court with youthful abandon. In his serving, the power of his ground strokes and his utter disdain for his elder and his better (this time), the Yugoslav was the image of Becker. But the one difference is that Ivanisevic looks permanently in need of a square meal; the one problem that his mind sometimes goes off in search of it. Three times, Ivanisevic paid the price for a lack of concentration. Once when, serving for a two-set lead at 6-5, he netted two volleys to give Becker the break back; second, when he let a 3-0 lead slip in the subsequent tie-break and the third time as Becker took the third set in 17 minutes. By the time his mind had returned to base, Becker was rumbling towards victory and the little the Yugoslav did in the way of imitation could not disturb the inevitability.

“During the match, I was thinking about somebody who was 17 years old who played like that,” Becker said. “The way he serves, hits his forehand volley and his ground strokes. He is doing the same things as I did.”

In time, he should win Wimbledon too.

Althea Gibson

From Tennis Confidential by Paul Fein (published in 1999):

“Given the same chance as others have had, blacks would dominate our sport as they have in other sports”, asserted Arthur Ashe, tennis first black men’s champion, in 1968.

For the first half of the twentieth century, blacks had no chance to compete at, let alone dominate, world-class tournaments. A major reason for this racial discrimination was that white athletes in tennis and other sports were afraid of competing on an equal basis with blacks.

“For 120 years, white America has gone to extraordinay lengths to discredit and discourage black participation in sports because black athletes have been so successful,” Ashe wrote in a New York times column.

In the not-so-good old days, the “Whites only” signs on tennis courts didn’t refer only to clothes. To end that separate but unequal segregation and to promote the grassroots game among black Americans, the American Tennis Association was organized in 1916. Before the ATA, black players, chiefly from the Northeast, participated in invitational interstate tournaments, the first being staged in Philadelphia in 1898. But since blacks were barred from playing in United States Lawn Tennis Association – sanctioned tournaments prior to 1940, the ATA struggled for years to ovecome that towering barrier to equality.

Despite a shortage of rackets, balls, courts, topflight coaching and funds for travel, outstanding black players such as Ora Washington, Jimmie McDaniel, and Oscar Johnson Jr emerged. Washington, a superb all-around athlete, captured seven straight ATA national women’s singles titles from 1929 to 1935.
McDaniel was “the greatest black tennis player of them all,” according to Sydney Llewellyn, a self-described archivist of black tennis from New York’s Harlem neighborhood. “McDaniel was better than Ashe. He was bigger, stronger,” Llewellyn told Tennis USTA. “He was a tall lefty, maybe 6’5. He’d take etwo steps and be all over the net. He had it all. He would have won a bunch of Grand Slams somewhere along the line, if he had had the chance.”

He didn’t because his heyday, albeit an obscure one, ended in the 1940s. Johnson dubbed “the Jackie Robinson of tennis”, came closer. As a skinny seventeen-year-old from Los Angeles, he broke ground as the first black to play in and win a USLTA national tournament, the 1948 National Junior Public Parks. Five years later promoter Jack Kramer offered Johnson a pro contact, but a snapped ebow tendon prematurely finished his career.

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Arthur Ashe, Wimbledon 1975

From Love Thirty, three decades of champions by Rex Bellamy

The achievements of Arthur Robert Ashe – known as ‘Bones’ when he was a skinny boy and as ‘The Shadow’ when he became a skinny celebrity – are remarkable not least because of the social and racial context in which he achieved them. His blood lines were mixed but essentially he was a black who came close to dominating a white world. In that complicated and controversial area Ashe was a pioneer of enduring influence: as he was in the organization of professionals as a corporate force, as a central figure in the game’s administrative evolution, and as a driving force behind revisions of the rules of play. In addition to all that he found time for a diversity of business ventures and social and charitable work. Like a stone cast into a pond, Ashe made a splash that sent ripples – often, waves – in every direction. Consequently his historic status was more important than his playing record suggests, distinguished though that was.

Descended from West African slaves, Ashe was brought up in a legally segregated community (a parallel of sorts with the South African politics into which he later dipped his toes) and learned to live with the racial distinctions. His mothe was frail and died when he was six years old. So Ashe and his brother Johnny were mainly brought up by his father, who policed and othewise tended a ‘black’ public park in which Ashe played his first tennis. The local tennis clubs and tournalents were no-go areas for anyone of Ashe’s pigmentation. His development had two main causes, other than his ability and character. One was the proximity of a black physician and tennis coach, Dr Walter Johnson, from Lynchburg. Ashe first went there when he was 10. Johnson had much to do with the grooming of the first black American to achieve international renown in tennis: Althea Gibson, who won the Wimbledon, United States and French championships in the 1950s.
Now, he did the same for Ashe, though Johnson’s son Bobby undertook most of the actual coaching. Dr Johnson and Ashe’s father also taught the teenager to ride the punches of racial prejudice and injustice and acquire the disciplined composure, the outward serenity, the dignity, with which he conducted himself. It must have helped, too, that the Ashe brothers joined their father on fishing and deer-hunting expeditions that taught them to wait patiently, with brains in gear, and endure frustration. The other main cause for Ashe’s advance was his liking and aptitude for study. He went to high school at St Louis and moved on to the University of California in Los Angeles, where he was plunged into the seaching fires of collegiate coaching and competition.

In those days tennis had yet to gain acceptance as a full-time competitive sport and the more talented Americans tended to complete their college commitments before joining the world tour and finding out just how good they were. Ashe was 22 years old, and already an established Davis Cup player with some heartening results behind him, when he went to Australia for the 1965-66 season and consolidated a growing reputation: first in the state tournaments and then in the Australian championships. He was runner-up to Roy Emerson that year and the next, but the wreckage his awesome serving left in its wake included Tony Roche, Fred Stolle and John Newcombe. Ashe had arrived. He was ready to play a starring role. It turned out to be both historic and bizarre.

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Ashe vs Connors, Wimbledon 1975

From Jimmy Connors’ autobiography, The Outsider:

Two days before the start of Wimbleon in 1975, I picked up a newspaper and turned straight to the sports section. The headline read: Connors sues Ashe.

I’m in the middle of a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Jack Kramer, Donald Dell, and the ATP, and here I am launching a new one. I discovered that Riordan (Connors’ manager) had filed two lawsuits in Indianapolis, claiming damages of $5 million in total for libelous comments that had apparently been directed at us. The first concerned a letter written by Arthur Ashe, as ATP president, in which he referred to me as “unpatriotic.” The second complaint ran along the same lines, originating in an article written by Bob Briner, the ATP’s secretary. He supposedly called Riordan a “nihilist”. Is that even an insult?

Chasing a drop shot early in my first-round match on the damp grass of Centre Court, I slipped and hyperextended my knee. I didn’t think much about it at the time; I carried on playing and won 6-2 6-3 6-1. But once the adrenaline rush of my first Wimbledon title defense was over, all that changed. I felt a degree of pain that I had never experienced before.
I thought I would be OK after some rest, but when I woke up the next morning, the pain had intensified; my knee was completely swollen and unable to support my weight. I needed to get it checked out. I got in touch with Bill and he found me the top physiotherapist at Chelsea Football Club, one of England’s leading soccer teams, which had the facilities to treat this kind of injury. After they examined me, it turned out I had a couple of hairline fractures in my shin – painful but treatable.
The physiotherapist’s advice was simple: rest. The timing could not have been worse. There were only two tournaments that I would have even considered playing while badly injured: Wimbledon and the US Open. As Pancho always told me, once you walk out there, be prepared to play, or don’t walk out there. Well, I thought I was ready. The physiotherapist wrapped up my leg and off I went to practice. I knew that once I was on the court, I would forget about the medical warnings.

After every match I won in those two weeks, I would immediately go for an intensive treatment of ultrasound, ice, and massage – and I wasn’t above taking a fistful of painkilllers, either. I kept the injury as secret as I could, refusing to wear even an Ace bandage; I wasn’t going to give anyone an edge.

I advanced to the final without losing a set, but 24 hours before my showdown with Ashe, the physio warned me once again to take it easy; he was afraid the fractures were getting worse. So why did I continue to play? Because I’m an idiot. I did decide to take the day off before the final, though.

By match time the next day, I’m ready to go. I start off steadily, but I can’t find my rhythm; I’m sluggish and Ashe is playing perfect tennis. I lose the first two sets easily 6-1 6-1, and now I’m getting desperate. Funny how things happen when you’re on the brink; a shot here, a lucky break there, and I win the third set 7-5. I go up a service break early in the fourth set and I’m starting to feel like I have the momentum, but that doesn’t last long. My shots lack pace; the catch the tape and fall backward. The recovery I think I’ve engineered turns out to be a figment of my imagination. Ashe comes back strong to win the set, match, and the Wimbledon title.

After his victory, Ashe turned to the crowd and raised his fist in triumph. He was a popular winner – and he was playing for black America, as well as representing all the members of the ATP. He deserved to revel in his moment. Arthur’s game was flawless that day; he had figured out the play to play me. By reducing the speed and length of his shots, he constantly brought me into the net before passing or lobbing me. […]

Ashe didn’t like me. He resented all the money I was making from my Challenge Matches, on the grounds that they would diminish the prestige of the Grand Slams. And he didn’t appreciate my attitude towards the Davis Cup. As for how he felt about Riordan’s multiple lawsuits, well, we never talked about that. Arthur didn’t have the balls to confront me; instead, he left a note in my locker at Wimbledon outlining his position.
Well, that speaks volumes, doesn’t it? All he had to do was come up and talk to me face to face, man to man, but he chose not to. It annoyed me, but not so much as when he walked out on to Centre Court wearing his Davis Cup jacket, with USA emblazoned across his chest.

In 1974, probably 90 percent of the fans at Wimbledon had been rooting for Ken Rosewall. In 1975, you guessed it, 90 percent of the fans were rooting for Arthur Ashe. What’s a guy gotta do to win friends around here? It took me a few more years to find out the answer to that question.