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.

2016 US Open coverage

Arthur Ashe Stadium, 2016 US Open

Relive some of the best moments in the US Open history and follow our coverage on Tennis Buzz:

If you attend the Open and wish to share your stories or pictures, please leave us a comment below.

Fashion and gear:

A trip down memory lane:

Top 5 strange events at the US Open
US Open biggest upsets
1970 US Open: Margaret Court completes the Grand Slam
1971 US Open: Chris Evert becomes the “It Girl”
1972 US Open: Ilie Nastase defeats Arthur Ashe
1973 US Open: Margaret Court defeats Evonne Goolagong
1976 US Open: Connors defeats Borg
1978: the US Open moves to Flushing Meadows
1978 US Open: 4th consecutive US Open title for Chris Evert
1978 US Open: Jimmy Connors defeats Bjorn Borg
79 US Open 2nd round: McEnroe vs Nastase, chaos on court
1979 US Open: John McEnroe defeats Vitas Gerulaitis
1980 US Open: John McEnroe defeats Bjorn Borg
1981 US Open: Tracy Austin defeats Martina Navratilova
1981 US Open: John McEnroe defeats Bjorn Borg: Borg’s last Grand Slam match
1983 US Open: Career Grand Slam for Martina Navratilova
1984 US Open: John McEnroe last Grand Slam title
1990 US Open: Linda Ferrando upsets Monica Seles
1990 US Open: Alexander Volkov upsets Stefan Edberg
1990 US Open, the spitting incident
1991 US Open: Connors, 39 qualifies for the semifinals
1991 US Open: Seles and Capriati introduce power in womens tennis
1991: Monica Seles first US Open title
1991 US Open: playing to perfection, Edberg grabs first Open
1991 US Open: Edberg’s final dominance doesn’t diminish Courier
1992: Stefan Edberg defeats Pete Sampras
1992 US Open: Edberg takes Sampras, US Open, No.1 ranking
1993 US Open: Pete Sampras defeats Cédric Pioline
1994 US Open 4th round: Jaime Yzaga defeats Pete Sampras
1994: first US Open title for Andre Agassi
1995: Pete Sampras defeats Andre Agassi
1996 US Open: Class act Edberg making one last run at US Open
1996 US Open: Pete Sampras’ warrior moment
2001 US Open: Venus defeats sister Serena
2001 US Open QF: Andre Agassi – Pete Sampras
2001 US Open: Lleyton Hewitt defeats Pete Sampras
2002 US Open: last Grand Slam title for Pete Sampras
2004 US Open: First time to NYC for a French fan of Agassi
2005 US Open: Roger Federer defeats Andre Agassi
Andre Agassi gives the Open crowd one more thrill ride, August 31st, 2006
September 3rd 2006: Andre Agassi’s last match
Andy Murray’s road to the 2012 US Open final
2012 US Open: first Grand Slam title for Andy Murray

Reports:

Polls:

Who will win the 2016 US Open?

  • Novak Djokovic (45%, 62 Votes)
  • Andy Murray (27%, 38 Votes)
  • Rafael Nadal (17%, 24 Votes)
  • Stan Wawrinka (4%, 5 Votes)
  • Someone else (3%, 4 Votes)
  • Gael Monfils (1%, 2 Votes)
  • Kei Nishikori (1%, 2 Votes)
  • Milos Raonic (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Marin Cilic (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Dominic Thiem (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 139

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Who will win the 2016 US Open?

  • Serena Williams (62%, 64 Votes)
  • Angelique Kerber (22%, 23 Votes)
  • Garbine Muguruza (6%, 6 Votes)
  • Simona Halep (5%, 5 Votes)
  • Someone else (2%, 2 Votes)
  • Agnieszka Radwanska (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Madison Keys (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Dominika Cibulkova (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Venus Williams (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Roberta Vinci (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Svetlana Kuznetsova (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 104

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Photo credit: Michael C Dunne

2015 US Open coverage

2015 US Open

Relive some of the best moments in the US Open history and follow our coverage on Tennis Buzz:

If you attend the Open and wish to share your stories or pictures, please leave us a comment below.

Fashion and gear:

A trip down memory lane:

Top 5 strange events at the US Open
US Open biggest upsets
1970 US Open: Margaret Court completes the Grand Slam
1971 US Open: Chris Evert becomes the “It Girl”
1972 US Open: Ilie Nastase defeats Arthur Ashe
1973 US Open: Margaret Court defeats Evonne Goolagong
1978: the US Open moves to Flushing Meadows
1978 US Open: 4th consecutive US Open title for Chris Evert
1978 US Open: Jimmy Connors defeats Bjorn Borg
79 US Open 2nd round: McEnroe vs Nastase, chaos on court
1979 US Open: John McEnroe defeats Vitas Gerulaitis
1980 US Open: John McEnroe defeats Bjorn Borg
1981 US Open: Tracy Austin defeats Martina Navratilova
1981 US Open: John McEnroe defeats Bjorn Borg: Borg’s last Grand Slam match
1983 US Open: Career Grand Slam for Martina Navratilova
1984 US Open: John McEnroe last Grand Slam title
1990 US Open: Linda Ferrando upsets Monica Seles
1990 US Open: Alexander Volkov upsets Stefan Edberg
1990 US Open, the spitting incident
1991 US Open: Connors, 39 qualifies for the semifinals
1991 US Open: Seles and Capriati introduce power in womens tennis
1991: Monica Seles first US Open title
1991 US Open: playing to perfection, Edberg grabs first Open
1991 US Open: Edberg’s final dominance doesn’t diminish Courier
1992: Stefan Edberg defeats Pete Sampras
1992 US Open: Edberg takes Sampras, US Open, No.1 ranking
1993 US Open: Pete Sampras defeats Cédric Pioline
1994 US Open 4th round: Jaime Yzaga defeats Pete Sampras
1994: first US Open title for Andre Agassi
1995: Pete Sampras defeats Andre Agassi
1996 US Open: Class act Edberg making one last run at US Open
2001 US Open: Venus defeats sister Serena
2001 US Open QF: Andre Agassi – Pete Sampras
2001 US Open: Lleyton Hewitt defeats Pete Sampras
2002 US Open: last Grand Slam title for Pete Sampras
2004 US Open: First time to NYC for a French fan of Agassi
2005 US Open: Roger Federer defeats Andre Agassi
Andre Agassi gives the Open crowd one more thrill ride, August 31st, 2006

Reports:

Polls:

Who will win the 2015 US Open?

  • Roger Federer (47%, 74 Votes)
  • Novak Djokovic (28%, 44 Votes)
  • Rafael Nadal (10%, 15 Votes)
  • Andy Murray (8%, 12 Votes)
  • Stan Wawrinka (3%, 4 Votes)
  • Other (2%, 3 Votes)
  • Kei Nishikori (1%, 2 Votes)
  • Tomas Berdych (1%, 2 Votes)
  • David Ferrer (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Marin Cilic (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Milos Raonic (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 156

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Will Roger Federer win another Grand Slam title before the end of his career?

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Who will win the 2015 US Open?

  • Serena Williams (70%, 63 Votes)
  • Maria Sharapova (9%, 8 Votes)
  • Other (8%, 7 Votes)
  • Simona Halep (7%, 6 Votes)
  • Ana Ivanovic (2%, 2 Votes)
  • Lucie Safarova (2%, 2 Votes)
  • Caroline Wozniacki (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Garbine Muguruza (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Petra Kvitova (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Karolina Pliskova (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Carla Suarez Navarro (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 90

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Chris Evert

By Steve Fink, World Tennis magazine, December 1989:

I met Chris Evert on the day she reached her first Grand Slam final in Paris 16 years ago, when I interviewed her for this magazine. We became good friends, and I found myself immersed in her career.
She soon realized that I was regarded by the sport’s inner circle as her Boswell, as the primary source of information about her record, and she knew that my recollection of her matches was invariably sharper than her own. Throughout her career she would defer to me at press conferences from Palm Beach to Wimbledon whenever she could not answer a question about herself.

But my involvement with her went much deeper than that. I attended both of her weddings, sat with her family at many of her critical contests in the major championships, and spoke with her frequently before, during and after tournaments to offer council.
Given those circumstances, and the highly unusual of our alliance, I made it a practice, with few exceptions, not to write about he. The conflict would be clear-cut, and I saw no reason to abuse proximity of my position. But this is the time to relax journalistic binds a bit and offer my intimate assessment. Hers was a unique journey through the seventies and across the eighties, and to understand how Evert impacted her era, there is only one place to begin.

In September 1970, at the age of 15, Evert planted the first true seed of her greatness by toppling the world’s No.1 player Margaret Court 7-6 7-6 in the semifinals at Charlotte, North Carolina. Only weeks earlier, Court had completed the Grand Slam by winning the US Open at Forest Hills on grass, but on the clay of Charlotte the Fort Lauderdale prodigy erased the rangy Australian. It was unmistakably a sign of what was to come.
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John McEnroe, 1979 US Open

Extract from John McEnroe’s autobiography, Serious:

On the other side of the draw, Vitas was having a great run: he beat Clerc in the round of 16, Kriek in the quarterfinals, and in the semis, Tanner who had just gotten revenge on Borg for his Wimbledon loss. (It was funny how Vitas could beat guys who had beaten Borg, and yet, when it came down to it, couldn’t handle Borg himself. Tennis always works that way.)

But then in final, Vitas faced me.

I was coming off a year in which I had won three big victories over Connors: in the Masters, at Dallas (where I’d beaten Borg to win the tournament), and now here at the Open, in straight sets in the semis. There’s no other way to say it – I felt it was my time. I was a little uncomfortable about having to play my buddy Vitas in a big match – but not uncomfortable enough to lose.
In the end, it wasn’t even a particularly close match – I won in straight sets 7-5 6-3 and 6-3. In fact, I think that Vitas was more uncomfortable than I was. People were booing because they were angry that Connors and Borg weren’t playing. At that moment they were still the real stars – here we were just two guys from Queens! But I thought it was miraculous: two guys from Queens in the final of the US Open! I was convinced it was never going to happen again (I’m still convinced).

For a couple of years, I’d been working to hang out with Vitas, wondering if I could keep up with him off the court. I’d be trying to be his friend. I looked up to him. And now that I’d blown by him, the victory felt hollow. I had taken something from him. He was still a legitimate number four in the world, but now he was off the mountaintop. Now it was Borg, Connors and me .
Things were never quite the same between Vitas and me after that.

John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase, 1979 US Open

From John McEnroe‘s autobiography, Serious:

In the second round at the 1979 US Open, I faced Ilie Nastase. Nasty, who had won the tournament in 1972, was thirty-three and long past his prime, but he hadn’t mellowed with age – if anything, he was crazier than ever. And the big New York crowd at the Open always got him going.

Our night match drew a big crowd, eager to see Super Brat face down the aging enfant terrible of tennis. Frank Hammond was officiating the match. Of all the umpires out there, Frank – fat, bald, and dark-mustached, with a deep voice and a no-nonsense manner – was one of the few I liked. I always thought of him as a player’s umpire: he knew everyone by name, he treated you like a person.
Frank was known as an umpire who could control the crowd and the players in a difficult match, but that night he didn’t have a chance. There was a lot of drinking going on in the stands, and Nasty was on his worst behavior – stalling, arguing, cursing the officials, and generally trying to provoke me into going off the rails. Remarkably – and all too unusually – I kept it together. By the third set, Frank had had it: he lost his composure and ranted away at Nasty, docking him a penalty point. The crowd decided then and there that Frank couldn’t do anything right.

I was rattled myself, but then, at one set all and down a break, I began to pull it together, and won the third set 6-3. I was serving at 2-1, 15-love in the fourth set, when Nasty began arguing about another line call. He sat down in a linesman’s chair and refused to play. Frank literally begged him to go on, but Nasty wouldn’t stand up. It was clear that Nastase knew he was going to lose, and was simply looking to prolong everyone’s agony. ‘Game penalty, Nastase‘, Frank said. ‘McEnroe leads, three games to one‘.
Nasty stood up from the chair with his hands on his hips, screaming such vile obscenities at Frank that Frank, after further pleading, defaulted him. Now the crowd really went nuts, thowing paper cups and beer cans onto the court.

Mike Blanchard, the tournament referee, then came onto the court, and talked with Nasty and me. Figuring I was going to win anyway, and wanting to avoid a riot, I agreed to play on. Blanchard told the crowd that if things didn’t quiet down, the match would be discontinued.
Still, as soon as Frank tried to start play again, the crowd started chanting ‘Two to one, two to one‘ – the score before the game penalty. The chanting got louder and louder. I had never seen such pandemonium in a tennis match, and never would again, even in our wildest South American Davis Cup ties. Finally, Bill Talbert, the tournament director, decided to take Frank out of the match and put Blanchard in the chair. I felt terrible for Frank as he climbed down and walked off the court, the crowd pelting him with garbage. He had lost all credibility. What I found out only later was that the match had essentially destroyed his career. When the ATP decided to hire a group of full-time traveling officials, they didn’t choose Frank.

Once Frank was out off the court, I knew the air had gone out of Nasty, and ran out the rest of the match easily. Even the crowd seemed spent now. It was finally over at twelve thirty in the morning. Afte the match, I was somewhat astonished when Nastase came up to me and said ‘Hey, let’s go to dinner‘. Here was another lesson: business and pleasure must always be separated. ‘Sure‘, I said.