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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1978 US Open

1978 was the first year the US Open was played at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows after having been organized at the West Side Tennis Club venue in Forest Hill since 1915. It was also the first time the tournament was played on hard courts: it was originally played on grass until Forest Hills switched to Har-Tru clay courts in 1975. Jimmy Connors is the only player to have won the US Open on all three surfaces.

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

By late August, summer weighs heavily on the city of New York; each day seems like one long tepid breath drawn until dusk, then exhaled slowly through the night. The US Open is about to begin.

The USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, Queens, has been completed just in time to host the tournament that will henceforth call it home. A boardwalk leads from the subway to the new facility, which is adjacent to Shea Stadium, the sprawling home of the New York Mets and Jets. This boardwalk crosses over a subway yard, where hundreds of cars sit idle, covered with graffiti. The walk is lined with flags: American flags. Over seventy of them, counting those on top of the new Louis Armstrong Stadium. There isn’t a foreign standard in sight, because the USTA is bullish on the American role in international tennis.

The Americans leaped on the treadmill of professionalism faster than their international counterparts. As part of its massive attempt to popularize the sport, the USTA abandoned the West Side Tennis Club in nearby Forest Hills, a site redolent of tradition and all the genteel qualities associated with tennis. Although the stadium at Forest Hills held 13,500, the USTA deemed it to small. The hordes that descended on the 10.5 acres of the West Side Tennis Club created impossibly crowded conditions. Besides, parking facilities were inadequate, and this meant a great deal to some people. When the club rejected expansion proposals in 1977, USTA president Slew Hester decided to move the tournament to a newer, bigger home.

Louis Armstrong Stadium, the centerpiece of the National Tennis Center, is a bowl of epic proportions; its sheer sides give over 20,000 spectators a dizzying view of the main court. But the finest court at the site is in the grandstand, which nestles against one side of the stadium in much the same way that the Number One Court nestles against the Centre Court at Wimbledon. Sunken about ten feet below ground level, the court is surrounded on three sides by seats for about 6,000 spectators, who lean in over the players like aficionados around a bullring.
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1978 US Open champion Chris Evert

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

The women’s final is played first, in bright sunshine. Shriver shows no sign of nervousness; although she is broken early in the first set, she hangs on and reaches 3-4. In the next game, when she hits a desperate backhand volley at full stretch at 30-all, her opponent is set up for an easy forehand pass off the high bounce. But Evert‘s stroke is tight, and the ball falls into the net. Shriver has break point. It goes to deuce, then break point again. Twice, three times, four times, five – Evert is nervous, but Shriver is incapable of ending the game. It goes on to three more deuces, and this time it is Shriver who ignoes the advantage points her opponent holds. The last deuce is reached with a portentous double fault. Evert is beginning to buckle under the strain of the long game. An overhead winner gives Shriver break point again. Evert serves; Shriver returns a backhand slice to her forehand corner. At the decisive moment, Evert decides to lob instead of pass down Shriver’s backhand line, but she scoops the ball up short, and Shriver drills it into the opposite corner. She has broken back to even the match 4-4 after a game that contained twenty points.

Shriver has been capitalizing on Evert’s lack of speed. As long as she can control the pace of the match by ending points quickly, she is in good shape. When she lapses, Evert forces her to deuce before the younger girl holds for 5-4. Then Evert holds her own service at love.
In the next game, Shriver is at the point where she can smelle it. The scent makes her nervous. She loses the first point but hits a service winner for 15-all. She attacks again during the next point, but indecisive lobs answered with tentative overheads result in Shriver putting a crosscourt backhand wide. She cuts her next volley too fine, and Evert has two break points at 15-40. She loses one to a fine, deep serve on the backhand side, but gets the break when Shriver puts her first volley of the 30-40 point into the net. It is the classic error of an overeager hand, to which even the most seasoned players succumb now and then. Evert holds the next game easily to take the set 7-5.

A break in the long ninth game of the second set gives Evert the championship, 7-5 6-4. It is her fourth consecutive US Open title.

Evert and Shriver met the press together. Pam looked fresh as a rose, while Chris seemed haggard. Shriver admitted that things had changed for her with the Navratilova match. When she went out to buy a newspaper that morning, people on the street recognized her and wished her good luck. She felt she played well, despite feeling rushed.
In retrospect, she would have tied to slow down the pace of the match without prolonging the actual points.

“It all seemed to go by too quickly,” Shriver said.

Evert felt vindicated. She had won the tournament even though it was no longer on clay. She had also driven a wedge into Navratilova‘s grip on the number-one ranking, and the year was not over yet. The major title had been captured. She was proud of the intensity with which she responded to big points and the match in general. It proved that the competitive spirit was still there.

Later was I saw her in the lounge, she said:
“I know I’ve played better finals. It would have been a lot easier to play Pam in the second round. But I really needed this for my confidence, because it’s been a real struggle with little help from anyone since Wimbledon. When I first played Tracy there last year, I felt like crawling into a hole before the match. I mean, I had everyting to lose. It was like that his time, too, but I felt less uptight, and that was nice.”

Shriver had been adopted as the darling of the crowd. Evert had seen this happen too often to complain, but there was one thing she felt she had to clear up.

“If I was a normal schoolgirl or a housewife or something like that, I’d probably go for the underdog, too. But I know what it’s like for the winners. I know what real pressure is. Now I always find myself rooting for winners, because I know how tough it is to be one.”