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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The Rocket Rod Laver

Rod Laver

From Love Thirty: Three Decades of Champions, by Rex Bellamy, published in 1990:

Rodney George Laver was the most astounding player I ever saw, and may have been the greatest ever. His record is without parallel. Consider what that record might have been but for his exclusion from 21 Grand Slam tournaments when he was, presumably, at his physical peak, between the ages of 24 and 29. Had professionals been eligible for those events, Lew Hoad might have had the better of laver for a year or so and Ken Rosewall would always have been worth an even-money bet. But one has to believe that from 1963 to 1967 Laver would have collected another bunch of major championships and perhaps a third Grand Slam. Laver overlapped and dominated two Grand Slam eras separated by seven years. He did so because he had it all. Because he was adventurer and artist in one. Because he could raise his game to any level demanded of it.

Laver was only 5ft 8 1/2in tall and usually weighed around 10st 71lb. But he had gigantic left arm and his speed and agility were breathtaking. The circumference of his left forearm was 12in and the wrist measured 7in. The strength of that wrist and forearm gave him blazing power without loss of control, even when he was on the run at full stretch. The combination of speed and strength, especially wrist-strength, enabled him to hit ferocious winners when way out of court – often when almost under the noses of the front ow of spectators. And he was a bow-legged, beautifully balanced, and as quick as a cat. He had some glorious matches with Rosewall – and with Tom Okker, who could match Laver’s speed and panache but was second-best in terms of strength and technical versatility. Laver also had the eyes of a hawk and fast anticipation and reactions. Like Budge, he was feckle-faced and had copper-coloured hair. Another distinguished feature was a long nose that, in spite of the kink in it, gave a false impression of hauteur. For much of his career Laver was confessedly shy and self-conscious, but there was no ‘side’ to him. He was easy going – except on court.

Marty Riessen once summed up Laver admirably: “To look at him walking around, you wouldn’t think he was world champion. He doesn’t stand out. His stature isn’t something you expect, like a Gonzales or a Hoad. Off the court, his personality seems almost retiring. But it’s as if he goes into a telephone booth and changes. On court he’s aggressive. Such a big change of personality – when a lot of players play the same as they act. What impresses me is his quickness. Speed enables him to recover when he’s in trouble. And the thing I learned from playing Laver is how consistent one can be with power. It’s amazing how he can keep hitting with such accuracy. He combines everything. There are a lot of good competitors. But he’s fantastic.”

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Chris Evert, 1975

By Mike Lupica, 1975

1975 was going to be the year something caught up with Chris Evert, the year anything caught up with her. She was advancing into her twenties, and her Miss Teenage days were behind her, and before she turned into a full-fledged American institution like General Motors or All in the Family, everyone was waiting for fate to step in and, well, at least slow her down.

Fate could take any form, as far as the rest of the women tennis pros were concerned: the anti-trust laws, a blemish, a couple of lousy backhands, a broken shoelace, anything. Maybe she would even lose a match every month or so. Maybe. Wrong.

This is what Chris Evert did in 1975: she won 16 of 22 tournaments, and 94 out of 100 matches; the only player to play her on equal terms was Billie Jean King, who split four matches with Chris, and now she doen’t even play singles anymore; she won over $363,000; she extended her winning streak on clay courts to 90 matches; she won the French Open, the Italian Open and the Family Circle Cup for the second consecutive year; she won her second Virginia Slims championship.

More? She won her first United States Open, just about the only major title to elude her this side of Florida seat in the US Senate; she won the L’eggs World Series of Women’s Tennis (and began 1976 by winning it again); her only real frustration came in blowing her semifinal match at Wimbledon against Billie Jean; she closed out 1975 by winning her last eight tournaments, and 35 straight matches.

By now, you must get the idea. Nothing was going to slow Chris Evert down in 1975, just like nothing – not even World Team Tennis, which she’ll join this year – looks like it can slow her down in 1976. Maybe in 1989 or so, she may start to slip a little.

There’s no doubt about it anymore. The kid is no flash in the pan.

Of course, what this remarkable success does is just put more pressure on this remarkable young woman. Each loss will become a curiosity item, something for those who collect weid pieces of trivia. Thirty years from now, a bunch of old dowdies will be sitting around on the tea room veranda at Wimbledon, wearing old Virginia Slims t-shirts, and be saying things like: “I remember the time she lost a match in seventy six…”
And she knows this, knows now even before she has reached full maturity that each time she steps on the tennis court she is under the most critical of microscopes, as those who still cannot comprehend her genius wait fo her fall. Did she lose only six matches last year? Maybe this year six losses may be too many as far as the public is concerned.

“You know, it’s funny,” she was saying early last year, home resting in Fort Lauderdale before she again rejoined the tour and her assault on all the records that mean anything in tennis.

“No matter what I do, it’s never quite enough. They always want something more from me.”

What that “more” is, perhaps only Chris Evert can ever know.

Each little slip of hers is regarded as some kind of portent of Bad Things to Come. She looked about ready to bury Billie Jean at Centre Court in King’s last Wimbledon, up 2-0 in the final set, and holding two break points. But then the indomitable King, who someday with Evert and Suzanne Lenglen will be the one of three women tennis players worth talking about in this century, reached down into her still-hungry spirit and came back to win.
So the critics wondered: what will happen to her confidence now? What happened? She went out over the last six months of the year and played better than she had in the first six months. So much for portents.

When she and her sometimes friend James Connors played Billie Jean and Marty Riessen in that Love Doubles thing in Las Vegas in December everyone waited for her to fold a little again. All Chris did that day was play the best tennis on court, better than King, better than Riessen, even better than Connors. Not only that, she was absolutely charming in the process. Each time she plays now, the myth of the Ice Maiden melts a little more.

“It’s a shame, the public doesn’t know the real Chris Evert like I do”, Billie Jean has always said. “I wish they could hear more of the things she says when we’re playing doubles, as partners or otherwise. She’s a fun person. I mean she’s really a fun person.”

She is not a racket thrower, or a tantrum thrower because she is simply not like that. She is one who worked hard, was taught to win, does not make mistakes. Wins.

“Boy, I worked hard on my game when I was younger,” she says, answering the unspoken question of how she has come to be the player she is. “I worked from the time when I was 15 and 16. I would always practice five or six hours a day. I mean, I was playing that much tennis in the hot sun.”
“I can’t do that now,” she continues? “I wouldn’t want to do that now. When I’m off the tour for any length of time, I still like to practice, but never more than ninety minutes, or two hours, at a time. I’m not a fanatic about it anymore.”

She has more interests away from tennis than she ever did, and that is no small feat for someone who for the last five years of he life has spent her time in airports and in hotels and on tennis courts, or commuting to wonderful places like that. But slowly she has cultivated an interest in photography. And now she has succeeded Billie Jean as president of the Women’s tennis Association, as that organization moves into the most crucial stage of its existence. No, she is no longer Miss Teenage Tennis. This girl is a woman now.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m the Old Lady,” she laughs, referring to the celebrated nickname for Billie Jean. “Some of the younger girls come up and ask for advice. Mostly, it’s the european girls, asking for advice on clothes and where to shop and thingd like that. But still I’m kind of flattered by that. They’re asking me the same kind of questions I asked the older players when I first came out on the tour.

Perhaps the question they should all be asking her is: How do we beat you? Chris’ game has more variety and substance than ever as she moves into 1976. Her volley has improved sixty percent in the last year, as evidenced by her surprisingly strong net play in the Love Doubles match. The announcers kept informing their viewers how suspect Chris was at the net, and Chris just kept swatting away short balls for winners.

“I’ve been working very hard on my volley and my second serve,” she said in ’75, “because I think they’re the two parts of my game that most need improvement – two of many.” So she went to work and improved them.

She is also even tougher on the court than ever before, and this was evidenced in the US Open final, when Evonne Goolagong, who again this year will be her most consistent nemesis, had her in deep trouble in the second set. But Chris, beneath that placid and seemingly impenetrable placid exterior is really a little hitwoman on the court, pulled heself together and won her first Open.

“My father taught me to win,” she says of Jimmy Evert, her only coach. “To give one hundred percent and to win.”

Dad done taught her good, right?

The competition for her this year on the Slims tour will be strong, of course. Free from political pressures, that new American citizen Martina Navratilova will be out to show that she indeed can become the world’s best player. And there are old familiar favorites – Margaret Court and Virginia Wade and Olga Morozova and Kerry Melville Reid – around to see if they can play a couple of winning tunes.

But, as always, Chris will be there, and Chris will be winning, and maybe 1976 will be the year she conquers what seems to be the only real problem left for her in tennis: How to handle Jimmy Connors.

Chris Evert, Fed Cup 1989

Published in World Tennis Magazine, December 1989.

In October 1989, Chris Evert represented the United States for the last time in the Federation Cup. Here, she recounts the week.

Tuesday

Our first-round match is against Greece. I play Christine Papadaki, who I have never played or even seen before. The stress I feel before the match has nothing to do with the match itself, but with whether I will fit into the new tennis skirts the USTA made for us. They have red, white and blue sequined flags on the front. Anyway, Martina (Navratilova) and I overcame our jet lag (we arrived in Tokyo the night before after playing in a series of exhibitions) to win easily. Pam (Shriver) and Zina (Garrison) win the doubles.
We go to the NEC Sponsor Dinner later that night. NEC has been sponsoring the Fed Cup for eight years, and the buffet is great. Lots of giveaways too (television sets, pearls, walkmans, silks).

Wednesday

I wake up at 7 am to the sound of rain. We are scheduled to play Denmark, and we go indoors to hit just in case the weather clears up. Sure enough, by 11:30 we are on the court. The first round was played on court 4, a fast court, and this round we’re playing on court 1, which is very slow. It’s hard to figure out why a huge, impressive facility like this (it’s much bigger than Flushing Meadows) doesn’t have uniform-speed surfaces. No matter. I prefer the slower court and beat 16-year-old Karin Ptaszek easily 6-1 6-1. Martina, however, has trouble adjusting and Tine Scheuer Larsen takes advantage of some great passing shots to stretch Martina to 7-5 6-3. Zina and Martina win the doubles. Another 3-0 victory.
I’m still crossing my fingers, but so far team spirit is very high. Our coach, Marty Riessen, is good at dealing with four high-strung perfectionnists. I’m eally motivated – I just hope it lasts all week. The tough matches will begin Friday against Austria.

Thursday

It’s a day off for the team, but I get early and go through a tough but fun two-on-one with Zina and Pam. Zina is hitting the ball so solidly and moving so well, it’s too bad that, at No. 5 in the world, she isn’t playing in a singles match somewhere. I think that reaching the US Open semis (by beating me!) and getting married (to Willard Jackson) have inspired Zina tremendously. She is coming into her own, which is great to see.
Pam, on the other hand, has come to a crossroads in her career and personal life. This is not an easy time for her: she is frustrated by injuries, her split with Martina in doubles, and her indecisiveness about whether or not to dedicate herself 100 percent to tennis. I really like Pam: she is bright and witty and multidimensional. I have no doubt she will emerge from this low period in her life stonger and wiser.

Friday

Here we are in the quarter-final match against Austria. I’m playing Judith Wiesner on center court. We both play well, and because she’s a baseliner we have some very long rallies, though I eventually pull it out. Martina beats Barbara Paulus and the doubles is called off because of rain. Pretty routine, I just heard that the Czechs beat West Germany. Martina is upset, she wanted a rematch with Steffi (Graf).

Saturday

It rains all day, matches are cancelled.

Sunday

Czechoslovakia, the match we’ve all been gearing up for. Helena Sukova and Jana Novotna are excellent singles players as well as No. 1 in the world in doubles. In other words, we don’t want to get into a 1-1 situation with them.
I’m ready and I’m focused. I pass Jana at the net and serve effectively to win 6-2 6-3. I think the Czechs were counting on winnning this match. In fact, I think a lot of players think they can beat me because I’ve had some loose, careless matches (for me) this year. But I’m determined not to give an inch.
My heart is in my mouth as Helena storms into the net at every possible moment against Martina and wins the first set 6-4. All of a sudden, our chances of winning this Federation Cup are in jeopardy. If Martina loses to Helena, it will be up to the doubles and the Czechs will be favored. But using the new-found determination that Billie Jean King has worked to rekindle, Martina blows Helena off the court in the second set 6-1, and then shows guts in winning the third, 6-4. In our minds this was the Cup final and we all share a sigh of relief.
One more to go. It has been three long years since we last won the Cup in Prague. We want it back.

Monday

They’re calling the final with Spain ‘thirtysomething’ versus the 17 year olds. Conchita Martinez and Arantxa Sanchez, both of whom are in the Top Ten, pose a real threat to me and Martina because of their slow-surface prowess. I feel a little bit apprehensive today because we have been psyching ourselves up more for the germans and Czechs than the Spaniards, because of my lack of knowledge about my opponent (Martinez) and because, more than likely, this will be my last tournament match. That could explain why I woke up at 5:30 this morning. I start to get uptight, but I finally convince myself not to worry, enjoy the competition, and work hard for one more match.

With Pam, Martina and Zina cheering me on from the sideline, I once again play intense, heads-up tennis to beat Conchita 6-3 6-2. Asked after the match why I am retiring when I’m playing so well, I start to realize why everyone on our team is in top form: we have camaraderie, we have Riessen as our coach on the court, and who wouldn’t improve practicing with Martina, Pam and Zina every day?
I think Martina is so relieved that I won my singles (and she is genuinely happy for me) that she forgets about her own game for a while. After losing the first set to Sanchez 0-6, Martina guts out the next two, 6-3 6-4. We have clinched the Cup! Pam and Zina then come out with 3-0 written in their determined eyes and makes us all proud by winning 7-5 6-3.

Andy and my parents watch the ceremony from the sideline. It is bittersweet: I am happy and proud; I am also sad. Later on in the locker room I get a migraine and shed the tears that have been bottled up for quite a while. I’m having a hard time dealing with the finality of it all and still find myself questioning my decision to retire. When I think of how well I played this week and the adrenaline flowing and the highs of winning, it’s hard to think of retiring. But then I force myself to remember the hard work, intense concentration, sore body, total commitment and disheartening losses. Retirement is all at once very calming.

1973 Australian Davis Cup team

From Rod Laver‘s autobiography The education of a tennis player:

“The ITF, in a rare burst of sense and forgiveness, announced in 1973 that all pros were now eligible for Davis Cup. She’ll be apples! That’s an old Aussie expression for good days ahead.

And I got the Davis Cup itch again after years of feeling it was no longer for me. Why not? But, realistically, I was 35, not at my very best, and for a very long time hadn’t been involved in the most stifling of tennis pressure, Davis Cup – yes, greater than a Wimbledon final. Especially in Australia where so much success had raised expectations to the clouds. I hadn’t been on the team for 11 years, a lark, overrunning Mexico in 1962. But I was getting itchy to prove myself since the 1960-61 Cups were also romps, over Italy. The lone tough encounter of my four winning teams was the U.S. in 1959, and I lost both singles, to Barry Mac-Kay and Alex Olmedo. Only the presence of Neale Fraser, winning both singles plus the doubles with Emmo, saved us.

Now I had to talk to Fraser, the successor as captain to Hopman. A good friend, but very practical. Was I up to it? And how would the other guys feel about a newcomer at this stage? They had won two series to lift the team to the semis. Happily, I was accepted by my mates: Newcombe, Rosewall, Geoff Masters, Ross Case, Mal Anderson. They just wanted to win for Australia. If I could help, fine.
But could I? Fraser wasn’t at all sure. The acid test prior to the semifinal against Czechoslovakia was the Australian Indoor Championships in Sydney. Captain Fraser made it clear that I’d have to do well to have any chance to play against the Czechs.
I worked my bum off to get fitter than I’d been in almost a year. The lineup of would-be Laver-flatteners was daunting. In the quarters, it was Raul Ramirez, the quick, sharp-volleying Mexican, and I got him, 6-3 6-4. Next, world No. 6 Rosewall. Where did they find him? I barely escaped, 6-4 3-6 8-6. Finally, it was No. 2 Newcombe, in a roaring five sets, 3-6 7-5 6-3 3-6 6-4.
Captain Fraser shook my hand with, “Rocket, welcome to the team.”

It couldn’t have been a nicer setting after gloomy, rickety Hordern Pavilion, site of the Indoor. We were in Melbourne for the semi, plenty of November sunshine heralding the onset of summer on the famed grass courts of Kooyong. The Czechs would have preferred clay, but Jan Kodes, a future Hall of Famer, could handle the lawn. He’d won Wimbledon and was finalist to Newcombe at Forest Hills only months before.
For the last time, my parents saw me play, and fortunately I didn’t let them down. Or Fraser and the country. It was extremely difficult, though. After I stopped Kodes, 6-3 7-5 7-5, Jiri Hrebec, wildly erratic, put it all together to stun the crowd as well as Newcombe – on grass! – 6-4 8-10 6-4 7-5. Now Rosewall and I were on the same side for a change, and we needed each other in a long, demanding go-ahead doubles over Vladimir Zednik and Kodes, 6-4 14-12 7-9 8-6. That left it up to me to tame Hrebec (seldom heard from again) 5-7 6-3 6-4 4-6 6-4 settling it.

We were on our way to Cleveland, a quartet called, by my co-author, “Captain Fraser’s Antique Show”Rosewall, 39; Laver, 35; Mal Anderson, 38; Newcombe, 29. Rosewall had been away from Cupping for 17 years, Anderson for 15, Laver, as I said, for 11, Newcombe for six, Fraser for 10. Never been anything like it.

We were old enough to go out alone, but nobody wanted to in the December chill of downtown Cleveland. What a place for a Cup final. Old, vast, drafty Public Hall, attracted few people to see us do our stuff: a 5-0 triumph that ended the U.S. streak of five years and a record 15 encounters. A terrible promotion. Some writers were calling us the greatest of all Davis Cup teams, yet nobody wanted to see us (maybe 7,000 for three days) or the home heroes.
It didn’t matter to us. We wanted Yank heads to show that the, shall we say mature, Aussies were still breathing. And we got them on an overly drawn out Friday night and a brief Saturday afternoon. Newcombe led off with a mixture of uncharacteristic spins, soft stuff, plus his usual muscle to overcome Stan Smith in five 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. Then Tom Gorman and I went at it furiously, charging the net, serving and-volleying for five more sets. A bit of revenge for Wimbledon ’71 was mine, 8-10 8-6 6-8 6-3 6-1.

Fraser decided he wanted two forehands down the middle plus troublesome serving in picking me and Newc to conclude the assignment. We fast-finished the Yanks, Erik van Dillen and Smith, 6-1 6-2 6-4. How pleasant to have the company of our old friend, the Cup, again, and swill victory grog from it. Long time no guzzle for all of us. My Davis Cup itch had been unexpectedly scratched.”

Watch out Australia’s winning team of 1973 reflect on their famous 5-0 victory over the United States in Cleveland.