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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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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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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Extract from On this day in tennis history by Randy Walker

Arthur Ashe becomes the first black player to win a title in the apartheid nation of South Africa winning the doubles title at the South African Open with Tom Okker, defeating Lew Hoad and Bob Maud 6-2 4-6 6-2 6-4 in the final.
After being denied a visa based on his anti-apartheid views, Ashe is permitted to play in the event by the South African government. Ashe requests to tournament officials that the bleacher seating not be segregatedd during the tournament, but his wishes are not granted.
Ashe loses the singles final the day before to Jimmy Connors 6-4 7-6 6-3. Chris Evert wins the women’s title defeating Evonne Goolagong 6-3 6-3.