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.

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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Australian Olympic team opening ceremony outfti

The Australian Olympic Committee and Sportscraft, official outfitter of the Australian Olympic team, unveiled the opening ceremony uniforms for the Australian athletes in Rio.

Sticking to the iconic green and gold, the athletes will don a green and white striped blazer with prominent national coat of arms on the upper pocket. The names of every Australian gold medallist since 1896 are embroidered in the lining of each blazer.

Tennis has provided Australia with one gold, one silver and four bronze medals. Edwin Flack, the winner of the 800m and 1500m athletics titles in 1896, also played in doubles tennis at those Olympics. His partner was an Englishman, George Robertson and the pair won bronze.

The gold and silver medals were won by ‘The Woodies’ – Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge – in the men’s doubles at Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 respectively.

Elizabeth Smylie and Wendy Turnbull won bronze in the women’s doubles at Seoul 1988 and Rachel McQuillan with Nicole Bradtke did likewise at Barcelona 1992. At Athens 2004, Alicia Molik won Australia’s first individual tennis medal, a bronze in the women’s singles.

Australian Olympic team opening ceremony outfit

Australian Olympic team opening ceremony outfit

Australian Olympic team opening ceremony outfit

Australian Olympic team opening ceremony outfit

Source: 2016 Australian Olympic Team website

Stay tuned for more Rio 2016 coverage on Tennis Buzz.

Evonne Goolagong

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

Evonne Fay Goolagong had two unusual names. The Evonne happened because her mother wanted something different, instead of the familiar French spelling. Goolagong means ‘tall trees by still water”. Her father was an itinerant sheep shearer and farm hand and she was one of eight children brought up in the bush: the rolling wheat and sheep country noth of the Murrumbidgee River. They lived in a tin shack on the outskirts of Barellan and were the only Aboriginal family in the vicinity. Fishing for yabbies, small crayfish, was fun for the children? But there was no money to throw around and they were a long way frol the tennis scene. They were a long way from most scenes.
It might have stayed that way – goodness knows what Goolagong would have been doing now – but for a local initiative that produced the War Memorial Club, equipped with four tennis courts. That happened in 1956 when Goolagong was five years old. The courts could not have been nearer home and within a couple of years she was acquiring a taste for the game.

Destinity took her by the hand again when London-born Vic Edwards, who ran a huge coaching operation from Sydney, was induced to include Barellan in his network of week-long tennis schools held in bush towns while children were on holiday. The two coaches assigned to Barellan insisted that Edwards himself should have a look at Goolagong and he flew hundreds of miles to do so. Edwards was impressed by her movements, reactions, and ball sense – that innate judgement of a ball’s speed and bounce on which timing depends.
She was nine then. Two years later she made her first trip to Sydney for intensive coaching and at 13, in 1965, she moved in with the Edwards family. Edwards became her legal guardian, assuming responsibility for her education on and off court. But Goolagaong retained close ties with her own family and with Barellan, where local residents dipped into their pockets to subsidize her career. She was already winning age-group championships and in 1970 she became Australian junior champion without losing a set and went on her first overseas tour. Edwards, a hearty bear of a man, was to travel with her as coach, manager, and surrogate father until 1976, by which time Goolagong had matured and married and was assuming an independent life style.

Edwards thought she could win Wimbledon in 1974. But in 1971 Goolagong surprised him. She surprised everybody. In January she led Margaret Court 5-2 in the third set of the Australian final but was afflicted by cramp and could no longer do the running Court demanded of her. A month later she beat Court in the Victorian final. Over to Europe, where Goolagong won the French championship at the first attempt without conceding a set and then beat Nancy Richey, Billie Jean King and Margaret Court in consecutive matches to become Wimbledon champion. At the age of 19, on her second trip overseas, the brown-skinned lass from a tin shack in a bush town had won two of the game’s four major titles.

Evonne Goolagong, Wimbledon 1971

Goolagong did not find it easy to build on that, partly because her toughest rivals had worked out how to play her, partly because her game veered wildly between splendour and mediocrity, and partly because she was not greedy for glory. She lost 11 of the 18 Grand Slam finals she played. That was hardly surprising, because the players who beat her were King (four times), Court and Chris Evert (three each), and Virginia Wade. At the same time one could not resist a frivolous line of logic: Goolagong loved playing tennis, had to win in order to enjoy another match in the next round, but was deprived of that incentive whenever she reached a final. She was a determined competitor but tended to value the game more than the prize. She was not in the same class as King, Court and Evert when it came to a concentrated, total commitment to success.

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