Wimbledon 1975: Ashe vs Connors
From Jimmy Connors’ autobiography, The Outsider:
Two days before the start of Wimbleon in 1975, I picked up a newspaper and turned straight to the sports section. The headline read: Connors sues Ashe.
I’m in the middle of a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Jack Kramer, Donald Dell, and the ATP, and here I am launching a new one. I discovered that Riordan (Connors’ manager) had filed two lawsuits in Indianapolis, claiming damages of $5 million in total for libelous comments that had apparently been directed at us. The first concerned a letter written by Arthur Ashe, as ATP president, in which he referred to me as “unpatriotic.” The second complaint ran along the same lines, originating in an article written by Bob Briner, the ATP’s secretary. He supposedly called Riordan a “nihilist”. Is that even an insult?
Chasing a drop shot early in my first-round match on the damp grass of Centre Court, I slipped and hyperextended my knee. I didn’t think much about it at the time; I carried on playing and won 6-2 6-3 6-1. But once the adrenaline rush of my first Wimbledon title defense was over, all that changed. I felt a degree of pain that I had never experienced before.
I thought I would be OK after some rest, but when I woke up the next morning, the pain had intensified; my knee was completely swollen and unable to support my weight. I needed to get it checked out. I got in touch with Bill and he found me the top physiotherapist at Chelsea Football Club, one of England’s leading soccer teams, which had the facilities to treat this kind of injury. After they examined me, it turned out I had a couple of hairline fractures in my shin – painful but treatable.
The physiotherapist’s advice was simple: rest. The timing could not have been worse. There were only two tournaments that I would have even considered playing while badly injured: Wimbledon and the US Open. As Pancho always told me, once you walk out there, be prepared to play, or don’t walk out there. Well, I thought I was ready. The physiotherapist wrapped up my leg and off I went to practice. I knew that once I was on the court, I would forget about the medical warnings.
After every match I won in those two weeks, I would immediately go for an intensive treatment of ultrasound, ice, and massage – and I wasn’t above taking a fistful of painkilllers, either. I kept the injury as secret as I could, refusing to wear even an Ace bandage; I wasn’t going to give anyone an edge.
I advanced to the final without losing a set, but 24 hours before my showdown with Ashe, the physio warned me once again to take it easy; he was afraid the fractures were getting worse. So why did I continue to play? Because I’m an idiot. I did decide to take the day off before the final, though.
By match time the next day, I’m ready to go. I start off steadily, but I can’t find my rhythm; I’m sluggish and Ashe is playing perfect tennis. I lose the first two sets easily 6-1 6-1, and now I’m getting desperate. Funny how things happen when you’re on the brink; a shot here, a lucky break there, and I win the third set 7-5. I go up a service break early in the fourth set and I’m starting to feel like I have the momentum, but that doesn’t last long. My shots lack pace; the catch the tape and fall backward. The recovery I think I’ve engineered turns out to be a figment of my imagination. Ashe comes back strong to win the set, match, and the Wimbledon title.
After his victory, Ashe turned to the crowd and raised his fist in triumph. He was a popular winner – and he was playing for black America, as well as representing all the members of the ATP. He deserved to revel in his moment. Arthur’s game was flawless that day; he had figured out the play to play me. By reducing the speed and length of his shots, he constantly brought me into the net before passing or lobbing me. […]
Ashe didn’t like me. He resented all the money I was making from my Challenge Matches, on the grounds that they would diminish the prestige of the Grand Slams. And he didn’t appreciate my attitude towards the Davis Cup. As for how he felt about Riordan’s multiple lawsuits, well, we never talked about that. Arthur didn’t have the balls to confront me; instead, he left a note in my locker at Wimbledon outlining his position.
Well, that speaks volumes, doesn’t it? All he had to do was come up and talk to me face to face, man to man, but he chose not to. It annoyed me, but not so much as when he walked out on to Centre Court wearing his Davis Cup jacket, with USA emblazoned across his chest.
In 1974, probably 90 percent of the fans at Wimbledon had been rooting for Ken Rosewall. In 1975, you guessed it, 90 percent of the fans were rooting for Arthur Ashe. What’s a guy gotta do to win friends around here? It took me a few more years to find out the answer to that question.