40 Years Ago In Tennis – Bud Collins Summarizes The Epic Year
The second year of Open tennis was one of continued progress but lingering confusion on the political front—and towering on-court performances by Margaret Smith Court and most notably Rod Laver, who netted an unprecedented second Grand Slam.
There were 30 open tournaments around the world and prize money escalated to about $1.3 million. Laver was the leading money winner with $124,000, followed by Tony Roche ($75,045), Tom Okker ($65,451), Roy Emerson ($62,629) and John Newcombe ($52,610).
The Davis Cup and other international team competitions continued to be governed by reactionaries, however, and admitted only players under the jurisdiction of their national associations. This left “contract pros”—who were paid guarantees and obligated by contract to adhere to the schedule set by independent promoters—on the outs, while players who accepted prize money but remained under the aegis of their national associations were allowed to play. At the end of the year, a proposal to end this silly double standard and include the contract pros was rejected by the Davis Cup nations in a 21-19 vote.
The “registered player” concept, borne of compromise a year earlier, persisted until finally being abolished by a newly-elected and more forward-looking International Lawn Tennis Federation Committee of Management in July. Still, the public found it difficult to understand who was and who was not a pro. In the United States, those who took prize money but remained under the authority of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association were officially called “players.”
Under the leadership of Captain Donald Dell, the members of the U.S. Davis Cup team preferred to call themselves “independent pros,” making it clear that they were competing for prize money. The USLTA leadership would have preferred to keep the U.S. tournament circuit amateur, paying expenses only, except for five open events given ILTF sanction (Philadelphia Indoor, Madison Square Garden, the U.S. Open, Pacific Southwest, Howard Hughes Invitational in Las Vegas). This would have kept down spiraling overhead costs, a threat to the exclusive clubs, which resisted sponsorship but did not want to lose their traditional events.
Dell and the Davis Cup team refused to play in tournaments that offered expenses and guarantees instead of prize money, however, and thus effectively forced a full prize-money circuit into being in the United States.
Dell led the way by organizing the $25,000 Washington Star International in his hometown. It was a prototype tournament in many ways, commercially sponsored and played in a public park for over-the-table prize money rather than under-thetable appearance fees. Other tournaments followed suit, and a new and successful U.S. Summer Circuit began to emerge. In all, 15 U.S. tournaments offered $440,000 in prize money, with the $137,000 U.S. Open again the world’s richest event. In 1968, there had been only two prize-money open tournaments in the U.S., the $100,000 U.S. Open and the $30,000 Pacific Southwest.
A few peculiar hybrid events—half-amateur, half professional—-remained. The most obviously unnecessary was the $25,000 National Singles and Doubles at Longwood Cricket Club, which welcomed amateurs and independent pros but excluded the contract pros. Stan Smith beat Bob Lutz 9-7, 6-3, 6-0, and Court prevailed over Virginia Wade 4-6, 6-3, 6-0, for the singles titles, but the grandly named tournament was essentially meaningless, except to those cashing checks, and vanished from the scene the next year in a natural sorting-out process.
A U.S. Amateur Championships also was played on clay in Rochester, the telecast of which was interrupted by a sexist act that wouldn’t even be contemplated today. Linda Tuero of Metairie, La., and Gwyneth Thomas of Cleveland, hyper-patient, unrepentant baseliners, were contesting the women’s final with endless rallies, one point lasting 10-1/2 minutes and 326 strokes.
It was too much for referee Ernie Oberlaender. After two hours, 20 minutes, and with no end in sight, he yanked them. He moved them to a court away from the cameras and installed the men’s finalists for a match shorter in time, longer in games, won by
Butch Seewagen of New York over Zan Guerry of Lookout Mountain, Tenn., 9-7, 6-8, 1-6, 6-2, 6-4.
“What else could I do,” the referee was apologetic. “Two fine players, but they got locked into patballing, and neither would give. The crowd and the TV people were getting restless.” Linda and Gwyneth actually seemed relieved.
“I’m glad they got us off TV,” said Tuero, eventually the victor, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2. “I wouldn’t have watched it 10 minutes myself.”
If the labels put on tournaments and players boggled the public mind, there was no doubt as to who the world’s No. 1 players were: Australians Laver and Court.
Laver repeated his 1962 Grand Slam by sweeping the Australian, French, Wimbledon and U.S. titles the first year all four were open. Laver also won the South African Open over Okker, 6-3, 10-8, 6-3, and finished the season with a 106-16 record and winning 18 of 32 tournaments. He didn’t lose a match from the start of Wimbledon in June until the second round of the Pacific Southwest Open in late September, when Ray Moore ended the winning streak at 31 matches, 7-5, 3-6, 6-2. During that stretch, Laver won seven tournaments, including his fourth Wimbledon (where he had not lost since the 1960 final), his second Forest Hills and his fifth U.S. Pro Championship. By the time he got to Los Angeles, Rod just wanted to get 45 minutes farther south to his adopted home of Corona Del Mar, Calif, where his wife, Mary, had just given birth to his son, Rick Rodney.
The most difficult match for Laver of the 26 that constituted the Slam came early, in the semifinals of the Australian. He beat Roche, 7-5, 22-20, 9-11, 1-6, 6-3, enduring more than four hours in the sweltering, 105-degree heat of a Brisbane afternoon. Both players got groggy in the brutal sun, even though they employed an old Aussie trick of putting wet cabbage leaves in their hats to help stay cool. It was so close that it could easily have gone either way, and a controversial line call helped Laver grasp the final set. Having survived, Laver beat Andres Gimeno in the final, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5. Rod had survived an Aussie gauntlet: Emerson in the fourth round, 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 9-7, Stolle in the quarters, 6-4, 18-16, 6-4, and Roche. Gimeno traveled a less hazardous route, defeating Butch Buchholz 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 and Ray Ruffels 6-2, 11-9, 6-2.
At the French Open, another Aussie, Dick Crealy, took the first two sets from Laver in a second-rounder, 3-6, 7-9, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4, but
the red-haired “Rocket” accelerated, stopping the increasingly dangerous Stan Smith in the fourth round, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, Gimeno in the quarters, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 and Okker in the semis, 4-6, 6-0, 6-2, 6-4. Ultimately he played one of his best clay-court matches to
beat defender Ken Rosewall in the final, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, after “Muscles” had knocked off Roche, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.
An unheralded Indian named Premjit Lall similarly captured the first two sets in the second round at Wimbledon, but Laver awoke to dispose of him, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-0, 6-0. Stan Smith then took Laver to five sets, 6-4, 6-2, 7-9, 3-6, 6-3, in the fourth round. In the
quarters, Cliff Drysdale wasn’t the impediment he’d been a year before at the U.S. Open, going down, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. To finish, Rod burst from ambushes to raise the heat and tone down Arthur Ashe in the semis, 2-6, 6-2, 9-7, 6-0, then Newcombe, who had eliminated Roche, 3-6, 6-1, 14-12, 6-4. Despite Newcombe’s thoughtful game plan of using lobs and changes of pace instead of the straightforward power for which he was known, Laver prevailed, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.
Then, to complete the Slam, it was on to the U.S. Open. But first, the U.S. Pro at Longwood in Boston where Laver, winning for the fifth time, reprised over Newcombe, 7-5, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1. “How could he do that the week after Wimbledon?” marveled Ashe.
But that was Laver in ‘69, virtually invincible to any physical and mental obstacles.
The climax came at Forest Hills, where Philip Morris and its tennis-minded chairman of the board, Joe Cullman, had infused heavy promotional dollars into the U.S. Open. He brought flamboyant South African promoter Owen Williams in from Johannesburg to run a jazzed-up show and foster corporate patronage.
They drew record crowds until the weather turned surly. Rain inundated the already soft and uneven lawns, played havoc with the schedule and pushed the tournament days past its scheduled conclusion.
Despite the trying conditions and the imminent birth of his son on the West Coast, Laver remained intent. He was taken to five sets only by persistent Dennis Ralston, 6-4, 4-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the fourth round. After that, Laver disposed of ever-prickly Emerson, 4-6, 8-6, 13-11, 6-4 in the quarterfinals, and defender Ashe, 8-6, 6-3, 14-12 in the semifinals. Arthur had brushed aside Rosewall, 8-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the quarterfinals. Roche, in a wowser, denied his mate Newcombe a place in the final, defeating his doubles partner 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 8-6 in the semifinals.
Then they waited through two days of rain as either the Grand Slam or a grand slap hovered. Laver, an old hand at the old ways with the feet, donned spikes in the second set. He became a sure-soled bog runner in climbing over Roche, 7-9, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2, on a gloomy Tuesday before a gathering of only 3,708 fans who sat through rain delays of 90 and 30 minutes. The weather certainly dampened the occasion, but it was appropriate that Roche—clearly No. 2 in the world, and regarded as Laver’s heir apparent until a series of left arm injuries started to plague him the next year—provided the final hurdle. The ruggedly muscular Roche was the only player with a winning record over Laver (5-3) for the year.
Laver uncharacteristically leaped the net in the Fred Perry style of the 1930s—”I don’t know why I did that!—and shed a few tears as USLTA President Alastair Martin presented him the champion’s trophy and check for $16,000, saying, “You’re the greatest in the world … perhaps the greatest we’ve ever seen.”
“I never really think of myself in those terms, but I feel honored that people see fit to say such things about me,” said Laver shyly. “Tennis-wise, this year was much tougher than ‘62. At the time the best players—Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, Pancho Gonzalez— were not in the amateur ranks. I didn’t find out who were the best until I turned pro and had my brains beaten out for six months at the start of 1963.”
Now, in the open era, there was no question who was best.
Margaret Smith Court, who had returned to action following a brief retirement (the first of several in her long career), was almost as monopolistic as Laver. She lost only five matches the entire season, winning 19 of 24 tournaments and 98 of 103 matches. She won the Australian over Billie Jean King, 6-4, 6-1, after trailing Kerry Melville, 3-5 in the last set in the semifinal, running four games to 3-6, 6-2, 7-5. In the French, Court won the last four rounds by beating Rhodesia’s Pat Pretorius Walkden, 6-4, 6-0; Melville, 9-7, 6-1; defending champ Nancy Richey, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 and finally Ann Haydon Jones, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3—all splendid claycourt players.
Court’s dream of a Grand Slam ended at Wimbledon, however, where Jones beat her in the semifinals, 10-12, 6-3, 6-2. To the unbridled joy of her British countrymen, the left-handed, 30-year-old Ann Haydon Jones (Mrs. Philip ‘Pip’ Jones) won her first Wimbledon title after 14 years of trying, squashing King’s bid for a fourth consecutive crown, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. Billie Jean was shaken by the noisy partisanship of the customarily proper British gallery and what she thought were some dubious line calls, but the British hailed the popular Jones as a conquering heroine.
Injury kept the top-seeded Jones out of the U.S. Open, won by second-seeded Court on a loss of no sets. In fact, she lost more than two games in a set only twice in six matches, in beating fellow Aussie Karen Krantzcke in the quarterfinals, 6-0, 9-7, and fifth-seeded defender Wade in the semifinals, 7-5, 6-0. Richey, seeded sixth—eschewing her usual baseline game for net-rushing tactics quite foreign to her—helped Margaret out. She eliminated third-seeded King in the quarters, 6-4, 8-6, but found herself passed repeatedly in the final by some of Court’s finest groundstroking, 6-2, 6-2.
But if Laver and Court clearly reigned supreme, there were other notable heroes, heroines and achievements in 1969. Phenomenally
Pancho Gonzalez, at 41, mowed down in succession four Hall of Famers-to-be—Newcombe, 6-1, 6-2, Rosewall, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, Smith, 8-6, 7-9, 6-4, and Ashe, 6-0, 6-2, 6-4—to win the $50,000 Howard Hughes Open at Las Vegas, and the $12,500 first prize, second only to the U.S. Open. Gonzalez also won the Pacific Southwest Open over Cliff Richey, 6-0, 7-5, and had a 2-0 record over Smith, who was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. for the first time. Gonzalez was the top U.S. money-winner with $46,288, and might have returned to the No. 1 spot he occupied in 1948 and 1949 if the USLTA had included contract pros in its rankings.
Gonzalez’ most dramatic performance, however, came at Wimbledon, where he beat Charlie Pasarell in the opening round in the longest match in the history of the oldest and most prestigious of championships. It consumed five hours, 12 minutes and 112 games over two days. Gonzalez lost a marathon first set and virtually threw the second, complaining bitterly that it was too dark to continue play. He was whistled and hooted by the normally genteel Centre Court crowd, but won back all his detractors the next day with a gallant display. Pasarell played well, but Gonzalez was magnificent. In the fifth set, he staved off seven match points, twice serving out of 0-40 holes, and won, 22-24, 1-6, 16-14, 6-3, 11-9. Gonzalez lasted until the fourth round, when his protégé, Ashe, beat him, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Stan Smith won eight tournaments, including the U.S. Indoor over Egyptian lefty Ismail El Shafei, 6-3, 6-8, 6-4, 6-4, to replace Ashe atop the U.S. rankings. Ashe, bothered by a nagging elbow injury and numerous non-tennis distractions following his big year in 1968, won only two tournaments but had an 83-24 match record and more wins than any other American.
The United States defeated long-shot Romania, 5-0, in the Davis Cup Challenge Round on a fast asphalt court at Cleveland, painted and polished to make it even slicker, to the home team’s benefit. Ashe defeated Ilie Nastase in the opening singles, 6-2, 15-13, 7-5, and Smith escaped the hulking and wily Ion Tiriac, 6-8, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, in the pivotal doubles, Smith and Lutz closed out the Romanians, 8-6, 6-1, 11-9. President Richard M. Nixon, a bowler and golfer who secretly despised tennis, hosted both final-round teams at a White House reception. This was a nice gesture, but the Chief Executive caused a few awkward stares when, as a memento of the occasion, he presented each player with a golf ball. Perhaps these were left over, some speculated, from the golf-happy Eisenhower administration. “I’m a Republican, but I’ll never vote for him again,” grumbled Richey. “Why he do this?” said a puzzled Tiriac. “No golf courses in Romania.”
Tiny Romania, with the lion-hearted Tiriac and the immensely talented Nastase its only players of international standard, was proud to have gotten past Egypt, Spain, the Soviet Union, India and Great Britain. Australia failed to reach the final for the first time since 1937—beaten in its first series by Mexico, 3-2, the first opening- round loss ever for Captain Harry Hopman, and for the Aussies since falling to Italy in 1928. Rafael Osuna, Mexico’s popular tennis hero, defeated Bill Bowrey in the decisive fifth match, 6-2, 3-6, 8-6, 6-3, and was hailed triumphantly by his countrymen. This was the engaging Osuna’s last hurrah, however. He died tragically shortly thereafter, at age 30, when a private plane carrying him on a business trip crashed into the mountains outside of Monterrey.
In another significant development, the Davis Cup nations voted South Africa and Rhodesia out of the competition for 1970 and 1971 because demonstrations against their racial policies, and the refusal of some nations to play them made their presence in the draw disruptive.
Nancy Richey was upset in the semifinals of the U.S. Clay Court Championships by Gail Sherriff Chanfreau, 6-3, 6-4, ending her tournament record female winning streak at 33 straight matches over seven years. She was trying to become only the second player to win seven consecutive U.S. titles, matching the feat of Richard Sears in the first seven U.S. Men’s Championships (1881—87). Chanfreau won that title over Linda Tuero, 6-2, 6-2.
Yugoslav Zeljko Franulovic won the other over Ashe, 8-6, 6-3, 6-4. Clark Graebner, uniting with Bill Bowrey in a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 victory
over Aussies Crealy and Allan Stone, had his fifth U.S. Clay doubles title, passing Bill Talbert’s record set in 1946.
Richey, who retained the No. 1 U.S. women’s ranking teamed with Julie Heldman and Jane “Peaches” Bartkowicz to regain the Federation Cup at Athens and the Wightman Cup at Cleveland. Richey was undefeated in singles (4-0) and Heldman lost only to Court as the U.S. defeated Bulgaria, Italy, Netherlands (each 3-0) and Australia, 2-1, for the world team championship. Heldman, a clever player who nicknamed herself “Junkball Julie,” set the tone of the 5-2 Wightman Cup victory by upsetting Wade in the opening match, 3-6, 6-1, 8-6, and also beat Winnie Shaw, 6-3, 6-4. Richey topped Shaw, 8-6, 6-2, and Bartkowicz stopped Christine Truman Janes, 8-6, 6-0.
Ranked No. 2 nationally with eight titles in 20 tournaments and a 67-13 match record, 24-year-old Heldman also became the first American woman to win the Italian Championships since Althea Gibson in 1956, beating three outstanding clay courters— Lesley Turner Bowrey (wife of Bill), 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, Jones, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, and Kerry Melville, 7-5, 6-3.
One of the most remarkable and crowd-pleasing victories of the year was that of Darlene Hard and Francoise Durr in the U.S. Open doubles. They were a “pickup” team; Hard, by then a 33-year-old teaching pro, had entered as a lark. Out of tournament condition, she was an embarrassment in losing the first eight games of the final, but seemed suddenly to remember the skills and instincts that had made her the world’s premier doubles player, winner of five previous U.S. women’s titles. As the crowd loudly cheered their revival, Hard and Durr stunned heavily favored Court and Wade, 0-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Forest Hills had begun with a match of record duration. F. D. Robbins defeated Dick Dell, younger brother of Donald, 22-20, 9-7, 6-8, 8-10, 6-4, the longest in number of singles games—100— in the history of the U.S. Championships. When the tournament ran three days over, the men’s doubles finished in a disgraceful shambles, Rosewall and Fred Stolle beating Ralston and Pasarell,
2-6, 7-5, 13-11, 6-3, before a few hundred spectators on a soggy Wednesday. Pasarell-Ralston got defaults from Wimbledon champs Newcombe and Roche in the quarters and Australian Open winners Laver and Emerson in the semis, who were off to other pursuits. Newcombe-Roche were urged to leave waterlogged New York by their employers, WCT, in order to meet other commitments, a decision that rankled the ILTF in its increasingly uneasy dealings with the new pro promoters. After all, it was unseemly for the No. 1 team to walk out on a major. They had repeated at Wimbledon, over Tom Okker-Marty Riessen, 7-5, 11-9, 6-3, and won three other tournaments, including the French (over Emerson and Laver, 4-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4).