Nikki Pilic

40 Years Ago Today – A Wimbledon Classic

It was 40 years ago today, June 25, that one of the greatest matches in the history of Wimbledon – and in tennis – was concluded on Centre Court at Wimbledon. Forty-one-year-old Pancho Gonzales finished off his 5 hour, 12 minute victory over Charlie Pasarell, coming back from two-sets-to-love down and saving seven match points. That match – as well as other Wimbledon Classics – are documented below in the June 25 excerpt from ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennishistorybook.com).

1969 – Forty-one-year-old Pancho Gonzales finishes off his classic, darkness-delayed five-set win over Charlie Pasarell 22-24, 1-6, 16-14, 6-3, 11-9 in 5 hours, 12 minutes – the longest match played at Wimbledon at the time. Gonzales, 20 years removed from when he won his last major at age 21 at Forest Hills, trails Pasarell two-sets to love when the match was suspended the night before due to darkness after 2 hours, 20 minutes of play. Gonzales sweeps all three sets on its resumption to move into the second round, but heroically fights off seven match points in the fifth set – at 4-5, 0-40, at 5-6, 0-40 and at 7-8, ad-out. Writes Fred Tupper of the New York Times of the match’s conclusion, “It was a question of raw courage now. How long could Pancho go on? He was leaning on his racquet between exchanges, flicking globules of sweat off his brow. At 9-9, Pasarell played a bad game. He double-faulted, hit a volley wide, a lob over the baseline and another volley just out. Gonzalez served for the match. A serve, a smash to deep court and a backhand volley that creased the sideline put him at match point. In sepulchral silence, Gonzalez toed the tape to serve. Then Pasarell lobbed out. Gonzalez had taken 11 points in a row. He had clawed his way back and won.” In 1989, in a second-round match played over three days, Greg Holmes beats fellow American Todd Witsken 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 14-12 in 5 hours, 28 minutes.

1953 – In the what the New York Times calls “one of the finest matches seen here since the war,” No. 4 seed Jaroslav Drobny defeats 1950 champion Budge Patty 8-6, 16-18, 3-6, 8-6, 12-10 in four-and-a-half hours in the third round of Wimbledon. The match, concluded in fading light on Centre Court, is the longest match played at Wimbledon at the time – eclipsed by the Pancho Gonzalez-Charlie Pasarell match in 5:12 in 1969. Patty has six match points in the match – three in the fourth set and three more in the fifth set – but is unable to convert.

1973 – The 1973 editions of The Championships at Wimbledon begins, but not with 82 of the top men’s players who boycott the event in support of Yugoslav player Nikki Pilic, who is suspended by the International Lawn Tennis Federation for not participating in Davis Cup for his country. The boycott is led by the new men’s player union, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and includes such notable players as defending champion Stan Smith, John Newcombe, Ken Rosewall and Arthur Ashe. Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors and Britain’s Roger Taylor are among the notable players who refuse to boycott the tournament. Jan Kodes of Czechoslvakia, the No. 2 seed, goes on to win the tournament, defeating Alex Metreveli of the Soviet Union in the men’s final.

1979 – Wimbledon’s famous “Graveyard Court” – Court No. 2 – claims two high profile first round victims as 1975 Wimbledon champion Arthur Ashe, in what ultimately becomes his final match at the All- England Club, is defeated by No. 139 ranked Australian Chris Kachel 6-4, 7-6, 6-3, while No. 4 seed Vitas Gerulaitis is defeated by fellow American Pat DuPre 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 3-6, 6-3.

2001 – For the second time in three years, Martina Hingis exits in the first round of Wimbledon as the No. 1 seed. Hingis, 20, loses on Court No. 1 to No. 83-ranked Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain 6-4, 6-2 in 1 hour, 7 minutes. Two years earlier, in 1999, the top-seeded Hingis is also bounced in the first round by qualifier Jelena Dokic. Says Hingis, the 1997 Wimbledon champion, after her loss to Ruano Pascual, “It seems like I do really well here or I lose in the first round here.”

2005 – Jill Craybas, the No. 85-ranked player in the world, performs a shocking upset of two-time champion Serena Williams 6-3, 7-6 (3) in the third round of Wimbledon. “Horrible,” Williams mutters in a post-match press conference when asked how she was feeling. “I guess I had a lot of rust. I just didn’t play well today. I mean, the other days I kind of played through it and got better in the second and third sets. Today, I just didn’t do anything right.” The match was originally scheduled for Centre Court, but due to weather delays, the match is moved to Court No. 2, the “Graveyard Court” where champions such as Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Pete Sampras have all lost. At one point during the match, Williams misses a backhand and exclaims, “What am I doing out here?!”

2002  – One year removed from his stunning round of 16 upset of seven-time champion Pete Sampras No. 7 seed Roger Federer is bounced in the opening round of Wimbledon by 18-year-old Croat Mario Ancic by a 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3 margin. Says the No. 154-ranked Ancic, “I came first time to play Centre, Wimbledon, they put me on Centre Court for my first time. I qualified, nothing to lose, I was just confidence. I knew I could play. I believe in myself and just go out there and try to do my best. Just I didn’t care who did I play. Doesn’t matter…I knew him (Federer) from TV. I knew already how is he playing. I don’t know that he knew how I was playing, but that was my advantage. And yeah, I didn’t have any tactics, just I was enjoying.” Following the loss, Federer goes on to win his next 40 matches at Wimbledon – including five straight titles – before losing in the 2008 final to Rafael Nadal of Spain.

1996 – “Hen-mania” begins at Wimbledon as 21-year-old Tim Henman wins his first big match at the All England Club, coming back from a two-sets-to-love deficit – and saving two match points – to upset No. 5 seed and reigning French Open champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, 6-7 (2-7), 4-6, 7-5 in the first round in what Jennifer Frey of the Washington Post calls “a cliffhanger that enraptured the winner’s countrymen in the Centre Court seats.” Henman goes on to reach the quarterfinals, where he is defeated by American Todd Martin 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2), 6-4, but remains a threat to win the title of much of the next decade, thrilling British fans in the excitement of the possibility of a home-grown player becoming the first player to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon since Fred Perry won his last of three titles in 1936.

1988 – Thirty-five-year old Jimmy Connors fights back after trailing two-sets-to-love to defeat fellow American Derrick Rostagno 7-5, 4-6, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 in 4 hours, 2 minutes in the third round of Wimbledon. Says Rostagno of Connors, “He comes up with things you haven’t seen before. Tennis is an art and he’s an artist. It was thrilling, a pleasure to play against.” Says Connors, “My game has always been to stay in until I die.”

2001 – In his third appearance in the main draw at Wimbledon, Roger Federer finally wins his first match in the men’s singles competition, defeating Christophe Rochus of Belgium 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 in the first round.

25 Years Ago Today: Noah Triumphs!

It was 25 years ago today on June 5, 1983 when Yannick Noah set off the perhaps the biggest celebration in French tennis since the Four Musketeers won the Davis Cup for France for the first time in 1927, by becoming the first man from his nation to win the French Open singles title, defeating Mats Wilander in the final. June 5 is a day of big occurrences in tennis history, as seen below in this exclusive early excerpt from my upcoming book On This Day in Tennis History. To pre-order this book (due out Sept. 1) you can click here for a 39 percent discount.

June 5

1983 – Yannick Noah creates a frenzy of French patriotism at Stade Roland Garros becoming the first Frenchman in 37 years to win the men’s singles titles at the French Open, defeating Mats Wilander 6-2, 7-5, 7-6 in two hours and 24 minutes in a passion-filled final. Noah serves and volleys and chips and charges on the slow red clay court to become the first Frenchman since Marcel Bernard in 1946 to win the French men’s singles title. Noah was discovered at age 10 in the African nation of Cameroon, the birthplace of his father, when Arthur Ashe informs French Tennis Federation President Philippe Chatrier of Noah’s talent after seeing him play – with a tennis racquet carved out of wood – during a U.S. State Department visit to Cameroon. Wilander was attempting to defend the title he won the year before as an unknown 17-year-old, but is unable to hit enough passing shots to fend off the constant net attacks by the dread-locked 23-year-old Noah. Wrote Bud Collins in the Boston Globe, “Perhaps the French will rename that huge monument at Place de l’Etoile and call it Noah’s Arc de Triomphe. The original outlasted a flood, but the current one opened the floodgates of emotion at Stade Roland Garros and washed away not only the Swedish Reign of Terror in the French Open, but also a seemingly impenetrable barrier that has separated French male players from their own title for 37 years.”

1953 – With his bag packed ready for a trip to Cleveland to play in the U.S. Pro Championships, Bill Tilden, regarded by many as the greatest player in the history of the sport, is found dead in his hotel room in Los Angeles at the age of 60. The cause of death for the seven-time U.S. men’s singles champion is a heart attack.

1973 – A in rare major final played on a Tuesday due to bad weather in Paris, Ilie Nastase beats Nikki Pilic 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 in 90 minutes to win the French Open for the first time. Said Nastase, “It meant much more to me to win Forest Hills last September because I thought I could never win a major grass tournament. Still, this is an important one.” Less than one hour after the match, Pilic is notified that he is suspended from competing on the circuit for 25 days for refusing to play for Yugoslavia in Davis Cup play, a decision that results in a player boycott of Wimbledon in defense of Pilic. Nastase, however, is one of the few ATP union players who does not honor the boycott.

1977 – Guillermo Vilas routs Brian Gottfried 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 to win his first major singles title in the most decisive French Open men’s singles final in the event’s history.

1982 – Martina Navratilova wins the French Open for the first time in her career, defeating future nun Andrea Jaeger 7-6, 6-1. Following the match, Jaeger accuses Navratilova of illegally receiving coaching signals from her coach, Renee Richards. ”It sort of blew my concentration,” said Jaeger, the 17-year-old American who was in her first Grand Slam final. ”It’s difficult to be playing three people at once. ‘I was trying in the whole first set to deal with it, and I was doing fine. But it was annoying. They’ve done it in other matches. It’s not very good for tennis. ‘She played well and I lost. But it shouldn’t happen. I might win, 0-0, or lose, 0-0, but I want to win by myself or lose by myself.” Said Navratilova, ”This is a shock. All I can say is that I never looked at Renee except for encouragement. Here I have won the final of one of the biggest tournaments in the world. Thank you very much, Andrea. I didn’t have to look up at them. Before I played, I went over the match 20 times with Renee. I could have recited in my sleep what I had to do against her. I didn’t need to look at Renee.”

1988 – In a near flawless display of clay court tennis, Mats Wilander wins the French Open for a third time in his career, defeating French native son Henri Leconte 7-5, 6-2, 6-1 in the men’s singles final. Wilander misses only two of 74 first serves, committs only nine unforced errors and does not hit a volley during the one-hour and 52 minute match.

1990 – Fourteen-year-old Jennifer Capriati becomes the youngest Grand Slam semifinalist in tennis history, defeating Mary Joe Fernandez 6-2, 6-4 in the women’s quarterfinals at the French Open.

1993 – Steffi Graf wins her third French Open women’s singles title and her 12th career Grand Slam singles title, defeating Mary Joe Fernandez 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 in the French Open women’s singles final.

1994 – Sergi Bruguera wins his second straight French Open men’s singles title, defeating unseeded countryman Alberto Berasategui 6-3, 7-5, 2-6, 6-1 in the men’s singles final.

1999 – Twenty-nine-year-old Steffi Graf claims her 22nd – and final – major singles title, upending Martina Hingis 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the women’s singles final at the French Open. Hingis served for the title leading 6-4, 5-4, but Graf, inspired by the French crowd chanting “STEF-FEE, STE-FEE” breaks Hingis and wins eight of the next 10 games. “It was my greatest victory,” said Graf. “I came here without belief – but the crowd lifted me. At 1-0 in the third I knew the momentum was with me. She got tight. Then at 3-0 I got tight and she almost caught me. It was the craziest match. ‘Quit worrying,’ I told myself. ‘Go for your shots.’ I did.”

2003 – Serena Williams is defeated by Belgium’s Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in front of a raucously pro-Henin Hardenne crowd in the semifinals of the French Open, ending Williams’ 33-match Grand Slam winning streak. The match is highlighted by an incident in the third-set that would prove contentious and acrimonious between the two rivals for years to come. With Williams serving at 4-2, 30-0 in the final set, Henin-Hardenne raises her hand indicating she is not ready to return serve. Williams serves in the net, then protests, to no avail, to the chair umpire and tournament referee that she should be given a first serve, while Henin-Hardenne says nothing of her gesture. Williams then loses the next four points to lose her service-break advantage and eventually the match. Said Henin-Hardenne, “I wasn’t ready to play the point. The chair umpire is there to deal with these kind of situations. I just tried to stay focused on myself and tried to forget all the other things…It’s her point of view but that’s mine now and I feel comfortable with it….I didn’t have any discussion with the chair umpire. He didn’t ask me anything. I was just trying to focus on playing the returns. She saw me and she served. It was her decision to serve. I just tried to stay focused on the second serve. One point in the match doesn’t change the outcome.”

2005 – Nineteen-year-old Rafael Nadal of Spain fends off a charge from unseeded Mariano Puerta of Argentina to win his first major singles title at the French Open. Nadal wins the title and his 24th consecutive match with a 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-1 7-5 decision over Puerta to become the fourth youngest men’s singles champion at Roland Garros. Nadal joins 1982 champion Mats Wilander as the only player to win Roland Garros in his debut.