Santana experienced his first major problem in the quarter-finals, when Ken Fletcher, an Australian expatriate now living in Hong Kong, took him to five sets and needed only to hold serve to win. But with a flurry of perfectly executed drop shots and backhand lobs the Spaniard won three straight games for the match.
Santana's next adventure came in the semifinals, when he met Davidson. Interviewed on radio before the match and asked, "Just who is Owen Davidson?" the powerful Australian promptly responded, "Certainly nobody special."
Surprise, because again Santana was taken to five sets by a man who later described his efforts as "the best competitive tennis of my life." The final set sent so powerful a current of excitement around the center court that it could have lit all the lights in Piccadilly Circus. Just when Manolo seemed to have the match wrapped up at 5-1 Davidson, with nothing to lose, started swinging and connecting. He brought the match to 4-5, but fell behind 40-love with Santana serving. Incredibly, Davidson won five straight points to make it 5-5. Then, having already scaled the heights, he fell away quickly 7-5. Thus Santana became the first Spaniard since the '20s to reach the finals at Wimbledon. And who was there to meet him? Ah, of course, Dennis Ralston.
This was the year that the 23-year-old (yes, only 23) hoped to win the world's most coveted tennis title. All winter he had worked on his suspect service. He had traveled to Europe in April to prepare himself, and even when he lost to the U.S.S.R.'s Alexander Metreveli in the French championships he was not discouraged, confiding to a friend, "I'm going to win at Wimbledon this year." Ralston's defeat of Santana in the championships at Queen's Club in London just prior to Wimbledon seemed to suggest that he might be right, although Santana—probably the world's best clay-court player—had only just begun to adapt to grass.
Most important, Dennis seemed composed, his famous temperament kept in check throughout. The presence of his pretty blonde wife, Linda, and the responsibility of being a new father with a 3-month-old daughter apparently helped to keep anger at bay. "I still get just as mad," explained Ralston, "but my wife and daughter have made me realize that there are other things, and I look at tennis differently."
Ralston's path to the final was workmanlike but not calculated to lift the spectators from their seats. Usually grim-faced, he ticked off the victories one by one. Metreveli, his conqueror in Paris, fell in the second round. Then came Diepraam of South Africa, Darmon of France, Hewitt of Australia and, in the semifinals, Drysdale, who beat Ralston at Forest Hills last year. One more victory and Ralston would at last wear the crown for which he had so long seemed destined. But no—Santana would not allow it. Although Ralston served nine double faults, the match was not decided by his mistakes. It was purely that Santana, playing within himself and moving faster around the court, had other stops to pull out when they were needed. Ralston did not have this reserve, or at least could not find it when his chances occurred.
In the first set he had Santana at 15-40 and 3-4. "It's a funny thing," Ralston commented later, as if he could not believe it himself. "If I'd won one of those two points I would have had a real chance." Instead, Santana started to serve better than Ralston had believed possible, catching his opponent and saving his services. He went on to secure the set, causing the crowd, which was eager for his victory, to hold its breath only twice more. The first time was when Ralston led 4-1 in the second set, the second when Santana twisted his back. But he suffered only momentary discomfort and went on to win 6-4, 11-9, 6-4.
For Manolo Santana, who had started his tennis career as a ballboy in a private club, the victory was all the world. He blew an ecstatic kiss to his raven-haired wife, Maria, in the stands, and when Princess Marina presented him with the cup he bent over and kissed her hand. The first Spaniard ever to win the Wimbledon men's singles title, he was greeted later by Princess Margaret with the words, "Muy bueno."
Si, muy bueno for Manolo, and nice going for Billie Jean, too.