"That comes with time," Stolle said. "People are always amazed when we come up with another champion. Where did he come from? Well, look at John. Only 23, sure, but this was his seventh year at Wimbledon. You look back. All our winners—even the ones who win it young, like John—seven years. I got in the finals after four...."
"But you didn't win," Newcombe said.
"That's my point," Stolle said.
If anyone were to have broken that pattern, it should have been Newcombe. At 19—when he had seen Davis Cup competition only once—he was picked over Stolle and Neale Fraser to play singles in the Challenge Round. He had excellent chances in both his matches—against Chuck McKinley and Dennis Ralston—but lost both. His mother, Lillian, remembers that John came home without depression. "Well, I lost, but I did my best," he told her evenly. "And I needed the experience."
Today, however, Newcombe feels that the unusually early Davis Cup adventure somehow inhibited his career. "I can't really say how," he says, "but I've got the feeling that it set me back, if only psychologically." And, in fact, it was not until Newcombe made the finals at Forest Hills last year that the logjam in his career was finally broken again. Shortly thereafter he finally beat Emerson for the first time, an experience more therapeutic, perhaps, than Forest Hills. And then, in a series of events, Newcombe's world competition faded before him. Stolle and Ralston turned pro. Manolo Santana had a serious ankle operation. Arthur Ashe went into the Army. Tony Roche came up overtennised and stale. Emerson, 30 now, came up old. Can he come back? Emmo turns his thumb to the ground. "The only way left to go," he says. And then, cryptically, shaking his head toward Newcombe, just: "John."
There are a few who could upset Newcombe at Forest Hills—Charlie Pasarell on one of his unpredictable good days; Emerson on a young day; lefties Pilic or Roger Taylor of England on a day they outslug Newcombe. But Newcombe really should be a more overwhelming favorite than his record suggests. On grass, anyway, he could dominate the game for the next few years.
The potential for such excellence has been evident practically since he was 9 and first learning to play tennis in the street in front of the home his parents still live in, in Longueville, a Sydney suburb. Exceptional athletic ability was in the family—a cousin, Warren Bardsley, was one of Australia's great cricketeers—but John's father, George Newcombe, a retired dentist, did not play tennis, and his mother and two sisters have been no more than casual social players.
When John was only 11, Newcombe's parents were already concerned that he was devoting too much time to tennis, and by the time he was 16 all hope for a respectable accountant's career—which he had envisioned—went careening into obscurity when Newcombe became the third youngest player ever named to an Australian overseas team. No wonder his countrymen find him such an old letdown at 23.
After he left school and began to travel, Newcombe was signed on by Slazengers, the sporting-goods firm he still represents when he is home. He is also casually attached to the Russell-Lloyd travel agency, for which he is "supposed to look at hotels and things like that." But, essentially, John Newcombe is a tennis player.
"I really get teed off sometimes at the way people think," he says. "You can't go into tennis from a gamble point of view. You have to think: I am good; I will be champion. For me it worked out all right. For a lot it doesn't. But, either way, you give up 10 of the best years of your life. You deserve something for that, don't you? I wanted to be an accountant. My friends who went ahead in that are 23 now—and they're full accountants and they're set. If I stay in tennis four more years, I'll have to start all over at 27. I wouldn't stay in tennis if I weren't going to leave with money in the bank."