Pity Ken Rosewall. Sixteen years ago he stood on Wimbledon's center court in the finals against Jaroslav Drobny, a 19-year-old boy against a Wimbledon favorite. Drobny won, a popular decision, and little sympathy was wasted on Rosewall. Surely he would have other opportunities. Two years later Rosewall reached the finals again and this time he lost to his doubles partner, Lew Hoad. When Rosewall turned pro, he became ineligible for Wimbledon and by the time open tennis arrived, Rod Laver had supplanted him as the best player in the world.
And yet last week, on a damp, humid afternoon, there was Ken Rosewall, now 35, back on center court and in the finals, back for perhaps his last try at the one major title he had never won. Across the net was John Newcombe, another Australian—this was the 10th All-Australian final in the last 15 years—a big, strong, good-looking 26-year-old with a crashing serve and volley and the stamina to run all day. It would be pleasant to report that little Ken, with his lightning backhand and delicate touch, cut the bigger man down, as almost everyone in London wanted him to do. In truth Newcombe won and it was not really close, that is if you can call a five-set match not close.
Rosewall won the first set by breaking Newcombe's big serve in the 11th game and then holding his own.
But for the next hour it was all Newcombe. Whenever Rosewall missed with his first serve, Newcombe would take the weak second one on his forehand, perhaps the strongest in tennis, and pin Rosewall back on his heels. Newcombe won the second and third sets 6-3, 6-2 and when he immediately broke Rosewall to start the fourth set, the rout appeared to be on. Rosewall looked exhausted, and he would seize the brief rest periods to sit at the base of the umpire chair, waiting until Newcombe took his position on the court before rising.
Losing 1-3, Rosewall fell behind love-30 on his serve and it seemed certain that Newcombe was about to apply the crusher. There then occurred one of the most remarkable reversals in Wimbledon history. Rosewall won four straight points to make it 2-3. He won four more on Newcombe's serve to even the set. Four more made it 12 straight points and 4-3 Rosewall. Again Rosewall broke Newcombe, held his own serve and won the set 6-3. From that black moment in the fifth game he had won 20 out of 23 points.
The applause around the stadium was, by Wimbledon's standards, enormous—but it was applause for a dying man. Newcombe may be young, but he does not shake up easily. Leading 2-1 in the fifth set, he broke Rosewall's serve and rattled off four more games in a row for the match. For Newcombe it was his second Wimbledon title—he won in 1967—while Rosewall had only the sad distinction of the most years between losses in the finals.
In women's singles, the title went to another Australian, Margaret Court, who survived a strained left ankle and a marathon final match with the only woman in the world fit to rally with her, Billie Jean King. The girls are old rivals. In 1962 they met in the first round—it was Miss Smith and Miss Moffitt then—and Billie Jean, an unknown, startled everyone by upsetting Margaret, who was seeded No. 1. In the years since then, Billie Jean had won three Wimbledon titles, Margaret two. This year Margaret had already won the Australian and French championships, so at Wimbledon she was seeking the third leg of the grand slam.
Wimbledon treasures its great matches and this year's Court-King battle has already been slashed away as a classic. To recount all the peaks and valleys is impossible, but it should be remembered that the girls were on center court for 2� hours in a 14-12, 11-9 match that set all sorts of endurance records.
For most of the first week of Wimbledon it was a quiet tournament, with plenty of time for ice lollies in the tea garden. The crowds were enormous, lured by the sunny weather, and at the top of the day, which at Wimbledon is about 6 p.m., it was impossible to move along the pathways between the outside courts.
For the players the early days were much like a class reunion, for it is only at major championships such as Wimbledon and Forest Hills that all of them get together. Laver confided that this was the first time he had ever come to Wimbledon feeling on top of his game—a staggering thought-then went out and crushed young Butch Seewagen to open the tournament. Newcombe admitted his back was better than last year, when he had been forced to sleep on the floor of his London hotel room. "Bit embarrassing, you know," he said, "looking up to the wife to say goodnight."