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The climax of a major tennis championship often arrives well before the finals, and if it were legal, all play should be suspended at that point. Cut and print, everybody go to lunch. That's certainly the way it was at Forest Hills last week, at least from a U.S. standpoint. Again it was an all-Australian men's finals, just like the ones your grandfather told you about, the same kind that have been going on forever. This year it was Ken Rosewall beating Tony Roche, while in the ladies' division Margaret Court was completing her grand slam by beating Rosemary Casals. Another chorus of Waltzing Matilda, please.
The tournament should have ended Thursday morning shortly before the start of the men's quarter-finals. There had already been enough memorable matches to savor during the long winter, and, of the eight remaining players, four were Americans. Yes, four. That hasn't happened much lately.
The prospects for the day were delicious. Dennis Ralston against Cliff Richey, for instance, two guys you won't find at the same dinner table by choice—and in this case the U.S. couldn't lose. Ralston was the hero of the hour, having knocked out top-seeded Rod Laver in five exciting sets, by far the biggest win in a checkered career. Richey, too, had beaten a former champion, Manuel Santana, the deft but aging Spaniard. It promised to be an intriguing match, temper vs. temper.
The winner would meet Roche, the only one of the leading Australians without a Wimbledon or Forest Hills title thus far, or an unknown, Brian Fairlie of New Zealand, who had slipped through a weakness in the draw to reach this round. Perhaps he could slip past Roche, too.
Stan Smith had made it to the quarterfinals by beating Roy Emerson, the first time in his life he had ever done so. Now he was to face another Australian legend, Rosewall, who at 35 had looked as brilliant as he did when he won at Forest Hills in 1956.
Finally, there was the feature attraction, Arthur Ashe, the 1968 winner, against John Newcombe, the current Wimbledon champion. A battle of serves, bomber against bomber, two classy heavyweights. Ashe had not looked much like a champion since he beat Tom Okker in the finals two years ago, but in his fourth-round match, again against Okker, his skill suddenly had revived, the explosive serve, the lightning returns.
So that was what was on tap for the day, Thursday, Sept. 10, those four matches plus an assortment of other goodies—women's singles and all kinds of doubles. With some luck, the U.S. could place three players in the semis. Maybe even the New Zealander could win. No Aussies at all. Imagine!
Which is why the tournament should have ended right there. Rosewall and Smith were the first to take center court, and they weren't out there long. Smith is normally a strong server, but against Rosewall, one of the best returners in the game, he seemed to be pressing. He double faulted nine times, and in three sets he won only six games. Throughout the brief encounter he looked like a dinosaur trying to stalk a mongoose. So long, Stan.
Next came Richey and Ralston. (Meanwhile, on an outside court, Fairlie was definitely not slipping by Roche, losing in three straight sets.) As Ralston was to say later, he felt dead from the start, an emotional letdown following his victory over Laver. Richey won in three sets.
Late in the afternoon, with the light beginning to fade, Ashe and Newcombe took the court in what many people regarded as a sort of finals in the quarterfinals, for surely either man was as good or better than anyone else playing that day. Ashe lost the first set 6-1, looking remarkably like the Arthur Ashe who lost so easily to Andres Gimeno at Wimbledon in late June. But in the second set his tremendous serve began to rip past Newcombe and the two players reached 6-6, which at Forest Hills this year meant sudden death, a nine-point tie breaker, first player to win five points wins the set.