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The meticulous guardians of tradition and decorum at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, led by Air Chief Marshal Sir Brian K. Burnett, G.C.B., D.F.C, A.F.C., R.A.F. (Ret.), face their stiffest test every summer during "The Wimbledon Fortnight," but they are steadfast. On the Saturday before play starts, the coddled grass on Centre Court is broken in by four senior ladies who play a set and a half of genteel doubles—no more, no less. Then come two weeks of the most prestigious tournament in the world, when the London suburb of Wimbledon is invaded by taxis, ticket scalpers and all those annoyingly good players from the colonies.
Wimbledon '74 was particularly difficult to manage. Strikes periodically blacked out the daily BBC telecasts. Because of rain, play on six of the 10 days began at noon instead of 2 p.m., the sacred starting time for 87 years. Sweden's teen-age star, Bjorn Borg, needed an escort of three bobbies to get through swarms of schoolgirl admirers ("They must realize Wimbledon isn't a pop concert," huffed an offended club official). Hammy Ilie Nastase tried to receive service while holding an umbrella and was chastised by the umpire. America's Erik van Dillen was upbraided for daring to break the all-white dress rule by wearing red sweat pants on a chilly day.
Somehow, despite raindrops and teeny-boppers, the tournament finished on schedule, with an ending that was mushy, but not from the weather. For the first time in memory the traditional opening dance at Saturday night's Wimbledon Ball was reserved for two singles champions who were sweethearts as well—Chris Evert, 19, and her mop-topped fianc�, Jimmy Connors, 21.
On Friday Chris, wearing her engagement ring, earrings, a necklace and polished fingernails, demolished her doubles partner, Olga Morozova of the Soviet Union, 6-0, 6-4. It was Evert's 36th victory in a row and seventh straight tournament championship. The next afternoon Connors met a man who played his first Wimbledon before either Jimmy or Chris was born, Ken Rosewall, 39, who had been in three finals and never danced the first dance. Connors showed no respect for his elder, just superb ground strokes and volleys, and won easily 6-1, 6-1, 6-4. Together, the future Mr. and Mrs. Connors added $40,800 and two Triumph automobiles worth $6,000 apiece to their treasure chest.
The two singles finals were distinctly lacking in excitement, but that is not unusual at Wimbledon. The dramatic comebacks, the pranks, the marvelous international flavor usually come earlier, sometimes on a court out by the car park. There was Rolf Thung, half-Dutch, half-Chinese, who reached the third round by beating the young American Alex Mayer. There was a teeny 17-year-old South African, Linky Boshoff, who upset fourth-seeded Rosie Casals in the fourth round. And there was a continuation of the BBC's longest-running soap opera, Our Gal Ginny.
Virginia Wade has played every Wimbledon for the last 13 years and each year the tennis-mad British public fastens on her as its great hope. The crowd groans when she so much as misses a first serve and finally the nervousness on her behalf transmits itself to her and she blows a match she should win. Despite having the most powerful serve in women's tennis and the gliding moves of a pantheress, she never makes the semifinals and the headlines say something like "Ginny Fizzles Out Again." There is a play in London in which the female lead, making self-conscious small talk, says, "I hear Virginia is doing very well at Wimbledon this year."
Prophetic. This year Our Ginny finally made the semis. Defending champion Billie Jean King was in her half of the draw, but Morozova caught King on a bad day, volleyed beautifully and won in straight sets. Casals was in that half too, and was removed from Ginny's path. A perfect chance for Wade to set Britain on its ear by getting into the final—Portia facing life and conquering.
Wade won the first set 6-1 over Morozova. Olga took the second, but then Wade got a 4-2 lead in the third and could hear the champagne corks popping. From that point Morozova won four straight games and the match. Instead of champagne, it was the patented sloe Ginny fizz. And a Russian was in the women's final for the first time, which perhaps made up a bit for an act of vandalism earlier in the week in which the bust of Karl Marx was knocked off his tomb in a London graveyard.
In the bottom half of the draw Evert came within one of her mascaraed eyelashes of losing in the first round to Australian Lesley Hunt. They were tied 9-9 in the third set when darkness forced a postponement. In the morning Chris went out with Connors to practice against his tough serve. It paid off, or something did. She broke Hunt's service when their match resumed, held her own serve and won 8-6, 5-7, 11-9.
Third-seeded Evonne Goolagong had been knocked out in the quarters, so Evert breezed to the final, once in a while even coming to the net, which she used to treat as if it were crawling with spiders. It was disappointing that neither King nor Goolagong was on Centre Court to meet her. Evert is considered a clay court specialist and has never beaten King or Goolagong on grass, a fast surface that is conducive to their serve-and-rush-the-net styles. Instead, Evert's friend Morozova was there, but only for 59 minutes. Evert walked out on the court, heard the distinctive whistle that Connors always gives to let her know where he is sitting, and neatly put the Russian away. Morozova gave her a congratulatory kiss on the cheek. "I never expected to win Wimbledon this year," Evert said later. "I was thinking maybe in two or three years, when Billie Jean and Margaret Court retire. I'd still have to say Billie Jean's above me."