(At 19, Evert is not the youngest woman winner. Maureen Connolly won three times before she was 20. But Chris is the first woman to take Rome, Paris and Wimbledon in two decades—Connolly did it in 1954.)
The men's draw shaped up as one of the most interesting in years because there were, in a sense, three defending champions on the grounds. John Newcombe won in 1971 but was banned the following year because he was playing with the "outlaw" World Championship Tennis troupe. Stan Smith won in his absence, but neither Newcombe nor Smith played last year because of a players'-union boycott and Jan Kodes of Czechoslovakia won. This year Kodes was seeded only sixth and was miffed. But then Kodes always seems to be miffed about something. He shoved a referee in Rome and got himself disqualified, and in Paris he demanded that his victorious French opponent be given a drug test.
Down there ninth in the seedings was old man Rosewall, who was just a lad of 17 when he and Lew Hoad did impressively well in the doubles at Wimbledon in 1952. Rosewall and Pancho Gonzales are the only two Hall of Fame-quality players who have never won Wimbledon. Rosewall lost to Jaroslav Drobny in 1954, to Hoad in 1956 and to Newcombe in 1971. Could he finally win a Centre Court final at his advanced age? London bookies were giving 15-to-1 odds against him. "There's no way he can beat Ashe, Newcombe and Smith in a row," said Hoad after looking at the draw.
Newcombe, who beat Bjorn Borg in the WCT finals earlier in the year, was seeded on top and proceeded to justify it by marching through his first four opponents in straight sets. "If I'm still in on the second Monday," predicted Newcombe, "I can win the title again."
He was still in on Monday, but he did not last through the day because he was stopped by Rosewall, 5'7", 142 pounds and nicknamed "Muscles." Rosewall had a difficult draw. It took him four sets to beat the young Indian Vijay Amritraj. Then in the fourth round he met Roscoe Tanner who had upset Arthur Ashe. Against the young, strong-serving Tanner on Centre Court, Rosewall won the second set from 2-4 down and the fourth from 2-5 down. In the twilight at match's end he was returning Tanner's cannonballs as if they were marshmallows shot from a popgun. "If I play against Newcombe as well as I did at the end against Tanner, I have a chance," said Rosewall.
He did indeed. He beat Newcombe by the surprising score of 6-1, 1-6, 6-0, 7-5. Newcombe could not remember the last time he had lost a love set.
"I think he can win it and I hope he does because he's running out of time," said Newcombe. "If there's someone I'd like to see win it, he'd be the one."
Muscles was now in the semis vs. fourth-seeded Stan Smith, nine inches taller and with a serve several megatons more explosive. Here, surely, the nostalgia trip would end, although 99% of the fans in the stadium had their fingers crossed for Rosewall. "I'd be rooting for him, too," said Smith, "if I weren't playing him."
Smith won the first two sets and got a 5-4 lead in the third, serving for the match. Well, gallant try, Muscles, see you in the veterans' doubles in a few years. But Rosewall was thinking differently, not being as closely attuned to the groans of the Centre Court crowd as Ginny. He easily broke Smith's serve, forced the set to 8-8 and into a tie breaker, held off one match point and won 9-8. Suddenly Smith lost his confidence. Rosewall's cross-court backhands and streaking service returns were practically untouchable. He won the last two sets 6-1, 6-3.
Connors' draw was easier but still no carefree stroll across Wimbledon common. He fought his way through two four-setters and two five-setters before he reached the semis and knocked out Dick Stockton in four more sets. Stockton had beaten Nastase, the No. 2 seed, but Connors himself had to remove defending champ Kodes.