nurtured by the simple life at his spa. He practices hard and supervises his
camps, churning about on a bicycle, eschewing a big white whale of a Cadillac,
a tournament victory bagatelle that squats heavily by the side of the house.
The Newcombes are just folks, almost to a fault; Newk thought it was real nice
that $1,000 worth of women's clothing was part of his prize for winning the
World Championship of Tennis, inasmuch as Angie hadn't bought any new duds the
last year or two.
She is an alluring
woman, slim, with soft hair and wide doe eyes that give the impression she is
more malleable than she really is; in fact, by her own admission, she has
become a much tougher cookie than her husband. When she was a child, Angie
Pfannenberg escaped from East Germany with her mother. Without incident, Newk,
a dentist's son, grew up in Sydney and staked out Angie to be his bride while
she was still in high school in Hamburg.
married, if Angie woke up before he did, she would lie dutifully still, even
for hours, lest she disturb his sleep and somehow harm his career. But husband
and wife are of a mind now about the lucrative world of modern tennis; they
couldn't care less. "I've got enough money and there's no ego thing
left," says Newcombe. "I've done it all. I've only one life to live,
and I don't want to turn around and have my son be 14 and not know
mind if John stopped tennis tomorrow," Angie says. She was a player
herself, the No. 2-ranked German junior, but it is fair to say that Newcombe
married her for things other than her ground strokes. Her creature charms have
never been in dispute; on the other hand, Newk has only lately grown into
handsomeness. His mustache seems to have given a rugged, sexy definition to a
face that was otherwise nice but unremarkable. Angie, however, will not credit
herself with foreseeing this late-blooming glamour. "To tell you the
truth," she says, "I sometimes wondered why I even bothered to put up
with him at first—all those other Aussies checking me out for him, and he was
all pimples and short hair then." She also labels him as
"flat-chested," which is an unusual thing for a man to be called,
especially a rough-tough athlete, but Angie is firm in this appraisal and, for
that matter, not inaccurate.
On the court there
is a primitive element to Newcombe. His socks droop, the right side of his
shirt pulls out from the exertions of service, he grunts unceremoniously and he
bounces about on his heels between points as if measuring off the turf for his
own. Yet in important matches he usually starts quietly, andante, and he only
establishes himself as the challenge wears on, building his victory not just by
outplaying his opponent but by taking things from him, breaking him down.
Hills get its dream final, it would be between Newcombe and the dragon child,
Connors. Like Newcombe, Connors is a consummate fighter; also like him, a much
smarter player than credited. But unlike Newcombe, who has beaten Connors in
both their previous meetings, Connors plays to the hilt from the first point.
Given the stakes, the dream final would be not so much a game of tennis as a
test of will.
To take nothing
away from Connors, who plays downright cold-blooded, Newcombe is prime under
pressure. On tour he and Ashe win the most tiebreakers, and Newk's record in
five-set matches in unexcelled. Last September he beat Jan Kodes in five to win
Forest Hills after being behind two sets to one; he then beat Smith in the key
Davis Cup match after being down a break in the fifth.
plans for a fifth set, squirreling away stratagems. But then he tends to see
matches primarily as battles of wits. For instance, he says this about playing
Smith: "Stan tries to overpower you mentally. A certain amount of that is
the way he plays—the steamroller, smothering you at the net. But I can deal
with that. What is more tiring is his air—that smug confidence. You must
concentrate all the time or you'll give up. Nobody wears me out like Smith
does, but it's not from the tennis, it's mental fatigue."
"He's told me that he plays his best when he's carrying on with all that
nonsense. I really want to play Nastase in a big match, because I'm sure I can
beat him. I'd look at my shoes the whole time and make sure there was only one
actor out there."
"He tries to imitate Nastase, and it just doesn't work. You know, Nastase
says funny things, and Connors can't say funny things. But you can never stop
thinking against Connors. You've especially got to serve intelligently because
what Connors does better than anything else, he sniffs an opening and dives for