At that moment in the glass-enclosed press box, Connors' manager, Bill Riordan, was talking about a challenge match in Madison Square Garden, between Jimmy and a man he has never played, another old Aussie named Rod Laver. And in the tradition of the late golfer Tony Lema bottles of champagne were popped open for the press, courtesy of the new champ.
For the woman who will become Mrs. Connors in November, it was not such an effervescent occasion. Chris Evert, with her lovely feminine way of moving, her impeccable grooming and her impeccable ground strokes, was seeded first, just like Jimmy, and it seemed possible that Forest Hills would have a "lovebird double" to match their twin victories at Wimbledon. Evert had won 56 matches in a row (her last loss was to King indoors in March) and was the leading female money winner in the world ($157,500) this year. True, she had never beaten Goolagong or King on grass, but she had won Wimbledon, indicating that perhaps she had learned to live with it. She had not even lost a set since Wimbledon, although that statistic lost a little gloss when one realized that most of the best women players were either pregnant (Margaret Court) or off playing team tennis ( King, Goolagong, Nancy Gunter, etc.)
Evert swept easily through her first three Forest Hills rounds, losing only eight games and no sets, until she ran into Australia's Lesley Hunt. It was Hunt who gave Chris her toughest match at Wimbledon and now she was at it again. In the first set she forced Chris into a tie breaker and took a formidable 4-1 lead—one point from victory. But Evert won four straight points to take the first set and crushed Hunt in the second 6-3. There were some boos and heckling from the grandstand, but Evert, no longer the darling "Chrissie" of three years ago, merely pursed her lips and hung in.
"I heard a couple of comments like 'Evert, you're a bad sport,' " she said (omitting such nastier gibes as "Evert, you stink"). "I'm not used to that. Jimmy might be, but I'm not."
Then came a more serious problem. Evert would have to beat Goolagong and probably King on grass—such as it was—to prove herself the absolute No. 1 woman player in the world. She had played Goolagong only once in 1974, losing on grass in Australia in January, dropping the third set 6-0.
Goolagong had come through the middle of the draw with ease, and in the first set against Evert, she made her fifth seeding look ridiculous, allowing Chris only nine points and winning 6-0. Goolagong was leading 4-3 in the second—and on a service break—when rain forced play to be suspended. Fans remembered that in Evert's tough match with Hunt at Wimbledon a downpour had interrupted play and Evert had come back strong to win the next day. This time it was two days later (soggy grounds caused cancellation of all matches Saturday), and the battle did not end until 47 hours and 18 minutes after it started.
Evert continued to have difficulty holding serve, but so did Goolagong and the second set was forced into a tie breaker, which Evert won 5-3 to take the set 7-6. Could Evert come back to win the match? Not quite. She staved off four match points but finally fell 6-0, 6-7, 6-3. She had held service only three times in the entire match.
There was some consolation for Evert, of course—$10,800 in prize money, plus a "bouncing check," a negotiable check for $35,000 written on a tennis ball for "excellence of performance in the four major tennis competitions, Australian, French, All-England and U.S. Open." And she was relieved to have her winning streak end, as perhaps Joe DiMaggio was in 1941 when his consecutive-game hitting streak ended at the same number, 56.
Billie Jean King, fresh from a summer of coaching and playing for the Philadelphia Freedoms of World Team Tennis, seemed pleased to be out in the sunshine getting a red nose again, or even in the rain getting her hair wet. She seemed in no way annoyed at being seeded second behind Evert. Mother Freedom's major scare en route to the final was a miserable first set in the semis against Julie Heldman who, aided by the heat and the effects of some medication King was taking, had beaten her in last year's Open. After losing the first set to Heldman, King woke up and won rather easily 2-6, 6-3, 6-1.
As the most vociferous spokesperson for team tennis (and almost any other cause you can name), King was tickled that five of the eight semifinalists (herself, Goolagong, Connors, Rosewall and Newcombe) came out of WTT, puncturing the notion that team tennis is woefully poor preparation for a major tournament. Not only that, all four of the finalists were from WTT.