Every Wimbledon fortnight the sports pages of London's newspapers, from the most lurid fish wraps and garbage-pail liners right up to the weighty Times and Guardian, bristle with examples of the hyperbolic school of sports writing. Passing shots become, for example, "genuine pearls, but not strung sufficiently together to make the desired necklace." A Wimbledon champion, wrote a Fleet Street sage, "is acknowledged as being tempered with steel from the most fiery furnace." In the fertile minds of London's press-box poets, matches are likely to be transformed into sword fights, ballets or Shakespearean tragedies.
Last Saturday the writers might have imagined Centre Court as a court of law, for what was taking place on that worn but still sacred lawn was something unique in sport—a championship match between two men who were fighting each other in enough multimillion-dollar lawsuits to give any judge a headache and any attorney an air of rapture.
It should have been just defending champion Jimmy Connors vs. Arthur Ashe in Wimbledon's first All-American final since 1947, when Jack Kramer creamed Tom Brown. But practically on Wimbledon eve still another suit was announced: Connors was suing Ashe for $3 million, charging libel and slander. As the litigants battled toward each other through the two halves of the draw, speculation dwelled on the legal aspects. Would the umpire wear a robe and powdered wig? Would Ashe be served a summons during the break after the odd game? Would they refuse to shake hands after the final point?
None of that happened. What did happen was a good old-fashioned tennis upset, one that did not require the ghost of Blackstone to heighten the drama. Connors came to the finals after blasting his way through six matches, including the annihilation of Roscoe Tanner in the semifinals, and his performances had drawn deserved rave reviews. But Ashe played magnificently on the big day, jumping into a comfortable lead, holding off Connors' expected recovery and winning his first Wimbledon title 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4. The �10,000 first prize boosted his 1975 earnings to $200,161—enough even for a legal defense fund.
If the women's side of the tournament did not provide any courtroom drama, it dripped with sentiment, for the remarkable Billie Jean King announced early on that this would be her last major singles tournament and that she would only be returning to Wimbledon for "hit and giggle tennis." For the first time in years the Centre Court crowds were with her as she made a gutsy comeback in the semifinals to beat Chris Evert 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 and then romped over newlywed Evonne Goolagong Cawley in the Friday final 6-0, 6-1. It should be noted that it was the second time this year that King has proclaimed her retirement.
The defeats of defending champions Connors and Evert wiped out the bettors who went for the so-called "lovebird double" in William Hill's gambling tent set up on the Tea Lawn. The young Americans were engaged last year when they won at Wimbledon, but they are no longer engaged or even dating, and when that news leaked out the second week of the tournament, it hit page one in the evening fish wraps, crowding out stories of the sinking pound. Connors' frequent companion at the tournament and on the town in the evenings was British actress Susan George. "We're just good friends," she said, insisting that American singer Jack Jones is "still my man." For his part, Connors insisted the lipstick smeared on his cheek came from his mother.
Connors might not have been misleading the tabloids about the lipstick, for his mother, Gloria Connors, is surely one of the most fervent rooters in the world. Several Wimbledons ago she had to be warned about excessive noise, so she has taken to clutching her rosary beads during her son's matches. There was a crisis, however, just before Jimmy's fifth-round match vs. Mexican Raul Ramirez. Gloria had left her beads at the hotel. In desperation she turned to an American photographer who had previously kidded her about her nervousness and displayed his own beads. Could she borrow them now? The photographer's mother had given them to him when he went into the Army years ago and he had not been without them since, but he made the sacrifice. For Gloria, it must have been like playing a big match with an untested racket.
To reach the final, Connors had a reasonably difficult gantlet to run. He beat John Lloyd, Vijay Amritraj, Mark Cox, Phil Dent, eighth-seeded Ramirez and 11th-seeded Tanner. He did it without losing a set and was forced into a tie breaker only in the first set with Amritraj. Connors was so overwhelming against Tanner—who evaluated Connors' play as "the best ever, I think even better than in the final last year"—that most people felt Ashe had no more chance than a scoop of ice cream in that fiery furnace. On Hill's board Saturday morning Connors was 3 to 20 to win and 9 to 10 to win in straight sets.
The last three men to go through Wimbledon without dropping a set were Don Budge in 1938, Tony Trabert in 1955 and Chuck McKinley in 1963 (when there were so many upsets he did not have to play another seed). If a bettor was loony enough to want Ashe in straight sets, the odds were 40 to 1. He was 23 to 5 to win.
Ashe, almost 32, had had anything but a smooth cruise. Bob Hewitt took him to four sets in the very first round. Britain's Graham Stilwell did the same in the fifth round, and many thought Ashe's four-set victory over Sweden's Bjorn Borg in the quarters was the result of Borg's groin-muscle injury.