A popular British comedy that ran until very recently in Piccadilly featured a line of small talk which went, "I see where Virginia is doing well at Wimbledon this year." When London theatergoers heard it, they knew instantly who Virginia was and they never failed to groan at the wishful little lie. Virginia never did well at Wimbledon. Virginia never even got to the finals until last Friday, when an entire nation, including Elizabeth II, Queen of England, who was on hand in her favorite Saturday go-to-meetin' pink, stopped groaning. Bands played. Union Jacks waved and the ecstatic audience broke into For She's a Jolly Good Fellow, GINNY FIZZ (as the tabloids cruelly used to shout it) was suddenly GINNY TONIC. On her 16th try Virginia Wade, 31, the vicar's daughter, had finally won a Wimbledon.
She prevailed against another surprise finalist, seventh-seeded Betty Stove of The Netherlands. The score was 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 as they fumbled through just the sort of war of nerves and cement elbows that the heretofore collapsible Wade had always been proficient at losing on Centre Court. But if it was dreadful tennis, it was terrific theater. Or, as Virginia said, "The whole thing is one big fairy tale."
Wade had won the championships of Australia, Italy and the United States before she was 26, but the closest she had come to a cherished Wimbledon victory were two semifinal appearances in the last three years. More often she had succumbed to the awful pressures that the British public and press force upon their few world-class athletes.
Wade, for instance, is probably better remembered in Great Britain for losing to the likes of Christina Sandberg, Pat Walkden and Cece Martinez at Wimbledon than for winning the Forest Hills final over Billie Jean King nine long years ago. Indeed, her reputation for choking in the big ones dogged Wade's footsteps even up to last week, which is why she kept insisting that her new game, with emphasis on more accurate serving and forehand consistency, went right along with her new fluffy haircut to create a brand new Ginny.
"To become the mistress of the situation here," Wade said last week, "you must balance the determination with the tension. If I am determined enough, I can forget about the tension. I want to show that people's opinions about me are out of date. I've got the willpower and the guts to win this tournament. If I can just stop dreaming and get on with it, I will win."
She won in the semis when she came up against a moderately familiar conqueror by the name of Evert. It was right then and there—not when she beat Rosie Casals in the quarters or Stove in the final, not when she beat the well-known Joanne Durie and the equally famous Yvonne Vermaak, among other huge talents in the power-laden, say-hey-for-equal-pay women's draw—that Virginia Wade won her Wimbledon.
Having disposed of the Mighty Muppet, Tracy Austin, earlier in the tournament, Chris Evert had set her sights on meeting the comeback queen, King, whom she had never beaten on grass. "I came back to Wimbledon because I listened to my heart," said Billie Jean. She should have listened to her knees.
In truth, the Evert-King confrontation was decided on the very first point, when King served and rushed the net. Killing her softly, Evert lifted a graceful lob to the far corner, which King could merely gaze after. Point, game, set and match.
For the record, the score was 6-1, 6-2—an awesome Evertian display of marksmanship from the baseline, plus a few net-rushing volleys. " Billie Jean didn't intimidate me," Chris said. "It's hard for me to get a good challenge these days, and this was it. I think that's the best I ever played on grass." In fact, Billie Jean scored fewer points against Chris than did Tracy Austin.
Along with her exquisite tennis, Evert was making more ripples in the gossip columns by being seen with Jimmy Connors once again. The couple dined together a few times, and with Ilie and Nicki Nastase they went to see Neil Diamond at the Palladium. They also showed up at each other's matches with increasing regularity. "Chris has always kept in touch with Jimmy," a friend explained. "Only now it's getting to be more than just 'in touch.' "