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-- SUMMER --
A political standoff and a players' boycott had gutted the two previous Wimbledons, respectively, before a single ball could be struck, so despite the Riordan lawsuit, even unprecedented amounts of rain couldn't dampen the excitement at the All-England Club in 1974. Bobbies had to be detailed to protect an 18-year-old Swede named Bjorn Borg from the crush of schoolgirls, while most other Brits supported the Aussie elders, Newcombe and Ken Rosewall. At one point during the fortnight Nastase tried receiving serve while holding an umbrella; at another, when a pigeon overstayed its welcome on Centre Court, the chair umpire's idle question went out over his microphone: "Anybody here with a gun?"
If so, it could always be turned on the vulgarians at the gates. Here is how the Connors entourage struck Philip Howard of The Times of London during Connors's win over Jan Kodes in the quarterfinals: "His clique, led by his manager and other larger, red-faced Americans, the men among them wearing big cigars in their mouths, was equally noisy, clapping like gunfire and shouting 'Attaboy, baby,' 'Great lob, baby,' and other witty advice. When Kodes, on the point of losing the third set, was applauded by them for netting a half-volley, he walked over to the hubbub that is the Connors supporters' club, and asked why they did not shut up. As might have been predicted, the question only made them noisier."
On Connors's impending nuptials, Howard added, "He promises to be a noisy husband to have around the house, leaving a trail of broken glass and loud shouts behind him. It is lucky that Miss Evert seems so placid, so neat, and so unflappable."
After each victory Connors returned to the Inn on the Park, where he holed up with his placid, neat and unflappable fianc�e, who was dispatching her opponents with similar ease en route to the ladies' title. There they would order room service and watch the day's replay on the BBC.
"After I'd won my quarterfinal and Jimmy'd won his," says Stockton, who faced Connors in the semis, "Arthur [ Ashe] was quoted in the papers as saying that Jimmy was suing me. Suing me personally. The whole thing was so bizarre. The year Jimmy had was so incredible, and it was disrupted by all the political stuff."
As Stockton describes what it felt like to be caught in the riptide of Connors's service returns, he sounds much like Dent recalling the final in Melbourne. "I was up a set and a break, serving well," says Stockton, another serve-and-volleyer. "All of a sudden, in the middle of the second set, he steamrolled me. He put so much pressure on you every time you served. I mean, if the better you serve, the better he returns, what does that leave you to do? You'd be picking every ball off your shoe tops. To watch it is not to experience what it felt like. It was such a mental game, playing against him."
Right after beating Stockton, Connors joined Nastase for doubles against Newcombe and Tony Roche. The match went five sets, and Roche said afterward that he and his partner had intentionally sent shots Connors's way, hoping to soften him up for their 39-year-old countryman, Rosewall, in the men's singles final. Rosewall could use the help, for he had needed to rally from two sets down in his semifinal to beat Stan Smith.
But Rosewall wasn't going to win his first Wimbledon at Connors's expense, even though the crowd tried desperately to pull him through. Spectators actually cheered a Connors double fault, something not ordinarily done at the All-England Club. "C'mon Ken, give it a go," one fan screamed in the midst of the second set. "What the hell." But the American kept hopping up smartly from his chair to return to his task after each changeover, whacking his thigh as a jockey might a racehorse. Finally, in the press box the man from The Guardian intoned, "Someone stop this senseless slaughter."
Rosewall was gone in 93 minutes, 6-1, 6-1, 6-4. It was, wrote Henry Raven in the Daily Telegraph, "the kind of defeat which would have plunged Centre Court into the blackest of mourning ... if people had ever been given a chance to realize exactly what was happening."