Ordinarily, Billie Jean King's press conferences are the high work of that low art. Often, it seems, her playing is mere prelude; indeed, so commanding can she be in this theater that when a few years ago she started to slide downhill and she and the victor would be brought in together to see the press, it was obvious that Billie Jean was going to whip her conqueror at this game, if not the other. Soon, the winner would be all but ignored, as the great lady of the verbal volleys held sway. Today, however, Billie Jean beat Anne Smith in two uneven sets, but her press conference was clearly a cursory early-round performance. She will do better next week.
Right now, Wimbledon is depressing and desultory. Every tournament possesses a certain dynamic—upsets, for example, tend to come in bunches here. But there has been so much rain, and today a great hailstorm as well, that the whole enterprise has lost its way. The mere matter of playing squeezes out that of winning and losing. The players, packed together for hours in their Team Room, have grown stale and fidgety, are a bit short of temper as they stare woefully at the heavens. "I came 7,000 miles from my home for this?" asks Tom Gorman of Seattle and Greater Mount Saint Helens.
Oh well, just before Jupiter Pluvius struck again, Shriver finished off her win at 6-1.
Friday, June 27
Terry Rocavert of Sydney, 112th in the world, was to play John McEnroe, No. 2, on Court 3. The courtesy car that Wimbledon provides for all contestants (even the Terry Rocaverts) did not show at his flat in Bayswater. He called a cab, and then his wife Kaye left to buy plane tickets for them to go to the U.S. tomorrow. The taxi got lost, and Rocavert arrived just in time to rush onto the court, without any practice.
Surprisingly, Rocavert won the first set 6-4 and began to get interested. Court 3 was especially soft from the rains and surrounded by crowd distractions. Also, McEnroe has become a shadow of the young master who once could send even Borg reeling from the court. Probably he has played too much. Certainly he has lost the magnificent slice serve. But McEnroe won the second set and moved up 5-2 in the third. Rocavert all but quit. Then, looking about at the swelling crowd that came to see him—a curiosity—he thought he'd make an effort again. "Just try to win some games," he said to himself. He won the third set in a tie-breaker to go up 2-1, and in the fourth set tie-breaker, he led McEnroe 2-1 with two serves coming. Rocavert was in control of the match. But he botched the next two points, and it was all over. McEnroe won the tie-breaker and the fifth set with one service break, when Rocavert twice double-faulted.
Why was it so? Why? In ability, in the way they hit a ball, there is little difference among the 128 men here at the top of the world. And Lord, does Terry Rocavert, No. 112, look the champion! Lean and sturdy, a winning smile, handsome, a young Kirk Douglas. He speaks well. Clean strokes, fine serve. He started at the game when he was six, but now, at only 25, he is preparing to quit after this year. Why? "I wasn't nervous at any stage of the match," he says, "but then at no stage did I convince myself that I could win. That's the way I am. Funny enough, I always play best against the best players, but in the end, I lose. Oh, I have a lot of good losses. For me to play as well as I did today proves that I can play that well. But I can only do it once or twice a year. McEnroe, those guys, they do it all the time."
"You have to be a certain kind of person to fit into certain things, like all this. They just have the ambition to do it, but I don't understand what that is or how they got it, because I don't have it. I wish I did. I've tried to get it. I love the life and I love tennis, but whatever that thing is, I don't have it, so now I'll have to find something else to do with my life."
But if you had won today?