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Frank Deford
July 07, 1980
The tennis was mixed with raindrops as fans at the famed tournament spent long hours huddled under umbrellas
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July 07, 1980

Of Volleys And Brollies

The tennis was mixed with raindrops as fans at the famed tournament spent long hours huddled under umbrellas

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"Yes, that might have changed my thinking. But you see, I didn't win. I didn't have the confidence to win. And now, this match is all going to be forgotten very quickly."

Saturday, June 28

Eight years ago, Stan Smith won Wimbledon. He was 25 and ascending, surely, to legendary levels. He was already the U.S. Open champion, a Davis Cup hero. But it didn't work out. There were to be no more major titles, and Smith quickly fell back into the pack. By 1978 he wasn't even seeded at Wimbledon. There were reasons, notably a shoulder injury and the general shift of the game from grass, where Smith's big serve ruled, to slower venues. "Even the balls are slower now at Wimbledon," he says. But not as an alibi. There has never been any of that from Smith.

Most athletes have a painful enough time being phased out by age. To reach the zenith at 25, to slide back yet still to be so visible, to be playing second fiddle, to be trying, that requires an unusual kind of manliness. Perhaps the hardest part is that people keep asking you, Whatever happened to you? "You just can't dwell on it or it'll really get to you," Smith says. "It's been a real test of character to go through it, and I've been interested to see how I've reacted to it myself. I've also been interested to see how other people have reacted to me."

He has enjoyed a relatively better year in 1980—age 33, married now, one child, another due at Christmastime. He has climbed back to 18th in the world rankings and was even seeded again—No. 15—here. He won his first two rounds and today faced Brian Gottfried, himself unseeded for the first time in five years. On a windy outer court, No. 13. Gottfried battered him 2, 3 and 2.

This same chilly day another Wimbledon champion, Borg, won his 31st straight match here, tying Rod Laver's record. But Kipling's famous quotation that the players see as they walk onto Centre Court speaks not only of victory. but of triumph and disaster alike, of learning to "treat those two impostors just the same." Many players lose here (and lose well), and a few win—fewer still can do both with style. As the first week ended, Borg had tied Laver's record. But Stan Smith tied Kipling. And that is more to shoot for.

Sunday, JUNE 29
The sun is not out, but at least, it isn't raining!

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