I have never been to Wimbledon. Something about sitting in a cold rain in early July doesn’t appeal to me.
And for the last 20 years, I haven’t been able to watch a men’s final as those matches are played when I’m working. Sunday morning.
Nevertheless, like any tennis serious tennis player and fan, Wimbledon still holds a mystique for me. The 2010 event began yesterday and runs through July 4 — that’s when they’ll play the men’s final, when I will again be working.
So here are my top five Wimbledon memories, all taken in from afar.
1. Arthur Ashe upsets Jimmy Connors to win in 1975. It’s maybe the best “where were you when?” question in the tennis world. Where were you when you heard that Arthur Ashe had beaten a seemingly invincible Jimmy Connors to win it all in 1975? I was playing in the Waco (TX) Open, 14-and-under division, and the announcement came over the louspeakers: Arthur Ashe beat Jimmy Connors 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4. All the players were stunned. I found out later that Ashe abandoned his customary slash-and-burn power tennis to confound Connors with dinks and slices. I own a DVD of the match, pull it out from time to time, and never fail to register a large smile as I watch match point: Ashe slices a nasty serve in the deuce court to Connors’ backhand and then puts away the weak reply into the open space. Nice guys can finish first after all.
2. John McEnroe defeats Jimmy Connors in the 1984 finals 6-1, 6-1, 6-2. Julie and I were newly married, I wasn’t preaching yet, and so we fixed a breakfast of strawberries and cream and settled down to watch the match. What we saw was simply the best display of tennis I’ve ever seen anyone play. McEnroe hit upwards of 80% of his first serves in, made only four errors in the three sets, and managed to make Connors look like a beginner. It was utterly, artfully, brilliant.
3. Bjorn Borg defeats Roscoe Tanner in five sets in the 1979 final. This was the first ever live-on-AmericanTV “Breakfast At Wimbledon.” As a 17-year-old, I watched it at the T-Bar-M Tennis Center where I practiced every day. I liked Tanner because, like me, he had a good serve and sketchy groundstrokes. He almost pulled the upset off, but Borg was resilient in the end, winning his fourth of five straight.
4. Evonne Goolagong beats both Billie Jean King and Margaret Court to win it all in 1971. This is the first Wimbledon I remember. And Goolagong was a carefree newcomer with a sublime backhand. She beat the two nervous veterans and got on the cover of Sports Illustrated. As a 10 year old, I remember thinking tennis had really arrived.
5. Nadal beats Federer 9-7 in the fifth to win in 2008. Why would the greatest match ever between two of the best players ever only be #5 on my list? Because it’s my list and the wrong guy won. Still, as a piece of drama and a display of athletic skill, it was hard to beat. And Jon Wertheim’s Strokes Of Genius is a must read.