An Upset For The Ages
Hard to believe that football season is almost here! NFL training camps will open in just a few weeks, and college football is not far behind.
In the baseball world, the so-called “halfway point” of the season is here, with MLB’s “Midsummer Classic”, the All-Star Game this Tuesday night in Miami. At this writing, the Nationals are comfortable ahead in the NL East, but are being hammered by the injury bug, with Trea Turner and now Michael Taylor on the shelf. Adam Eaton probably won’t return this season, and the Nats are still waiting for Jason Werth to get back onto the field. Bigger leads have been lost down the stretch, and with a few more stumbles this week against the Braves, things could get interesting…
Switching gears to today’s main topic, one of the great sports upsets happened “across the pond” this week in 1975 at Wimbledon. These days, I don’t follow tennis as much as I did in the mid-to-late 70’s, when you would find me reading Tennis World magazine, and taking my Wilson T-2000 to Oatsdale Park in Martinsburg at least once a week during the Summer. And I loved waking up to NBC’s “Breakfast at Wimbledon” coverage to hear the great Bud Collins analyze the matches.
It was in early July of 1975 that Jimmy Connors faced Arthur Ashe in the Wimbledon Final, and I remember it like it was yesterday. I was one of many who wanted the soft-spoken Ashe to shut the mouth of the brash Connors, then the “bad-boy” of tennis (before McEnroe would take that unofficial title).
The contrasts were many. Yes, there was race. Ashe was black, Connors was white. But aside from that, as I’ve mentioned, Ashe was quiet, Connors was loud. Connors was a power player, while Ashe featured finesse in his game. The two had conflicting views within the politics of tennis. Ashe called Connors “unpatriotic” for not playing on the USA Davis Cup team. Ashe and Connors were barely on speaking terms, which added to the atmosphere.
Connors was the overwhelming favorite. He was the number 1 player in the world, had gone 99-4 in 1974, and was the defending Wimbledon champion. He was also 10 years younger than Ashe, who was 32. Ashe was certainly the sentimental favorite, especially with the English crowd, who bristled at Connors’ negative comments about the condition of the sacred Wimbledon grass.
Ashe knew he couldn’t match the power of Connors, so he and his coach devised a strategy of finesse shots: chips and lobs and precision backhands. The plan worked like a charm, as Ashe won the first 2 sets decisively 6-1, 6-1. Jimbo won the third set, a tough 5-7 back-n-forth, before Ashe put away Connors with a 6-4 fourth set.
Ashe, wearing his Davis Cup USA jacket, held the trophy in celebration of his historic win. There was a moment that may have been misunderstood, though. After the win, Ashe held a clenched fist high in the air, a gesture perceived by some as a “black power” salute, like that of Tommy Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Olympics. Ashe said it was merely a gesture of victory toward his coach Donald Dell, who helped Ashe plot the strategy for the match.
The win was a final hurrah for Ashe, while Connors would later in his career become somewhat of a fan favorite, as the aforementioned John McEnroe burst on to the scene to play the “heel.”
On this day in 1975, the Wimbledon win by Arthur Ashe at Centre Court transcended color. It was a win that inspired both blacks and whites, and showed that with courage and conviction to a plan, that one can overcome overwhelming odds and accomplish the seemingly impossible.
That’s it from the Booth! Until next time…GO HORNETS!