Laver's reflections on the 1972 WCT Finals '...that bloody thief Rosewall'

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by timnz, Apr 26, 2012.

  1. timnz

    timnz Hall of Fame

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    Just thought that this would be interesting, looking at Laver's reflections on the match and the circumstances around it.

    This is from the World tennis magazine archives:

    Rod Laver is not convinced that his 1972 final-round match with Ken Rosewall at the WCT Finals in Dallas was the greatest match of all time. He does, however, say that the title tilt – played 38 years ago this Friday, May 14, 2010 – was an important one in the history of tennis in the United States.
    In his newly re-released and updated memoir THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER ($19.95 New Chapter Press, www.NewChapterMedia.com, co-written with Bud Collins) Laver says of his epic with Rosewall, “I think if one match can be said to have made tennis in the United States, this was it.”

    What happened?

    Read all about it in this exclusive excerpt from THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER.

    The biggest disappointment of my career came in 1972: another defeat by Rosewall in the WC of Tfinal in May. Nevertheless, in retrospect, it had its positive aspects, too. Gene Ward in his column in the New York Daily News appraised that three-hour-and-thirty-four-minute installment of “The Rod and Kenny Show” as the greatest tennis match ever played. Takes in a few tennis matches, and, though I’m grateful for that opinion of a writer who has watched top tennis for forty years, I’m not sure I’d agree with Gene. I even feel Kenny and I had played some that were better. But, did anyone else but Kenny and I know?

    The occasion, in assigning greatness, is all-important. Don Budge probably played better matches than his five-set epic triumph over Gottfried von Cramm in the Davis Cup semifinal of 1937, but the situation and the stakes, the attention paid by the press and public, set that one above the others. You couldn’t beat the setting: Wimbledon’s Centre Court.

    Well, Kenny and I had never played for so many people. There were 8,500 filling chummy Moody Coliseum at Dallas, but there were countless millions of living-room types freeloading at their screens. On that Sunday afternoon, May 14, somebody who did try to count the watchers (a TV ratings maker) stated that our match outdrew the pro basketball playoffs on another channel and the pro hockey playoffs on yet another. The estimate was 21.3 million viewers for “The R& K Show,” which ran well over its allotted time on 170 NBC stations and yet they almost missed the climax.


    Rod Laver

    As the match wound through the tense fifth set, hotter and tighter, Jim Simpson and Bud, the babblers in the NBC-TV booth, got a discouraging message from director Ted Nathanson. Orders from network headquarters in New York. They were to be prepared to apologize to viewers just before the broadcast was cut off at 6 PM eastern time. It was clearly going to run into the 6 o’clock news, and the Sunday 6 o’clock news was sancrosanct at NBC. Untouchable. How could they do that to Kenny and me – and the audience? Easily.

    Jim and Bud, working their first season as NBC’s tennis commentary team, were dismayed at the thought of deserting this lalapalooza. But the next time they heard from Nathanson through their headphones, at 5:55, his voice had gone from sour to sprightly. ‘Keep going fellows – we’re on to the end. No apology necessary.”

    Whoever the genius-in-charge was at 30 Rock that evening, he wasn’t going to abandon something this good and compelling. Kenny and I not only beat up on each other but also the mighty 6 o’clock news. Close call, but to hell with the news and the sponsors — our show went on.

    The greatness of this match was that it had everything: a huge title, comebacks by both of us, spectacular shotmaking, tension, heavy mon­ey, a steady buildup to an unbelievable finish. I had to save a match point to take myself to a winning position . . . and when the match was on my racket, Kenny snatched it off. Dead on his feet, he somehow won the last four points to take the second tie-breaker, the title, the $50,000 and the other baubles again, 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 7-6 (7-5)

    It was as competitive as a sporting contest can be as we ran miles and hit thousands of shots, and I guess that’s what held hordes of viewers who knew nothing about tennis.

    I think if one match can be said to have made tennis in the United States, this was it. I know it made me more well known than I could imagine, and I don’t think the full impact in promoting the game has been felt. It was a chunk of sporting history, and I was part of it, helped make it. That much makes me glow when I think about it. Then I have to think about those two supernatural Rosewall backhands that beat me—made me a loser by just two points—and I know it was The Disap­pointment of my career.

    In talking to the networks, Barry Frank, the TV agent for WCT, con­firmed what he suspected: the pros would have to alter their year to get on camera. The 1971 final had been televised on a limited scale but was lost in November football coverage, just as the U.S. Open is swamped by baseball and football in September. If WCT could conclude its year in May, the networks would take a chance. NBC took a package deal of eight live tournaments, and CBS put on a taped series of fifteen tourna­ments called the CBS Classic, which ran in the spring and summer.

    In order to stage a WC of T for 1972, Mike Davies made up a winter-spring schedule of ten tournaments plus the $100,000 playoffs in May. Eight of those were televised. Davies wanted a twenty-tournament basis for deciding which eight would play for the most serious money, as in 1971. To arrange that, he stipulated that points for the last ten tourna­ments of 1971 would count in a 1971–72 season. When we resumed play­ing in February 1972 we already had a half season on our records. From 1973 on, the WCT season is to be only eleven tournaments in length, from January through May, but there would be two groups of 32, with four to qualify from each group for the playoffs.

    I was off to a fine start, winning the first three tournaments, five of the ten, and finishing on top of the points standings once more. Next came Rosewall, Okker, Drysdale, Riessen, Ashe, Lutz and Newcombe – the same faces as 1971 though in different order. After I beat Newc and Riessen, and Kenny took Lutz and Ashe, it was our show once more.

    All I can say about that incredible final was it took so many twists that I still can’t understand how I lost. Two points. I never came so close and lost. But I had my chances and that’s all you can ask. I had the serve at 5 points to 4 in the decisive tie-breaker. The odds had switched dramati­cally to me. I had to win it. I looked at him and he couldn’t stand up. Nobody was going to beat me now, after I’d been down 0-3 in the fifth, after I’d saved four break points in the next game to avoid 0-4, and after I’d zinged an ace on match point against me at 4-5. I couldn’t lose it now. I wouldn’t.

    And I did. Or, rather, he beat me, that bloody thief Rosewall.

    It had been a shotmaking feast throughout, for more than three and a half hours, but after all the sprints and swings and skids I had him. I can tell you the three swings of mine I regret the most. They came in the tie-breaker with me ahead, 3-1. I jerked him out of position and whacked a forehand down the line that nobody could have touched. The tape inter­fered, and the ball dropped back on my side. Just a fraction higher, and it’d been 4-1. Then I double-faulted. Instead of maybe 5-1, it was 3-3.

    Never mind, I told myself, and I got two of the next three to 5-4 with serve. Two points to the championship—and my serve. Great. Concen­trate. I was going to go for his backhand corner. Yes, don’t tell me—I know all about that backhand. But this time I’d slice it wide and clean him out of the court. He just couldn’t move anymore to get back in position.

    Surprise. He didn’t have to move. Terrific serve . . . only the return was even terrificker, a cross-court angle that I’d never seen even from Kenny. I probed to make the half-volley, reached the ball but couldn’t control it. Anything over the net would have got me the point with him sagging so badly, but my half-volley went long. It’s 5-5.

    One more serve, and I still knew I could outlast him, even if he could carry me to 6-6. He was absolutely dead, and I felt great. Another serve to the backhand corner, and this was Kenny’s last stab. Zoom, the ball went down the line and I was passed with plenty to spare. My edge was gone, just like that.

    His serve at 6-5—match point. Could he lift the ball to serve it? Didn’t much matter. I was glassy over those backhands, and I hardly noticed that he floated a serve over the net. I waved at it with a backhand and tapped it into the net. “I can’t lose,” registered in my mind. “How . . .”

    Kenny was so bushed he didn’t make sense in the TV interview. Not so bushed that he didn’t make sure the check for fifty grand was signed by Lamar.

    They say he was cold and emotionless, but in the dressing room, Ken­ny broke down and cried. I wanted to, but I still couldn’t believe it. A reporter asked him to think back to 1962 and try to imagine what he thought then that he’d be doing in 1972. “Selling insurance in Sydney,

    I guess,” said Kenny. “Certainly not playing tennis. Certainly not for $50,000 in one afternoon.”

    Was there any place I could buy a policy insuring me against Kenny Rosewall?

    It’s our match forever—his win, but our match—and I feel people will keep talking about it. I won’t discourage them."
     
  2. timnz

    timnz Hall of Fame

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    Recent Interview with Rosewall

    It was interesting to hear an interview in the last year or two with Rosewall where he said that the 1971 and 1972 WCT Final wins were the most important to him of his career.

    And they don't call it a major......goodness!
     
  3. Mustard

    Mustard Talk Tennis Guru

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    It's not a major, but still a big, important event in the early open era, run by people more up to date with the demands of open tennis instead of clinging to the past. Nice to see Laver's recollections, by the way.
     
  4. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    Laver proves again his enormous class and sportmanship.That makes him even a greater champion than he already is.
     
  5. adidasman

    adidasman Professional

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    Is that possible? :) Laver will always be number one in my mind, because of who he is off the court and who he was on the court. An amazing, amazing man.
     
  6. Dan Lobb

    Dan Lobb Hall of Fame

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    It was a major television event, drawing a mass TV audience.
    Its prestige wore down over the years, and the event disappeared.
    That is why it is not considered a major.
     
  7. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    It was a major event for all of us who enjoyed those golden era days.its prestige was such it was considered the 4 th leg of the Gran Slam.Deservedly.

    Don´t get too mad...man, even John Newcombe won it¡¡¡
     
  8. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    When I grew older and worked as a part time journalist, I had the pleasure to meet personally the croop of Roy Emerson,Tony Roche,Fred Stolle, Owen Davidson and Rod Laver, covering a seniors event played indoors.Of course, they were not still the funny wild beer drinkers they had been 10 or 15 years before, still their humble soul, sarcastic yet utmost honest view and sensitive approach towards a still young admirer as I was by then was real touching.

    Rod Laver is the biggest man to ever pick up a tennis racket and it honours the concept of what sport is and should be, at least IMO.Like few other men have done.I admire deeply the tennis player, to me the most complete ever, but having to get him around, you realize this guy was a really special being.
     
  9. Mustard

    Mustard Talk Tennis Guru

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    It still wasn't a major. It was probably the most professionally run event, certainly in its early years. The WCT were up to date with what open tennis meant and how it changed the tennis landscape. At the same time, the national associations had a lot of conflicting political issues and took much longer to get their act together. That is why the majors weren't as well run at the time as the WCT Dallas event.

    Also, the 1970 Dunlop Sydney Open should have been that year's Australian Open. But it wasn't, and that was due to politics.
     
  10. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    I can´t agree.WCT was clearly the 4 th best world tournament until the late 70´s, when the Masters had a small edge.Players rewarded WCT as a major win and they competed there, not like the devaluated AO ( except Vilas,Gerulaitis and Tanner)
     
  11. BTURNER

    BTURNER Hall of Fame

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    Its the only rivalry to compete with Evert and Navratilova as the best ever in tennis. Any others are so distantly behind, they aren't even visible. I wish I had seen more of it than I have.
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2012
  12. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    In terms of longevity it could be truth.Others were as much or even more intense.
     
  13. BTURNER

    BTURNER Hall of Fame

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    The intensity of both rivalries tended to ebb and flow in phases over the years as new threats emerged and withered and tennis politics intervened periodically. That is inevitable in any career long rivalry.
     
  14. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    What about King vs Court? It lasted well over 10 years, almost as many as Evert vs Martina, I guess.
     
  15. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    I agree.

    On the court he was a ferocious, competitive lion with vast depths of skillful shot-making, and an almost infinite variety of strategies. Once the match was over he was the nicest, most generous, and most humble man on the planet.
     
  16. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    It paid 10 times more than the 4 tournaments of the Grand Slam, drew the best players, and was more prestigious and hard fought than the majors. Perhaps only Wimbledon was more important between 71' and 75'.
     
  17. BTURNER

    BTURNER Hall of Fame

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    For one thing according to King, as I recall they never played each other on clay.
     
  18. Mustard

    Mustard Talk Tennis Guru

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    I said that the WCT Dallas even was a big event, the most professionally run at that time, and the most up to date with what open tennis was all about at that time, but it was not a major, which have been the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open since 1925, although of course they weren't open to professional players before the open era.

    Like I said, the WCT Dallas event is how the majors should have been at the time in terms of organisation and prize money, just as the 1970 Dunlop Sydney Open was how that year's Australian Open would have been under normal circumstances, but politics got in the way. That's the way it was back in the 1970s with politics dominating the sport.
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2012
  19. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    I would put emphasis on the whole WCT tour since 1971. It brought tennis to the world, was well organized, gave room for television coverage and set up exciting tennis. The Cologne tournament for instance had overall some 50000 people in attendance over one week, unheard for a tennis event in Germany then.
     
  20. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    I agree with Limpin.WCT championships may be the second best event after Wimbledon for the first half of the 70´s.No heressy in that.
     
  21. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    timnz,

    Bud Collins once said that the 1966 US Pro final was the best of the many big Laver/Rosewall finals. I trust him because in the famous 1972 Dallas final both players were past their prime (but still overwhelming).
     
  22. Frank Silbermann

    Frank Silbermann Professional

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    Maybe not. Sure, they probably were able to run faster back then, but their strokes in 1972 might have been better -- and that's what counts, isn't it. If all you care about is watching people who can run fast, track-and-field is for you.
     
  23. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    Frank Silbermann,

    I can't agree. I don't think that Laver in 1972 had better strokes than in his prime years, 1965 till 1967. The same with Rosewall.
     
  24. timnz

    timnz Hall of Fame

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    1962 and 1973

    If that isthe case, was it the mosimportant tornament of 1972 and 1973, given that wimbledon was so weak in field depth in those years?
     
  25. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    timnz,

    I would rank the importnace of the top tournaments for 1971 till 1973 as follows:

    1971

    1) Wimbledon
    2) WCT finals
    3) Australian Open
    4) US Open without Laver & Rosewall

    1972

    1) US Open
    2) WCT finals
    3) Wimbledon
    4) Masters

    1973

    1) US Open
    2) WCT finals
    3) French Open
    4) Masters
     
  26. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    Wimbledon is Wimbledon.
     
  27. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    Very interesting: no Wimbledon among the top four.
     
  28. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Boycott that year. Very few of the top players competed. That's why it was won by Jan Kodes.

    I don't think players like Stan Smith (top player at that point), Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Ken Rosewall, Arthur Ashe competed.

    The top seed was Nastase, followed by Kodes, Roger Taylor, Metreveli and Jimmy Connors.

    Nastase was upset by Alex Mayer and Connors was defeated by Metreveli. Would Kodes have won if a full field competed? Perhaps but I think not.
     
  29. Mustard

    Mustard Talk Tennis Guru

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    Nikola Pilic was banned from 1973 Wimbledon due to his alleged refusal to compete in Yugoslavia's Davis Cup tie against New Zealand. As a result, 81 out of the other 84 ATP players, decided to boycott 1973 Wimbledon in protest, saying that professional tennis players should be able to pick and choose when to play Davis Cup. Of course, 3 ATP players refused to boycott (Nastase, Taylor, Keldie), and were later fined by the ATP for their participation in the tournament.

    As regards to 1972 Wimbledon, all the WCT players were banned from ILTF Grand Prix tournaments from January until July that year, which included the French Open and Wimbledon. Andres Gimeno, the 1972 French Open champion, who had previously been a contract pro, had gone freelance at the end of the previous year.
     
  30. Frank Silbermann

    Frank Silbermann Professional

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    And what's your basis for thinking that? Just a wild-*ss guess?
     
  31. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    Yes, I knew that. What I find interesting is the logic behind not including Wimbledon, in spite of its heritage.
    But maybe not--I guess tradition and reputation are not everything.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2012
  32. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    I think the general impression of most people is that Laver and Rosewall were superior players a number of years before 1972. In 1972 Laver would be 34 and Rosewall would be 38 which is really old age by tennis standards although I believe they were 33 and 37 when the match was played.

    Newcombe was of the impression that Laver's serve could be attacked at that point for example than in earlier years.

    The 1972 match was great and I saw it on television live. It was a stunning exhibition of tennis by both sides. However if I had to guess and it's strictly an educated guess the best matches that Laver and Rosewall played were when they both were younger, faster and had better reflexes.
     
  33. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    Frank Silbermann,

    My basis is logic and experience. There was never a player stronger at 33 and 37 than between 26 and 30. Just believe me and others. An exception may have been Tilden but even he was better till only 32. After that he declined...
     
  34. Mustard

    Mustard Talk Tennis Guru

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    It's a real shame that the whole match doesn't seem to exist on tape anymore.
     
  35. TomT

    TomT Hall of Fame

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    Thanks timnz. That was interesting to hear Laver's account of things. I love watching both Laver and Rosewall's playing. True masters of the game. Wish there were more videos commonly available.

    Also, interesting comments by others. Food for thought and research.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2012
  36. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    Dan Lobb,

    You refuse to give the WCT final of 1972 the status of a major and I agree. But why then you say that Forest Hills pro tournament which also disappeared did be a major?. WCT lasted longer than F.H.Pro.
     
  37. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    How does Rosewall rate his two WCT final wins over Laver? I think it must have been so satisfying beating his old nemesis aged 37 and 38 in the biggest event of the biggest pro tour back then.

    Their second match is a test of nerve holding and icy mind.Who could have beaten Laver that day?

    I guess only Rosewall, the only man on earth who wouldn´t get nervous at mp agaisnt the Rocket.

    Rod deserved to win a WCT title and that was the only major that eluded him ( and his only realistic goal after1969)
     
  38. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    kiki, Muscles rates his two WCT wins as his greatest achievements.

    I disagree with him: I think his 3 times Channel Slam or his 1970 US Open win are a bit higher to consider( the latter of course only in comparison with one of the two WCT titles).
     
  39. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    Maybe he does because they are his two last majors?
    I think so
     
  40. Flash O'Groove

    Flash O'Groove Hall of Fame

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    Player certainly rate their achievements in a very different way than we do. Maybe their breakthrough was the best moment of their career. Maybe it's a late tournament, when they weren't dominant anymore and when they were somehow surprised again that they could win, etc.
     
  41. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    I'm not sure about that. Laver's play was a bit spotty for about a set and a half. I think (not sure) Laver jumped out to a big lead in the first set and barely held on to win the set. Laver was bageled in the second set if I recall because he wasn't serving well. I could see someone like Nastase beating Laver that day in 1972, also perhaps Newcombe, not to take anything away from Muscles. It was a great match but I'd venture to say Laver and Rosewall played better matches against each other. It's just that this one was on Nationwide Television and with the great rallies it moved into prime time.
     
  42. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    Yep, I watched it--glued to the set!

    With two tiebreakers in the fourth and fifth sets, I thought I collapse from the tension.
     
  43. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    Didn´t Nastase beat Laver at the Italian?
     
  44. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    pc1, I envy you for having watched that match.

    I doubt that Newcombe ( and mybe Nastase) could have beaten the Rocket on that day. Laver did beat Newcombe in the QFs by 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

    Newk was not successful that year in the GS tournaments.

    Mike Davies after the match claimed that that match was the greatest he has seen, and Mike had witnessed many of the Laver/Rosewall clashes.

    I agree that a few (but only a few) L/R encounters were probably better. Bud Collins told me that their 1966 US Pro final was the best he has seen. I also could imagine that the 1963 French Pro final and the 1964 and 1967 Wembley five setters were even greater than Dallas 1972

    Bud has ranked the 1972 WCT final as best match of open era in the "Open Tennis" book of Richard Evans, as also Gianni Clerici and Judith Elian have done (as of 1988). The majority of experts chose the 1980 Wimbledon final.
     
  45. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    I knew Laver beat Newcombe in the QF but Laver's play was spotty in that match and I could see Newcombe taking advantage of that. Laver, according to Marty Riessen played a high level match (at least it was implied) against Newcombe in the QF. But you're probably correct, I would guess that Laver would still have defeated Newcombe.

    Nastase was arguably the best player in the world in 1972 so considering the spotty quality of Laver's play I could easily see him winning. Of course it's an opinion.

    I do agree with you that the 1972 WCT final is probably a higher level match than the overrated (imo) 1980 Wimbledon final. The 1980 Wimbledon final is known mainly for the incredibly exciting tiebreaker but I felt the quality of the match left something to be desired. Borg was hurt during that Wimbledon and frankly didn't play that well. He lost the first set 6-1 and I didn't think he played that well in the second which he pulled out. That's two sets of mediocre play by Borg! Notice that Borg didn't seem to serve at full power. I believe that was because of his injury. If I had to pick a very high level match that Borg was involved in at Wimbledon I would pick the 1977 Wimbledon semi with Borg and Gerulaitis.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztUAcipzGhs
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2014
  46. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    I would also take his 1981 semifinal versus Connors
    Borg had the surprise effect in 76
    But certainly not in 1978 which may have been his best Wimbledon year
     
  47. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    The 1981 semi was much better also. Borg imo played better by far in 1976 at Wimbledon than in 1980 because he wasn't injured. Borg didn't lose a set in 1976 and clearly served much better than in 1980 again because of the injury in 1980.

    And yes I agree 1978 was his best year at Wimbledon. His 1978 final against Connors was one of the finest matches by an individual player I've seen. I thought Connors played very well and yet he only won seven games.

    I also thought his 1979 Wimbledon semi against Connors was great also.

    Kiki, maybe you should start a thread naming the best quality matches by one player in a match.

    I think the best match I've seen John Newcombe play was his straight sets win over Jimmy Connors in the 1973 US Open quarters. Connors, as always played well but lost to the relentless Newcombe.

    Phoenix1983 aka Pete Sampras' best match imo was his slaughter of Agassi in 1999 Wimbledon final. One of the highest quality Wimbledon matches I've seen.

    The Arthur Ashe match I was most impressed with was his straight sets win over Vilas in the finals of the 1976 Transamerica Open if I recall the facts correctly. Ashe won the first set 6-0 but the impressive thing was that he outrallied Vilas from the baseline. Ashe was riding a crest of super confidence because he was number one the previous year. Ashe won the second set 7-6. I'm sure Ashe had played better in some matches but I was amazed at Ashe's versatility in that match. Ashe is a player that didn't even come close to reaching his full potential but that's understandable because of all the other responsibilities he put upon himself.
     
  48. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    A great from Laver was the third set of his 69 W sf
     
  49. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    pc1, You meant the 1975 Fireman's Fund San Francisco tournament. In that year Ashe won nine tournaments and was justifiedly ranked the No. 1 player of the year.
     
  50. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    pc1, With all respect and envy that you have watched that classic in person, I think you were very young when seeing that match. So I'm not sure if Laver really was spotty. Maybe he was it in the second set since the Rocket seldom lost a set by 0-6 against Rosewall and generally...

    In one of the World of Tennis yearbooks it's written that there were rather few volleys played because both players had the right length in their groundstrokes. I think that Laver played very well in that final. But I agree that Nastase would have been a severe threat to both Laver and Rosewall on that day.
     

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