An Earlier Jubilee year, Wimbledon in 1977
The Wimbledon Championships of 1977 were notable for two reasons. They celebrated the 100th anniversary of the holding of the first Championships and they took place in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Year. This year being the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Year forges a special connection with 1977, the year in which the Queen made an historic visit to her own Royal Box to watch Virginia Wade win the Ladies Singles Final – a ‘fairy tale’ result for all fans of British tennis. Sadly, no such ‘fairy tale’ result for British tennis is anticipated this year. However, given the significance of Jubilee Year, the historic importance of tennis and Wimbledon to Britain’s view of itself and the strong royal connections to the sport, we may very well see the Queen at Wimbledon again this year. Let’s look more closely at the year 1977 and recount the main events of the year for a flavour of what was going on at the time in tennis, in sport generally and in society as a whole.
Borg Victory in Men’s
In that year, Bjorn Borg won the second of his Men’s Singles titles, defeating Jimmy Connors 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 in a thrilling final on a sun-soaked afternoon. At the time, I was watching the match with my brother in a flat in Highgate, North London, owned by Mrs. O’Donoghue, the mother of an old family friend. As we settled to our afternoon viewing, it soon became clear that Mrs. O’ Donoghue was not hugely enamoured of Borg due to his being a Swede. Why should anyone take a dislike to the Swedes, an inoffensive nation that had given us Volvo, Electrolux and Abba, I asked myself? The explanation was that Mrs. O’Donoghue had lived in Blitz-torn London during the Second World War and reviled the Swedes for having remained neutral during the War. I chuckled to myself at the irony of an Irishwoman (the Irish also were neutral during the War) castigating the Swedes for adopting the same stance! Her support for Connors and mine for Borg, I am happy to relate, did not result in the outbreak of World War III that sunny afternoon.
That year, I visited Wimbledon and was fortunate enough to get into the No. 1 Court (after a long wait in a queue) to see the Fourth Round encounter between Connors and my personal icon, the cool clean hero, Stan Smith. Smith, a former Singles Champion, was still a force to be reckoned with in 1977, although then having to make way for the likes of Connors of the younger generation. In those days, there were no big screens, no Henman Hill, no Murray Mount. Dogged fans, instead, simply waited in line to get standing room on the show courts as others exited. Teeny boppers invaded the Centre Court to besiege their chosen heroes, Dan Maskell would get outraged and the summers always seemed to be better in that era.
The 1977 Men’s Championship was also notable for two other reasons. It was the last year in which the great former Champion, Rod Laver competed, a player who so dominated the game in his day. The second feature was the arrival at Wimbledon of John McEnroe, the one-time scourge of umpires and now respected pundit and elder statesman of the game. In 1977, McEnroe, after going through the qualifying rounds went all the way to the semi-finals only to lose out to Connors – a tremendous achievement for a teenager on his Wimbledon debut. It is perhaps fitting that two of the greatest left-handers in the history of the game were linked in this way in 1977, one retiring as one began his career. McEnroe was also a huge fan of Laver growing up, conscious too of their mutual southpaw status.
On a more personal note, that year saw Irish No. 1 Sean Sorensen qualify for the Championships, only to lose out to the great Laver in the second round. Also a southpaw and one of Ireland’s greatest ever players, his defeat against the ‘Master’ was no humiliation. My own memories of Sorensen was as a schoolboy playing in the final of the Munster Schools Cup in Cork in 1974 where he showed his early brilliant talent to help his school team win that year’s trophy. Sorensen’s career was only really beginning in 1977, but for Laver it was coming to an end.
Historic Win by Wade in Ladies’
No-one will forget the magical victory that year of Virginia Wade over Betty Stove in the Ladies’ Final, played in front of the Queen – a result that couldn’t have been choreographed better. Wade had already won two Grand Slam events in her career to date (the US Open in 1968 and the Australian in 1972), but the Wimbledon crown had eluded her after 16 previous attempts. A wonderful stylist on the court with a majestic serve, Virginia, however, was always considered a little brittle under pressure. Would her nerves give way on such an important occasion? Fortunately not and the rest is history. It is hard to imagine now in 2012 that British women’s tennis in 1977 was in such a healthy state. Not only did Wade win Wimbledon that year, but Sue Barker (also the French Open Champion in 1976) managed to reach the semi-final only to be beaten by Stove. Not since that time, has British women’s tennis seen players of such world-class calibre.
In the other Grand Slam events that year, Guillermo Vilas of Argentina won both the French and US Opens with Roscoe Tanner from Lookout Mountain, Tennessee taking the Australian. In the women’s game, Evonne Goolagong won the Australian, Mimi Jausovec the French and Chris Evert the US Open. In the Davis Cup final, Australia beat Italy 3-1.
What Else Was Going On in the World of Sport?
Football In the British game, 1977 was the year of Liverpool. In that year, they won both the League Championship and the European Cup, but went down 2-1 to Manchester United in the FA Cup Final. It was the year too when Brazilian legend, Pele, hung up his boots for the last time, playing his last game for the New York Cosmos against his old Brazilian club team, Santos. In fact, he played the first half for the Cosmos, but switched to Santos for the second.
Cricket 1977 was also the Centenary of the first test match played between England and Australia. A commemorative test match was played that year at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Australia won by 45 runs, intriguingly the same victory margin as in Australia’s win back in 1877.
Golf 1977 was the last year that the Ryder Cup team was drawn exclusively from British and Irish players, extending to cover the whole of Europe in future events. It was also the year in which Tom Watson (reigning US Master’s winner) recorded a majestic victory in the Open Championships at Turnberry, beating arch-rival Jack Nicklaus by one stroke. It was healthy rivalry that was to mark the game of golf for the remainder of the 1970’s.
1977 also cannot pass without mention of the historic third Grand National win by Red Rum – an iconic horse that won the hearts of the British public.
Events of 1977
To provide some background context to tennis that year, it is enlightening to look at the wider world in 1977.
In that year, football’s Thierry Henry and golf’s Luke Donald were both born. August saw the death of Elvis Presley – who can fail to remember where they were when they heard the news? Others who died in that year were: former Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, nuclear scientist, Werner von Braun, Marc Bolan of T Rex and Hollywood actors, Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx, Bing Crosby and Joan Crawford.
Jimmy Carter became US President and the Apple Corporation was founded in that year. Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat, made his historic visit to Israel and Gary Gilmore became the first American to be executed since the reintroduction of the death penalty. On the whole, 1977 was a fairly uneventful year – a lot less turmoil and discord in the world then than in 2012.
The top box office films of 1977 were: Star Wars, Annie Hall, Airport 77, A Bridge Too Far, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Roots, Saturday Night Fever and the Spy Who Loved Me.
The top musical groups and artists were: Abba, Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, the Bee Gees, the Clash, the Sex Pistols and Elvis Costello.
The top pop singles of 1977 were: Hotel California (Eagles), Mull of Kintyre (Wings), I Feel Love (Donna Summer) and Ma Baker (Boney M)
The groups, Dire Straits, the Police, the Specials and the Village People were all formed in that year and the Supremes, T Rex and Lynyrd Skynyrd were disbanded. It was also the year of the musicals, ‘Annie’ and ‘Elvis’.
The abiding feeling about 1977 was of a world a lot more settled and stable (if less dynamic) than that of 2012. The technology explosion had yet to arrive, people were on the whole more deferential to authority, fashions and hairstyles were a little ‘naff’ (at least from a 21st century perspective), economic choice was more limited and the Cold War continued to solidify relations between East and West. This was the world in which Centenary Wimbledon of 1977 found itself.
Date published :
11 Jun 2012 - 14:33:13