April 15, 2020
Two Wimbledon tennis tournaments in one year. Can you imagine?
In our hunger for live tennis, we could be forgiven for wanting that to happen next year!
With no Wimbledon possible in 2020, there’d be a certain logic to craving twice the pleasure in 2021.
But it’s not going to happen – and neither should it. Wimbledon is too good to be diluted.
And yet there was such a year at the All England Club. A distant summer in a changing tennis landscape.
On that occasion, it was surely justified as a means to a beautiful end.
Can anyone remember? Don’t worry if you can’t, because we’ll take you back to that strange time in a moment.
First, looking ahead, you can rest assured of one thing. Wimbledon 2021 will be so emotional and so special that it will be truly unique.
A one-off. A fortnight of glorious intensity, of joyous triumphs and poignant farewells.
A once-in-a-lifetime experience. That’ll be the value of Wimbledon 2021. Not something you could simply put on instant repeat.
We do know what it feels like to enjoy the drama of Centre Court singles finals twice in a year though, don’t we?
Remember 2012? Andy Murray’s tears when he lost the Wimbledon final?
Then a few weeks later on that same, historic Centre Court we saw scenes of wild celebration when Murray won Olympic gold.
Back in 1908 a similar double take had been on offer. The traditional Championships were played out on the old Worple Road site – and also followed by Olympic tennis at the same venue.
The year we want to revisit here was different, though. A beautiful stepping stone, looking back.
Two Wimbledon Championships in a year. One slightly more official than the other.
Are you getting warm? Are you there already?
If so, you will have travelled back in time to 1967. The amateur era. And yet it wasn’t. Not entirely.
Confused? We’ll explain.
Breakaway professionals had been strutting their stuff away from Grand Slams for five years.
That’s probably why Roger Federer leads the list of all-time Grand Slam winners instead of Rod Laver.
The Australian couldn’t play the official Wimbledon Championships, or any other Grand Slam event between 1963 and 1967, because he had turned pro.
And even during the early Open Era, Laver was often more committed to highly-prized professional events that weren’t the Slams.
Otherwise he would surely have finished with more than eleven Slams to his name. More, you suspect, than Federer’s twenty as well.
But we digress. Back in 1967, Laver couldn’t play the official Wimbledon Championships, which we had won in both 1961 and 1962.
The men’s singles title was won by another Australian in 1967, John Newcombe. But Laver wasn’t out of the Wimbledon picture entirely that summer.
Another tournament had been scheduled for August 25-28.
It was called the “Wimbledon World Lawn Tennis Professional Championships” – or “Wimbledon Pro.”
The deal had been done the previous year, as part of celebrations for the invention of colour TV.
Wimbledon chairman Herman David was in favour of bringing in the professionals as soon as possible. He approached their ringmaster, Jack Kramer to make it happen.
But it was BBC executive Bryan Cowgill who came up with the idea of a test-run tournament for the professionals the following summer.
And so in 1967, eight singles players competed at the home of tennis for a total of US $35,000. Four doubles pairings did battle for a further $10,000.
It might not seem much today. But it amounted to a record at the time.
Laver and Lew Hoad, who had won Wimbledon in 1956 and 1957, were two of the biggest stars. Pancho Gonzales and Ken Rosewall were also huge names.
Dennis Ralston and Fred Stolle were very well known, while Andres Gimeno and the marvellously-named Butch Buchholz completed the singles line-up.
Laver beat Stolle, Gimeno and Rosewall to take the second Wimbledon singles title of that unusual summer.
(Not that he could add his latest glory to his list of Slams. He would have to wait for the following year and the proper Open Era to do that).
Teaming up with Stolle, Laver lost the doubles final to Gonzales and Gimeno. You can’t win’em all.
So what did the crowd think of the quality on show? Did Wimbledon spectators approve of these professionals as they pounded the sacred grass?
You bet they did! Some 30,000 turned up to welcome the paid players back into the All England Club.
And that’s the way it has been ever since. Warm welcomes from more and more fans.
Back in 1968, Billie Jean King became club’s first Open Era female champion. And we all know the tenacity she showed over the next few decades to make sure that women became as well paid as men.
But it was 1967, the year of two very different Wimbledon championships, that helped make everything we enjoy in the modern era possible.
Nowadays all the biggest stars turn up to thrill us. And they are all superbly paid for their efforts. How we yearn for their return.
We may only get one Wimbledon in 2021. But boy, we will cherish every moment.