Almanac Tennis: Wimbledon 1973


Wimbledon, one of the four Grand Slam events on the tennis calendar, the definitive grass court tournament, is looking very different for 2022. The All-England Lawn Tennis Club made it clear they were unwilling for Russian propagandists to use Wimbledon to promote their triumphant narrative of the invasion of Ukraine.


Pressure by the Association of Tennis Professionals, (ATP) also the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), as well as the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has led to the withdrawal of ranking points for all players competing in Wimbledon 2022. This almost reduces Wimbledon to an exhibition tournament. With Wimbledon banning Russian and Belarusian players in response to Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, the response of the peak tennis bodies to remove ranking points from Wimbledon is a severe action. The All-England Lawn Tennis Club was told clearly that the removal of ranking points for players competing in the tournament was disproportionate, and damaging for the tournament status, with of course damaging to the participating players.  Yes, the players will still put in 100%, yes, the eyes of the tennis world will be on Wimbledon, but with points from last year’s tournament expiring, combined with no points on offer for 2022, makes it look very barren. It got me thinking of another ‘strange’ Wimbledon back in 1973.


Again, the ATP were major factor. Back in 1973 the Wimbledon men’s tournament had many of its stars absent. Very few ATP players attended, with the final being between the Czech Jan Kodes, against the Soviet Union’s Alex Metrevelli. The reason for the player boycott was due to the ITF’s suspension of Yugoslavia’s Nikola Pilic who apparently refused to play a Davis Cup rubber against New Zealand as this clashed with a tournament being held in Las Vegas. Pilic had signed to play in Las Vegas. He was suspended for nine months by the ITF, though this was later reduced to one month. Still, the suspension meant he was going to miss Wimbledon. In response to Pilics suspension the ATP called for a boycott of Wimbledon 1973.


The ATP was then a whole new entity, formed in September 1972. It claimed to exist for the protection of professional tennis players. Former American tennis player turned agent Donald Dell, his compatriot, fellow player turned promoter Jack Kramer along with South African Cliff Drysdale, founded the ATP. They promoted themselves as an alternative to the tournament directors, also the ITF. Remember this was only four years into the Open Era. As it was 81 of the top male players, including reigning champion, America’s Stan Smith, refused to participate in Wimbledon 1973. Very few seeds competed. (Three Australian men were initially seeded. We won’t see that in 2022.) The depleted men’s field included a string of qualifiers, and lucky losers.


With the women there wasn’t the same drama. In an All-American final Billie Jean King triumphed over the young Chris Evert 6-0 7-5. Both Americans had prevailed over Australians in the semifinals, King beat 1971 champion Evonne Goolagong, Evert another in Margaret Court: both clashes went to three sets.


It was a sterling few weeks for Billie Jean King. Pairing with fellow American Rosie Casals, they took the women’s doubles 6-1 4-6 7-5. She also hoisted the mixed doubles with Australian Owen Davidson, 6-2 6-3. King’s success made her the only person to achieve a ‘triple crown’ singles, doubles, mixed doubles twice in the years after the Second World War.


As mentioned earlier, the 1973 men’s final saw Jan Kodes play Alex Metrevelli. Kodes was the second seed, Metreveli the fourth. When the original seeds were announced prior to the boycott Kodes was seeded fifteenth, Metreveli thirteenth, however the subsequent ATP boycott saw major changes in the seedings.


Kodes won the final 6-1, 9-8, 6-3. The second set tie break was the first tie break in a Wimbledon singles final. In the concluding set Kodes proved too steady for Metrevelli, becoming the first Czech player to win a Wimbledon crown.


Kodes played five setters in his final two matches prior to the final. In the semifinals his five-set victory was over the third seed England’s Roger Taylor, one of the very few players refusing to support the boycott. Taylor led two sets to one prior to Kodes rallying, closing out the match 7-5 in the fifth


Kodes had a fine career, the best Czech player prior to Ivan Lendl. He won the French men’s singles in 1970, then 1971. He was the runner up in the US men’s singles in 1971, as well as 1973. Kodes reached a career high of 5.


Whilst Alex Metreveli did not achieve the heights of Jan Kode’s his career was still meritorious. The Georgian born twice reached the Wimbledon mixed doubles final, firstly 1968, then 1970. Both times he was a runner up. In the singles he reached a career high of 9, the same number as singles titles he won. In retirement he ended up in Australia; interestingly he has a grandson Aleksandre, who has played Davis Cup for Georgia.


How did the attending Australian contingent of men perform?


 With the big names like Rosewall, Newcombe, Laver, Roche, Emerson etc, missing the flag was flown by Owen Davidson who reached the round of 16. Four Australians reached the round of 32 among them were Roger Keldie, who was one of only three ATP aligned tennis players refusing to support the boycott. The other two were England’s Roger Taylor, also Rumania’s Ilie Nastase. The three players were subsequently fined by the ATP.


Over the years Wimbledon was generally a happy hunting ground for Australians, with Australian players regularly reaching the second week.  For Australia in 1972 the big serving Colin Dibley was the best performed male, reaching a quarter final. That year the young Australian pairing of Evonne Goolagong, and Kim Warwick, won the mixed doubles. In the women’s singles 1971 champion Evonne Goolagong fell to Billie Jean King in the final.


1971 had seen Australia’s John Newcombe win the men’s title, with fellow Australian Ken Rosewall reaching the semifinals. Colin Dibley, also Rod Laver were quarter finalists. That year Australia’s Evonne Goolagong won the women’s singles, beating compatriot Margaret Court. These two paired for the doubles though were no match for the American combination of Billie Jean King, and Rosie Casals. Court was also a runner up in the mixed doubles where her and American Marty Riessen lost to the Australian/US combination of Owen Davidson, and Billie Jean King.


Returning to 1973, it was in the doubles fields where Australians performed best. As mentioned previously Owen Davidson joined Billie Jean King, claiming another mixed doubles title.   In the men’s doubles John Cooper teamed up with the veteran Neale Fraser, reaching the final losing in five sets to Ilie Nastase, & the up-and-coming American Jimmy Connors: 3-6, 6-3 6-4, 8-9, 6-1.


Looking at the men’s field Ilie Nastase was certainly an interesting player. He spoke supportively of the ATP boycott but was ordered by the Romanian military, and government, to compete. Nastase unsuccessfully appealed the ATP fine saying as an officer in the Romanian Army he was ordered to play. Though the top seed, he lost his fourth-round clash with America’s Sandy Mayer. It has been intimated Nastase threw the match ‘showing his support for the ATP boycott’, however he has never confirmed/denied this.


Nastase had a sterling 1973 reaching number one in the world. That year he won 17 tournaments including the French Open, a tournament he won without dropping a set.  One final point re the Nastase’s 1973 was that he won the Wimbledon men doubles.  Over his career Nastase excelled in controversies. From using a ’spaghetti string‘ racket, to fines for audible obscenities, over to racist comments, also threats to officials, more than once Nastase found himself in trouble, even being banned from tournaments.


The ATP  developed into the governing body of men’s tennis circuit, overseeing the top two tiers of tennis being very much the principal promoters, and organisers of most top-level men’s tennis. The ATP oversees the men’s rankings, which determines qualifications, and seedings of players in the men’s events.  Current players can have input in the ATP’s direction through the ATP players council who have a ‘direct line’ to the ATP Board of Directors.


I’ve long had a problem with sportspersons being used as pawns in political games. As a high school student, I opposed then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser wanting Australian athletes to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, this action in response to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. However, there may be times I’d possibly support boycotting of a sporting event. A classic example, though long before my time, would be the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. In this current setting with Putin portraying himself as the modern-day Peter the Great I totally condemn the Russian invasion of the Ukraine; however, I wonder if Wimbledon’s actions will in any way impact on the situation.


Very soon Wimbledon 2022 will be underway, with an English summer providing a backdrop to the green, grass courts with spectators partaking in strawberries and cream, alongside other English delicacies. Back home in Oz we can rug up in front of the TV safely indoor from the cold, winter nights. The players on court will entertain us all. Though there are no points to play for let’s not expect less than 100% effort from them, OK, maybe bar 1-2 individuals.








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  1. Thanks for this history lesson, Glen!

    I certainly do not agree with the banning of Russian and Belarusian players. For where do we draw line? For example, the USA has carried out many atrocities over the years, so would they ban American players?

  2. Chris Weaver says

    Tennis never banned South African players from competing as individuals under the Apartheid-government flag, so tennis set itself a poor precedent as far back as the early 1970s. Although the 1974 Davis Cup farce set in train four years of boycotts and protests that finally led to South Africa being banned from team comps.

    This move (ban but no rankings points for competing players) feels like a solution that falls between two stools and satisfies no one. Frankly it also speaks to the toothlessness of the ITF.

  3. Enjoyed the trip down memory lane. Not so sure about the political commentary. Wimbledon tournament total prize money is A$71M with $3.5M to both the mens and womens single winners. Makes it worth fighting for and a lot more than an exhibition in anyone’s terms. Even without ranking points.
    Individual sports like tennis, golf and Olympics have historically not enforced bans. But their athlete’s victories are still propaganda triumphs for their governments.
    Gary Player won the Australian Open golf tournament 7x in the apartheid era between 1958 & 1974. He used a black American caddie from 1970, but publicly defended apartheid before then. Evolution or expediency? Conviction or convenience?

  4. Hint. When a player or coach in any pro sport says they want to “grow the game” or talk “unfairness” – they’re talking out of their pocket. My favourite snowflake World #38 Naomi Osaka has only ever won on hard courts in US & Australia. Never done a thing on clay or grass. This article is very good on skewering the ranking points nonsense in tennis and golf that only rewards mediocrity.

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