Wimbledon throwback: Ashe cuts Connors down to size

The most prestigious event on the tennis calendar, Wimbledon, was supposed to begin on June 29. But the major, known for its manicured lawns and crisp white attire, has been cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Through the fortnight, we will feature some of the most memorable Wimbledon finals. Today we look back at Arthur Ashe’s unlikely triumph over World No 1 Jimmy Connors...

Arthur Ashe with his Wimbledon trophy

1975: Arthur Ashe beat Jimmy Connors 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4

The 1975 Wimbledon final makes the list for what it represented, rather than what it was.

It was the triumph of the fading old over the raging new, of strategy over stubbornness and, importantly for most, good manners over unnecessary antics.

Points of difference

Arthur Ashe was almost 32 at the time, a statesman of the game. But, playing against the brash Jimmy Connors who was on the top of the men’s game, he was keen to prove he wasn’t passe.

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There were many points of disagreement between the two. Ashe founded the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) in 1972 to give players a bigger say, Connors refused to join it.

Ashe led the players’ revolt at Wimbledon in 1973, when 81 top players refused to participate over Nikola Pilic’s suspension by the Yugoslav Tennis Association. Rather than joining in, Connors cashed on to the opportunity and made his first Slam quarterfinals.

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Ashe was the first African-American man to represent USA in Davis Cup, and he wore the national colours proudly. Despite being the best player in the world, Connors refused to play for the team. He turned up for Davis Cup only for three seasons, the first of which was in 1976.

“He just wasn’t one to attack anybody,” historian Raymond Arsenault said of Ashe to wbur.org. “He always gave everybody the benefit of the doubt. But as a member of his family told me once, the only person that he really didn’t like on the tour was Jimmy Connors.”

Man in form

Even though Connors’ on-court behavior put off tennis fans, his game was undeniable. The brash youngster won Wimbledon in 1974 and bagged an impressive 99-4 win-loss record in the year. He was at the top of his game at Wimbledon in 1975 as well, coasting to the summit clash without a loss of a set.

The 22-year-old Connors was not the popular choice, but still a firm favourite in the final against Ashe.

Arthur Ashe (right) and Jimmy Connors before the start of the match

The older American, however, knew just the buttons to push. He walked out for the final wearing the Davis Cup jacket, to underline his affiliations.

Before this, Ashe had made the Wimbledon semi-final in 1968 and 1969. A week short of his 32nd birthday, time was running out for the thoughtful American. But with age came experience.

Changing tactics

And in order to win his first, and eventually the last, Wimbledon title, Ashe wasn’t too proud to drift away from his usual style. He trailed Connors 0-3 in their head-to-head record.

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The sixth-seed reined in his aggressive game style, not giving Connors any pace and power to work with. He chipped and charged and disrupted his opponent’s playing rhythm.

The World No 1 was clearly taken aback by, and uncomfortable with, the strategy and lost the first two sets 1-6, 1-6. Though he found a way to work around it and took the third set 7-5, Ashe was clearly getting under his skin.

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Ashe clinched the fourth set 6-4 to become the first African-American to win the Wimbledon men’s singles title. He remains the only one to date. And his win over Connors is still one of the most memorable upsets in a Wimbledon final.