Some called it the "crazy summer". At the beginning of the summer of 1977, a storm caused a 15-hours black out in New York, and thousand of lootings and violent scenes devastated the city. 4000 arrests later, the "King" Elvis Presley bowed out in Memphis. This wave of madness was still going strong on the 31st of August when the last US Open played on clay started in the old pastoral stadium of Forest Hills. Why would the 1977 edition be worth a book or a documentary? There are at least 10 reasons...
1 / A spectator shot in the thigh during a match of McEnroe
In November 1976, the movie Two-Minute Warning that showed a sniper firing into the crowd during an American football match at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was released in the US. This might be what an unidentified gunman tried to reproduce less than a year later during the match between McEnroe and Dibbs, played at night on the centre court. Wounded in the thigh, the only victim was evacuated. The match was interrupted a few minutes, but apart from the people near of that poor 33-year-old spectator, no one never really knew what happened that day.
2/ A man in the Ladies singles event
Rejected from Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Renee Richards, formerly Richard Raskind, played the ladies singles event seventeen years after playing the men's singles! Former average player later became ophthalmologist and father, he (she) began a third life at the US Open in 1977, with a first round played (and lost, against the future winner, Virginia Wade) on the centre court, leading to an incredible "buzz" in the media. The jokes (inevitable?) went on for ages, the journalist Christian Quidet even said ironically on French TV that the player could play the mixed doubles by her(him)self.
3/ An unknown passed two rounds thanks to the "evil" racquet
Stupor when Mike Fishbach, ranked beyond the 200th place in the world, passed two rounds in the big table, leaving only two games to the great Stan Smith. Behind this surprise, was this double stringing racquet, colloquially called “spaghetti racquet”, which could find the most perverse effects. Given the controversy, the International Federation met in emergency, and realized that nothing in the regulation imposed to play with a normal racket! The boss of the tournament even took this opportunity to specify that one could even play with broomstick if he felt like it. The magical or evil racquet, it depends of the point of view, was permanently outlawed a month later, not without provoking a few other big surprises.
The stars of the tour had probably never made so many good jokes until the US Open 1977. Everyone was at it, even the most quiet! Example with Guillermo Vilas declaring during the fortnight: "If I had not been sure to win at Forest Hills, I would have returned to Buenos Aires a long time ago to get a good Argentinian steak!" This same Vilas also made the show during the tournament with Harold Solomon, who called him a cry-baby before their semi-final. "What impresses you most about Solomon?" asked a journalist. "His big mouth!"
5 / gunpowder on the centre court
Direct link with the No. 4. That summer of 1977 saw tennis change at all points of view. In the final, Jimmy Connors and Guillermo Vilas played a match whose brutality was probably the first omen of tennis has become today. Moreover, it was probably at that time that tennis stopped being a sport for gentlemen and dilettantes. "This is war," said Connors in a manner then almost unprecedented. Two men with pretty much the same level, face to face with the same goal... It was a physical, psychological, technical, tactical fight. Tennis wasn’t a country club game anymore, it had become a huge business. An analysis supported by the emergence of a "new" kind of injuries, such as Björn Borg’s tendinitis that forced him to pull out...
6/ Nastase’s finger to the camera
The warning system (with penalty points for the most serious offenses) was first introduced at the US Open. Objective: to try and calm down an increasingly unruly confraternity. But it wasn't enough to calm the king of the rebels, Ilie Nastase, who during his defeat in the first round against Corrado Barazzutti expressed his frustration by... giving the finger to the camera, live on American television!
7/ The most smoking shot of Connors' career
Unique in a game at this level: Corrado Barazzutti asked the linesman to come closer to check if a ball of the American was off limits of not, and Connors tumbled like a rocket to clear the disputed mark with his foot. The umpire tried to give him a warning, but the star resumed the match right away as if nothing had happened, with the point in the bag! The coach of Guillermo Vilas, Ion Tiriac, seemed to appreciate, "If he intends to do it again in the final, I will get down the centre court and calm him down myself!"
8/ The two opponents didn’t shake hands
In the final, it was however Vilas who played a funny trick to Connors. On his fourth match point, the Argentine stopped playing after Connors hit a ball that he saw outside. Without waiting for the umpire’s decision, Vilas walked to the net, raised his arms and a cohort of Argentines ran down the stands, crushing in their path a Connors who was about to serve. Hopping mad, Connors had already left the court when the umpire, that everybody had stopped listening, announced "game, set and match Vilas”. There was no handshake between the two champions. And Vilas, carried in triumph for minutes by his compatriots, attended the awards ceremony alone.
9/ The country where the customer is (was!) always right
When the organizers announced the end of the daytime session from 4:45 p.m. on the day of the 4th round, spectators covered the court of cans, fruits, and everything they could find to throw. Facing the uproar, the tournament direction gave up! Not only the matches resumed in stride, but that day nobody paid for an evening ticket...
10/ A bomb in the ladies' changing rooms
On the last day of the tournament, as a grand finale, the gates of the stadium were shaken by anti-apartheid protesters that the African-American player Arthur Ashe had to go and reason himself, and a bomb threat emptied the locker rooms. This was how ended the sixtieth and last edition of the US Open at the Forest Hills Stadium. Which left the following year for Flushing Meadows.