The world’s biggest tournament is - logically - the one with the most stories to tell. Unbelievable, anecdotal, sometimes far-fetched, there are hundreds. Here are ten, mainly unknown, that we’ve selected among lot.
The player who looked for a new boyfriend
Dumped by her boyfriend just before the tournament, Patricia Stewart, visibly desperate, played the 1961 edition with…her phone number embroidered to her skirt ! The skirt was snapped away by the photographers, and the American got married a few days after Wimbledon with the cricket player John Edrich, probably one of the numerous candidates to have dared to phone her.
Pietrangeli misses the tournament to watch the football…
With the current prize money (approximately 35 000 euros for a first-round loser), you’d have to be a real football-addict to dare doing what Nicola Pietrangeli did in 1970. After seeing the Squadra Azzura’s incredible win over Franz Beckenbauer’s Germany in the World Cup semi-final, the Italian decided to withdraw from Wimbledon, where he was supposed to face Dennis Ralston in the first round, to stay in Mexico to watch the final (lost by the Italians against the Brazilians).
…but « makes amends » in a funny way in 1973
It’s the « boycott year ». 81 withdrawals in solidarity with Nikki Pilic, punished by the International Tennis Federation for having refused to play in the BNP Paribas Davis Cup. In Wimbledon, chaos is reigning. All the players in the area are called up, among which the retired Nicola Pietrangeli, 39, who is on a business trip in London but…hasn’t got his equipment. With a racquet borrowed from Ilie Nastase, the Italian plays his 19th and last Wimbledon, losing in the first round against the Australian Simpson.
A sleeping lineswoman
Abe Segal and Clark Graebner have seen a weird match ending in 1964…because of an inanimate lineswoman, Dorothy Cavis-Brown, who had been a distinguished umpire at Wimbledon for many years. Seeing her head balancing towards the ground on match point, Segal walked up to her to « check if she wasn’t dead », as he expected her to announce Graebner’s volley « out ». « I knew that my game was boring, but not to this point ! » After the incident, immortalized by the photographers, and spread out in the papers, Dorothy Cavis-Brown was banished of the « profession. »
John McEnroe chased away Lady Di in 1981
When three weeks before marrying Prince Charles, Diana Spencer left the royal box in the middle of John McEnroe’s semi-final, it didn’t go unnoticed ! Maybe asked to leave by a simple obligation, the move was interpreted as the symbol of her indignation (and it was a far better selling approach for the papiers, right ?), McEnroe barking and ranting against the whole world (17 objections in total). It’s on that day that the umpire George Grime was notably called a « disgrace to mankind. »
He quits, baffled by his opponent’s luck
« I can’t play against such a lucky beggar ! ». Known for his fierce personality, the Romanian Nicolae Mishu puzzled Wimbledon in 1924 after leaving the Center Court at 6/2 6/3 3-1 for Ivie Richardson. Annoyed after seeing many of his opponent’s shots hitting the line, the Romanian pianist stormed out, even forgetting his equipment by the umpire’s chair. He went on to apologize to his opponent by sending him…a cartridge of cigarettes.
Missing his left arm, he qualifies for the second week
Despite a left arm lost during the war, the Austrian amputee Hans Redl still managed to go through three rounds for his first edition at Wimbledon, in 1947 ! Small precision : his disability enabled him to hit the ball twice with his racquet to serve. However, no need to explain that Redl had a… one-handed backhand !
In 1983, he played in flannel shirt and trousers !
Between Laura Siegel’s open back dress (1979), and Anna White’s one-piece suit (1985), Trey Waltke was also noticed for his outdated outfit, but he avoided the scandal ! Before facing Ivan Lendl on the Center Court, the American went through a round and pleased the nostalgics of The Great Gatsby by hitting the ball wearing matching flannel shirt and trousers. But the other side of the story is less appealing : without a contract, Waltke was only looking for a new sponsor. Which he ended up finding.
A match played at heads or tails
Obviously this is a time where the doubles was sacred and more valued than the singles. And there wasn’t any money at stakes : in 1904, the winner would go home with a vase or a pair of slippers. But nothing helps us today, to realize that at the start of the 20th century, a semi-final of the « biggest tournament in the world » was played at heads or tails between two partners, Frank Riseley and Sydney Smith, who, at two sets each, preferred to take a coin out of their pockets rather than risking being too tired for their doubles final the next day against the mighty Doherty brothers. The trick wasn’t worth it : Riseley, winner of the toss, lost both finals.
When McEnroe promised to pull down his shorts if…
…Michael Chang reached the final. In 1989, a month after the teenager’s triumph at Roland-Garros, John McEnroe admitted that he would’t understand it if Chang did it again in London, and promised to get naked on the Center Court if it happened. After Chang’s defeat in the fourth round against Tim Mayotte, British newspapers showed a photomontage of the star with his shorts down, and the tile : « What you’ve avoided ! » We don’t know why, but we still would have enjoyed seeing Chang going a bit further…