Uncut: tennis


1961 was a great year in Australian sport and great year for me too.

This was the year I stood up, I hit my straps, got on with it, made my mark, signed my name and started eating spinach.

It was the year of my first Wimbledon appearance and the 74th time tennis legends from around the world gathered on hallowed lawn to do battle for King and country, but mainly themselves.

It was also a year that saw the arrival of one of the all time greats. No, I don’t mean me, my time was coming, or not coming, depending on how you looked at it.

All right, I can hear you plead, who were the winners that year, because time and bad eating habits have rendered you incapable of remembering, or you weren’t there, you’re not sure which.

Guess what, a British player, Angela Mortimer, won the women’s title beating another Brit, Christine Truman and Rod “The Rockhampton Rocket” won his first of four titles, beating Chuck “The Yank” McKinley.

It was Rod’s time. He had been runner up in the previous two years and it was cause for celebration that he beat an American rather than one of his own.

But the Rocket only got there because he thrashed me inside three sets. I played as hard as I could, wore my racquet down to a cat’s gut, gave it everything I had and finished up flatter than a snow pea.

In short, it was a bloodless massacre. Not surprising, given I was 12 at the time.

Oh, I knew all about Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall and Ashley Cooper, but I’d never played them. They were just stories passed on by dad and his dad, or seen at the local picture theatre during the Kookaburra News, sometimes a year or so after their wins.

Rod Laver had already beaten me earlier in the year in the Australian Championships on his way to defeat by Roy Emerson. Roy beat Rod again to win the US Championships.

No-one beat Rod the next year, 1962, he thrashed everyone and took out the Grand Slam.

Back then my attitude was fight hard, never give a champion an even break, chase everything, bang my head against a brick wall for a laugh, swim in a shark infested ocean, eat a barrel of rotten plums and take on anyone.

And don’t forget the cricket. What a year that was.

I had to face the great Fred Truman in the third test at Headingly when he tore us apart, taking 11 wickets and then I had to watch as Colin Cowdrey slapped my best balls as though they were peanuts.

We eventually won the series 2:1 and I will never forget Bill “It’s All Happening” Lawry’s 130 in the 2nd Test.

By 1965 I was retired, finished, washed up on a sandy beach clutching an open 26oz bottle of Emu Bitter.

All right, fair enough, I’ll admit I didn’t really play all those games against all those legends, but I imagined I did, because in 1961 I had a transistor radio attached to my ear and my father often threatened to have it surgically removed.

I wasn’t alone. My grandfather had one on his auricle too and sports broadcasts took us both into venues and up against greats and it also led me, about ten years later, to my first ever media job, down in the bowels of ABC Sport alongside three other greats: Wally Foreman, Dennis Cometti and George Grljusich.

George frightened the hell out of me but Dennis and Wally took me under their collective wings and taught me how to collect stats and make coffee.

What really happened in 1961 when I was 12 was my parents packed me off to boarding school with a brand new transistor radio and it was through its tiny speaker that I listened eagerly to the dulcet tones of Alan McGilvray, the croaks of Vic Richardson, the poetic musings of John Arlott and the unbridled enthusiasm of Norman “Gold Gold Gold” May.

And why does all this come back to me now? Well, Wimbledon is on again with a plethora of new players I’ll never play and, of course, I have to fill this page every Saturday morning.

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