The conservative British Call them merely "The Championships," as if they were in an all-inclusive class by themselves, and actually they are. More informally, they are known as the Wimbledon tennis championships and they come up for contention again—the 69th time since 1877—starting June 20 on the turf of the sprawling plant on the outskirts of London.
For weeks the game's greatest amateur players, both men and women, have been gathering from all parts of the world. America's proud Davis Cup stars, the feared Australians, the exciting Italians, the towering Swedes—all have one aim: to win tennis' most coveted prize. Wiesbaden, Rome, Paris, Beckenham—these have been just preliminaries leading up to the big test.
Wimbledon long has served as the barometer of individual and international tennis greatness, and the tournament this year is of particular interest because it may bring an undisputed No. 1 player out of a haze of inconsistent performers.
I think Rosewall and America's Tony Trabert now have emerged as the two standout contenders for world amateur court honors. My operatives in England tell me that the British who will bet a two-shilling piece or a 10-pound note at the fall of a drop shot, have made Trabert and Rosewall joint title favorites in a published pretournament "book." I haven't heard the exact odds but this is the way I would preview the field, derby fashion:
4-1-Tony Trabert (U.S.A.), Ken Rosewall (Australia)
6-1-Vic Seixas (U.S.A.), Lew Hoad (Australia), Rex Hartwig (Australia), Hamilton Richardson (U.S.A.)
10-1—Jaroslav Drobny (England), Budge Patty (U.S.A.), Sven Davidson (Sweden), Mervyn Rose (Australia)
15-1—Art Larsen (U.S.A.), Giuseppe Merlo (Italy), Orlando Sirola (Italy), Lennart Bergelin (Sweden), Nicola Pietrangeli (Italy), Fausto Gardini (Italy)
In the Davis Cup Challenge Round at Sydney last December and in subsequent tournaments, Trabert flashed the kind of form which could rocket him to the top this year. He has blended his thunderbolt game with a positive attitude which has given him a steadiness and a purpose he formerly lacked.
Tony lost in the semi-finals of the Australian championships in January, then reeled off 10 straight tournament victories before going to Europe. He was upset by Italy's Sirola at Wiesbaden, before he got his land legs, but he bounded back to win at Paris.
It must be remembered, however, that in assembling this record Trabert has encountered for the most part only home-grown opposition. In none of these victories did he have to meet any of the top Aussies, particularly Rosewall, who has beaten him in straight sets in their last two meetings.
Rosewall, once regarded as not quite as good a prospect as Hoad because of the latter's crackling power, now stands out as the most formidable of the Down Under threats. He has matured. He lacks the "big game" but he can thread a needle off either side from the backcourt and he has the greatest racket control I have ever seen. Hoad has the game for greatness but hits costly psychological lapses. Hart-wig is slashing and exciting but too temperamental.
If Rosewall is to be beaten, Trabert is the one for the job. Seixas has not been playing well in Europe. Richardson is improved but not enough to whip the world. Drobny's chances of repeating are slim. He is 33, troubled with a cantankerous appendix and below form. Besides, Wimbledon hasn't had a repeater since Don Budge in 1937-'38.
The doubles at Wimbledon also will be interesting and should provide a criterion for the Davis Cup competition. Captain Harry Hopman has teamed his big serve-and-volley guys, Hoad and Hartwig, and equipped them with a page from the Talbert book—the "scissors" maneuver. We'll have to find an answer.
The women's division is wide open with the retirement of Maureen (Little Mo) Connolly, but American lassies again will dominate. Louise Brough is reported playing very well and Doris Hart, the U.S. champion, will be a favorite. Also watch out for Beverly Baker Fleitz and 19-year-old Darlene Hard, from Montebello, Calif.
There is a majesty about Wimbledon which sets it well above any other tennis tournament in the world. Even the most calloused world tennis tourist gets a lump in his throat when the strains of God Save the Queen ring through the vast covered stadium surrounding the center court. Wimbledon is England's one proud, big tennis show. They also call it the "dedicated fortnight." That it is, and a man who can't reach his greatest heights on the center court is not worthy of the game.
"I washed it."