From The Sunday Times
January 24, 2010
Best & Worst: John Newcombe
What was the best moment of your career?
Although I’d already won two Grand Slam titles, winning Wimbledon for a second time in 1970 meant the most to me. In the final I faced Ken Rosewall, who I’d grown up revering as a legend, so that really meant something to me. My two previous major finals were straight-set wins (against Wilhelm Bungert at Wimbledon in 1967 and Clark Graebner at the US championships a couple of months later) but it took five sets to overcome “Muscles” — 5-7 6-3 6-3 3-6 6-1 — even though the little guy was 35 years old. Tony Roche and I also took the doubles title and as tennis had turned professional by then, I walked away from the All England Club with £3,500, which is about one-third of what a first-round loser pocketed last year, though it seemed a good pay day back then.
And the worst moment?
I got really annoyed when losing in the first round of the 1971 US Open to Jan Kodes. I was the top seed and the world’s No 1-ranked player but committed the cardinal sin of underestimating my opponent. I knew he was a good player on clay, he’d won the French Open two years in a row, but in those days the US event was played on grass at Forest Hills. I grimace at the memory.
What was the best thing about being a player in your era?
The camaraderie was far better. Until the late 1960s, most of us played as amateurs so were out there for the love of the game. As Aussies, we travelled around together as one group and got together over a few beers in the evenings. Back in those early days we were away from home for 10 months of the year. Money became a factor later but I think the mate-mentality among us Australians stayed the same, and that was special.
And what was the worst?
It was disappointing to miss successive Wimbledons in 1972 and 1973 because I was probably at my peak and may have added to my seven Grand Slam singles titles and 12 doubles titles. Things were very political in those early years of Open tennis and in 1972 I was banned because I had signed up with the World Championship Tennis professional troupe and there were big quarrels between its co-founder, Lamar Hunt, and the International Tennis Federation. I was a member of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) who boycotted Wimbledon in 1973 because we felt so strongly about Niki Pilic’s ban for supposedly refusing to play Davis Cup for the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. 81 top players refused to play.
Who was the best coach you had?
Harry Hopman is synonymous with Australian tennis during the 1950s and 1960s and introduced a great work ethic that produced many great players. I had only one coach when I was learning the game and that was Henry Lindo, who worked with me at a club close to my home in Sydney from when I was very young until I was 16. He instilled into me so many things that held me in good stead.
Who was the best player you faced?
Rod Laver. Every match I played against the Rocket was a tough one.
What was your favourite venue?
Wimbledon. I always felt so comfortable there. I was one of the first players to rent a house in the area during the championships and now travel back with great affection. The place has moved forward with the times but has not changed in terms of its very special atmosphere. Only the English could achieve such a thing.
Who is the best player today?
Roger Federer stands head and shoulders above anybody else.
What is the worst thing about the game today?
There’s next to no variety because modern rackets make it possible to hit the hell out of ground strokes, which means coming to the net can be suicidal. Learning the game with wooden rackets taught you guile and improvisation. I like Justine Henin, who still has that beautiful one-handed backhand, and Andy Murray, who can come up with the unexpected.
WHERE ARE YOU NOW?
I celebrate my 66th birthday in May so clearly things aren’t quite as hectic as they were a few years ago and I’m booked in for hip replacement surgery in a couple of months, which I’m really looking forward to because I will be able to play more golf and hopefully even get back on the tennis court. I still run a marketing company in Sydney, have a farm about an hour and a half out of the city and still own my tennis ranch in New Braunfels, Texas, where I used to spend about half my time and still visit about six weeks every year. The academy that has been built up there over all the years since I opened the place back in the 1970s has become one of the best in the world and I’ve got great hopes for one of the kids who came through it , 17-year-old Ryan Harrison, who was awarded a wild card into the main draw of the current Australian Open.