50 Years at Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON—As I embark on my fiftieth anniversary at the world’s most renowned and prestigious tennis tournament, a few traces of sentimentality are unavoidable. In late June of 1965, I came to these hallowed grounds for the first time, accompanied by my father. He had recently moved to London, and had long been an avid player who roamed the net ceaselessly in doubles and poached with the heart of a lion, the quickness of a cat and the skill of a surgeon. My father was, to be sure, a keen tennis enthusiast with a deep appreciation of the leading players, and he wanted to share that with me. But, more than anything else, he hoped to broaden my horizons by exposing me to what was arguably the greatest of all sporting events. In my recollection, he took me to the shrine of tennis with the notion that it might inspire me in immeasurable ways, fire my imagination, and allow me to savor a one of a kind British cultural experience.

My father succeeded on all fronts with his aspirations on my behalf, but he could not have realized precisely what he had done, or how far I would take it. I was about to turn 13, and had grown up in the New York area. Baseball had been my first love. I had been immersed in our national pastime for six or seven years. To this day, I enjoy baseball immensely and follow it passionately. But from the moment I stepped onto the grounds of the All England Club on a damp and grey day in 1965, I was transformed in many ways. I had played tennis for more than five years, but when I settled in the stands with my father to watch the stylish Mexican Rafael Osuna (the 1963 victor at the U.S. National Championships) defeat Germany’s Ingo Buding 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 out on Court Three in a third round match, my life was reshaped irreversibly.

From that day forward, I was obsessed with following the results of every tournament each day in the newspapers. I watched tennis wherever and whenever I could, on television or in person. By the time I was 15, I knew what I wanted to do with my life; my overriding goal was to become a tennis reporter, and that initial visit to Wimbledon was almost entirely the reason why I was so sharply focused on that goal. From 1965-73, I came here as a fan and, toward the end of that stretch, a reporter in training. I had to miss Wimbledon from 1974-76 while I was starting my career as a young reporter for and editor at World Tennis Magazine. But since 1977, I have covered Wimbledon every year. This will be my 39th in a row and my 48th altogether.

So, if you will, allow me to share some of my remembrances from these past fifty years. I will start, of course, with my first Wimbledon in 1965. After spending that delightful day watching Osuna and a number of other players showcase their talent on the outside courts, I vividly recall observing the final round, Centre Court contest between the towering Australians Roy Emerson and Fred Stolle. They were doubles partners, close friends, and rivals simultaneously, and this was their second straight duel in a final.

Emerson would eventually collect 12 major singles titles and 28 Grand Slam championships altogether. He was a supreme physical force, a stalwart serve-and-volleyer with a game tailor made for the lawns of Wimbledon, and a superb temperament. “Emmo” was unflappable. When the final commenced, I was sitting with my father behind the court, not far from the Royal Box. Those seats provided us with an impeccable view of the proceedings. I loved the vantage point. But my father was a sun worshipper and he was unhappy about where we were sitting. That was in the shade. This would not stand. My father spotted two fans sitting down below in the sunshine on the side of the court.

I was watching incredulously from up above as my father negotiated the location swap, pointing toward me as he swiftly persuaded the two fans on the merits of moving. He returned with those two agreeable individuals who were very happy about their new surroundings, and down we went to the sundrenched seats in the first row of the stands, directly alongside the baseline. From there, I had an extraordinary view of the famous Emerson “rocking” motion on his serve, and it was a joy to watch him at the peak of his powers as he picked apart Stolle in straight sets. I would often watch Emerson practicing indoors at Queen’s Club on the lightening-fast indoor wood “boards” prior to his matches at Wimbledon, driving his flat groundstrokes appealingly low over the net, smiling freely whenever he struck the ball sweetly—which was nearly all of the time. That was always a joy. It was my appetizer before the main course at Wimbledon.

Three years later, in June of 1968, I flew from New York to London with my father for the first “Open” Wimbledon. We spotted Pancho Gonzalez several rows in front of us. My father had written a piece on “Gorgo” many years earlier for Life Magazine, and he invited Pancho to join us for the car ride into London. I was about to turn 16, exceedingly shy, and in awe of the ever-intimidating Gonzalez. I had seen him play a bunch of times at pro tournaments, most notably at the fabled Madison Square Garden in New York. I knew full well that he was one of the greatest players of all time. I was also well aware of his volatility, the heavily documented temper tantrums he would throw at officials on the court, and the highly charged nature of his personality.

But he was strikingly affable, forthcoming and considerate during the ride into town from the airport. He regaled us with stories about other top players including Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall, Butch Buchholz and Dennis Ralston, John Newcombe and Tony Roche. He talked about the heavier Slazenger balls in Great Britain versus the lighter balls he had just used at tournaments in the U.S. He put me totally at ease, and even arranged for me to play tennis with a British kid named John Prenn, the son of former German Davis Cup competitor Daniel Prenn, who had once rallied from 2-5 down in the fifth set to defeat the formidable Fred Perry.

I ran into Gonzalez off and on over the fortnight of that Wimbledon, sometimes on the grounds of the All England Club, more often at Queen’s Club where I was an overseas member. He was, as the British would say, unfailingly warm and cordial. Here was one of the sport’s legendary figures, returning to Wimbledon for the first time since 1949. He would surely have won Wimbledon four or five times in his prime, but now he was 40 and well past his salad days. The No. 8 seed Gonzalez was beaten in the third round by Alex Metreveli, a finalist five years later. I did not cross paths with Gonzalez until two years later, when I was stranded at the Wembley Indoor arena at the end of a long day and evening watching the tournament. It was around midnight. The subway was no longer running at that late hour, and the last car back to London was reserved for Gonzalez. I was told by the tournament staff that my only option was to ask Gonzalez if I could join him in the car.

He did not remember me when I reintroduced myself, but gruffly allowed me to ride with him in the car. It was the longest 45 minutes I have spent in my entire life. He had no interest in talking. He barely acknowledged my presence. He made me uncomfortable. He was downright unpleasant. I had seen the two extremes of the Gonzalez personality, and the darker side was disconcerting to say the least.

In any case, Laver, who missed Wimbledon five years in a row (from 1963-67) during his lost in the wilderness pro years, returned in 1969 to defend the crown he won so deservedly in 1968. He had already won the Australian and French Opens, and the dignified, red-headed Australian took on Arthur Ashe in the penultimate round on the Centre Court. Ashe was the U.S. Open champion, and in those days he was electrifying. Ashe unhesitatingly went for broke, especially off his sparkling backhand side. He hit blazing winners at will, sprinkling the court with dazzling placements, leaving fans and opponents alike dazed by his array of spectacularly explosive shots. Yet, on the flip side, he also made some abysmal mistakes.

Ashe played a first set against Laver that was as breathtaking as anything I witnessed in that era. Laver did not play badly by any means, but Ashe kept crushing returns for outright winners, serving prodigiously, punching daring volleys safely into the clear, and playing almost unconsciously. This was not the cerebral Ashe who would produce a strategic masterpiece to oust Jimmy Connors in the 1975 final. He was less disciplined and more adventuresome. From one instant to the next, an Ashe follower in 1969 never knew quite what was going to happen. He put his fans through a wide range of mood swings.

Ashe understandably could not maintain the impossibly high standards he had set in the early stages of the match. Laver rallied for a 2-6, 6-2, 9-7, 6-0 triumph over the American and then defeated Newcombe in a four set final. The estimable left-hander moved on to New York for the U.S. Open, ousting fellow southpaw Tony Roche in the final at Forest Hills to complete his second Grand Slam at the age of 31. I was there for that one, too, and Laver finished off his task regally. To be present for that seminal achievement was exhilarating. That Forest Hills victory put Laver on the short list for those who can rightfully be considered the best of all time. But I never admired Laver more than I did when he found a way to withstand the barrage that Ashe sent his way at Wimbledon in 1969.

Two years later, I was heading back to London from Paris. Evonne Goolagong had won her first major at Roland Garros that day. She was sitting across the aisle from me on the short plane ride, with her coach and mentor Vic Edwards alongside her. When we landed, I saw her leave without collecting her rackets from the overhead bin. That was typical of the delightfully carefree Australian. I grabbed the rackets and caught up with her at the baggage claim.

“I think you forgot something,” I said, handing her the rackets.

“Oh”, she exclaimed. “Thanks a lot! I can’t believe I did that.” She laughed. We talked briefly about her Roland Garros triumph. She was charming.

Goolagong was only 19 then. She proceeded to Wimbledon, and I watched her oust Billie Jean King and Margaret Court back to back. Those two icons had collided in an epic final the previous year, with Court eclipsing King 14-12, 11-9. The statuesque Australian captured the Grand Slam later that summer in New York. But at Wimbledon in 1971, Goolagong was the story of the event. Her backhand ground stroke was magnificent, a natural, free-flowing stroke that she could release with either slice or topspin. Her backhand volley was majestic, produced immaculately, punched craftily. Her effervescent manner made her beguiling to all of the galleries. Above all else, she played the game for the sheer pleasure of it.

After she won the tournament, I wandered into the old Player’s Tea Room where the players assembled for meals, mingled in their spare time and watched matches from the roof. Goolagong was with Edwards and some friends, smiling her inimitable smile. I had not seen her since the airport racket introduction, but she greeted me effusively. I congratulated her on the milestone win, and she thanked me. All through her career, Goolagong never lost that sweet, girlish quality.

The women’s game flourished at Wimbledon over those years. There was the classic Court-King confrontation in 1970, when both women played through serious injuries and did themselves proud. Goolagong stepped front and center in 1971. In 1972, Goolagong and Chrissie Evert played their first match in a storied rivalry, with the Australian recouping from a set and 0-3 down to win in three sets. And then in 1973, Evert avenged a French Open final round defeat against Court at Roland Garros to topple the Australian in a three set Wimbledon semifinal. It was a stunning backcourt display from the Floridian, a sign of things to come; the following year, Evert won her first Wimbledon title.

King and Court represented the Old Guard; Evert and Goolagong stood for the New Order. In 1973, King stopped Evert in the final, exploiting her vast experience as a grass court player against an understandably apprehensive Evert, a confirmed baseliner who was still finding her footing on that surface. I was working behind the scenes with Bud Collins, who was commentating for NBC. He asked me to escort King from the locker room back to the NBC broadcast area in the back of the grounds. I waited for King outside that locker room until she was ready, and walked her back. It was a daunting task for me to handle that assignment, but I got on with it.

I had heard King comment critically about the quality of Court’s approach shots during her semifinal against Evert, and asked her to elaborate. “Margaret gave Chris too much time,” said King. “You can’t do that when someone has such great passing shots. I think I made it tougher for Chris today by keeping my approach shots low and deep. You have to do that against her. She loves a target so you must make the commitment to hit those approach shots the right way.”

That brief conversation with King was a crucial experience for a young reporter like me. I found out that tennis players—even the best of the lot—are as human as the rest of us. King was daunting in her own way without deliberately trying to be, but in a five minute span I learned a lesson that would carry me through a lifetime at Wimbledon and everywhere else I went as a journalist. Be prepared. Treat the players with respect but as equals. Try to show them that you know what you are talking about.

How could I not address the ineffable contest between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe in 1980? By then, I was nearly six years into my full time tennis writing duties, and this was a golden era for the men. Borg had already won Wimbledon four years in a row, defeating Jimmy Connors in two finals, Ilie Nastase in one, and Roscoe Tanner the previous year in a five setter. But he had never met anyone who had displayed the grass court mastery of the left-handed New Yorker with the delicate touch, acutely angled wide serve in the ad court, instinctive flair and superb craftsmanship.

Their final was stupendous. Borg seemed certain to prevail in four sets. He dropped the first set comprehensively but rallied tenaciously to take a tight second set. He won the third comfortably and then served for the match at 5-4 in the fourth set. The implacable Swede reached 40-15 and double match point in the tenth game, but McEnroe produced back to back winners, connecting with a backhand passing shot down the line and then a forehand swing volley into the clear. McEnroe improbably broke back for 5-5 and that set was settled in a tie-break.

In that stirring and unimaginably enthralling sequence, Borg would garner five more match points, only to be denied every time. The Swede saved six set points. The tennis was often sublime, sometimes ordinary, and always gripping. Somehow, McEnroe prevailed, 18 points to 16. It was and remains the most celebrated tie-break in tennis history. The gallantry of both men was indisputable. The fans in Centre Court and in front of television sets all around the world were spellbound. On went the players into a fifth set.

A pensive and quietly dismayed Borg was down 0-30 on his serve in the opening game but, composed despite his despondency, he held on. From that juncture on, his serve was unanswerable. He swept 28 of 29 points on his serve after falling behind in that opening game. McEnroe, however, was not ceding any ground at all. Twice in that fifth set, he held on from 0-40. But Borg pressed on purposefully, stoically, and resolutely. With McEnroe serving at 6-7, the Swede reached match point for the eighth time. He did not squander it, rifling a trademark backhand passing shot crosscourt into an open space, falling to his knees in relief and exultation. Borg had prevailed 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16-18), 8-6.

It was a classic duel between the consummate attacking player in McEnroe and a diversified baseliner in Borg. That evening, I went to dinner with my wife, Frances, cousin Todd Jick and close friend and writer Herbert Warren Wind. We all reflected on a match I long considered the best of all time. Wind eloquently expressed his admiration for both players. I weighed in about Borg’s fifth set fortitude and saluted him for his courage down the stretch after the astounding sequence of events late in the fourth. And then Jick asserted, “That match today transcended tennis. There was something almost mystical about what happened out there. You could feel it as you sat in the stands and saw the expressions on the faces of the fans. I was lucky to be there.”

He spoke for all of us. McEnroe had done just about everything but win. Borg had moved from joy to anguish to despair and then ultimately to the most gratifying triumph of his illustrious career. The two best players in the world—and two of the greatest of all time—had produced a masterpiece that would live forever in the hearts and minds of all who witnessed it.

Nor will any of us forget the emergence and Wimbledon success of two stalwart Germans during the 1980’s. Boris Becker and Steffi Graf defined that decade in many ways with their power, determination and court presence. For me, one of the most compelling years ever at the All England was in 1985, when Becker established himself as the youngest ever men’s champion on those lawns at 17. Burly, pugnacious, enamored of the Centre Court theater, sure of himself and unafraid to prove it, Becker took over that tournament with his big first serve, scorching returns and extraordinary courage in the tight corners of so many contests.

The unseeded German carved out a hard fought, five set victory over Sweden’s unshakable Joakim Nystrom (the No. 7 seed) in the third round, and nearly lost to No. 16 seed Tim Mayotte in the round of 16 when an injury threatened to knock him out of the tournament, but survived in five sets again. He upset No. 5 seed Anders Jarryd in a come from behind four set semifinal. Becker eventually halted the No. 8 seed Kevin Curren of South Africa in a four set final.

I had seen Becker play for the first time about 18 months earlier at the Orange Bowl juniors and was so impressed with the firepower in his game and his unmistakable drive that I predicted he was destined to reach the top of his profession. A few months before Wimbledon, I was on a small panel picking the four semifinalists and the eventual winner at World Tennis, and I was the only one who projected Becker making it to the penultimate round. I was a big believer in his future and felt vindicated by his triumph in 1985, and his follow up tournament victories at the All England Club in 1986 and 1989.

Graf was another player who seemed certain to succeed. She got on the Grand Slam board first at the French Open in 1987, but 1988 was her outstanding season. She headed into Wimbledon as the Australian and French Open champion. In the final of Wimbledon, she confronted Martina Navratilova, the greatest of all female grass court players. Navratilova was going for a seventh consecutive title. She seemed ready to realize that goal, building a 7-5, 2-0 lead, charging the net persistently, making one polished volley after another, keeping the pressure entirely on Graf.

But Graf exploded into high gear, made some timely backhand passing shots when she needed them, and exploited her famous powerhouse inside out forehand to the hilt. She proceeded to win 12 of 13 games from a set and a break down to come away with a 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 win. It was one of the best big match performances of her career. Graf’s excellent footwork, explosive flat forehand and biting sliced backhand were all in full working order, and her underrated first serve was terrific as well.

A few months later she came through confidently on the hard courts at the U.S. Open, and then not long after won the Olympic Games to become the only player ever to win all four Grand Slam championships along with the gold medal. That Golden Slam was a worthy honor for Graf, who wore her success exceedingly well. I saw all seven of her championship runs, and she was a champion of the highest order.

I was there, too, for all but three Wimbledon’s played by the ever gracious and imperturbable Chrissie Evert, who made her debut in 1972 when she lost that enticing encounter with Goolagong in the semifinals. Her last appearance was seventeen years later, when she bowed out against Graf in the penultimate round. Only once in her 18 trips to the shrine did she fail to go as far as the semifinals. She won it three times, but lost seven finals across the years—five alone to Navratilova.

Perhaps my favorite moment in all her years was her spirited comeback against the Italian Laura Golarsa in the 1989 quarterfinals. Evert trailed 4-0 and 5-2 in the final set of that skirmish, but made one of her patented comebacks to win that match with a pride, spirit and fortitude reminiscent of so many days and nights over the course of her career. She was the best competitor among the women that I have ever seen. It was a “last hurrah” of sorts for one of the most popular and enduring champions ever. In so many respects, she exemplified what it meant to be a champion, how to win with honor and lose with grace. I vividly recall speaking with her a few months before that last Wimbledon, when she realized that her competitive appetite was waning. She had decided to pull out of the French Open and was not sure if she would compete at Wimbledon one more time. But she told me, “There’s nothing I would rather have than the desire to play Wimbledon. I hope I can find it.”

In the end, it didn’t matter that she was beaten so comprehensively by the top seeded Graf in the semifinals, bowing 6-2, 6-1. The Centre Court audience showered her with a prolonged standing ovation when it was over. It was a richly deserved reception, and an affirmation from the crowd that they were not taking her long and dignified run of consistency on the grass in Great Britain for granted.

Meanwhile, four years after the Evert Era ended at the All England Club, another American with a similar sense of fair play and balance commenced his own era. Pete Sampras took his first title in 1993, defeating countryman and former doubles partner Jim Courier in a four set final on a bright and balmy afternoon. In 2000, Sampras captured his seventh and last title on the Centre Court, halting Patrick Rafter in the final. He thus broke Roy Emerson’s record for men’s major titles by securing his 13th Grand Slam title.

That to me was the most poignant moment of his long and distinguished career. Sampras had played through a leg injury that he sustained in the second round. On his days off, he could not practice. Before his matches, he needed injections, but they would wear off after 75 minutes or so. He had the benefit of a kind draw, but to beat Rafter was a tall task under those trying circumstances. Sampras implored his father and mother to fly over from California to see the match with Rafter. They were in the stands, and witnessed their son losing the first set of the final despite having two set points in the tiebreak. In the second set, Rafter was serving with a 4-1 lead in the tie-break but Sampras surged back to win five of the next six points to reach one set all. It was nearly 8 PM. Finishing the match that night seemed out of the question.

But Sampras turned up the volume of his intensity and beat not only Rafter but the clock, finishing up his triumph with the light fading rapidly. He won 6-7 (10), 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-2, and then climbed up in the stands to hug his parents and his fiancé. There were not many dry eyes among those watching this important slice of history. Sampras had won his seventh title in a sterling eight year span. He had done so in style. In my view, no one could have beaten Sampras at his very best, particularly on that Centre Court.

For a time, Venus Williams was awfully tough to beat on the grass. Between 2000 and 2008 she won the tournament five times, taking the last of those titles over her sister Serena. Venus was an overpowering and overwhelming force, and her first serve was unstoppable when she was at her zenith. In 2001, for instance, she defeated Justine Henin in the final, but the match was played on Sunday after rain cancelled play on Saturday, with the men’s final between Rafter and eventual champion Goran Ivanisevic moved to Monday.

On the Saturday, when a hard rain fell almost interminably during the afternoon, Bill Clinton agreed to do a long interview with the BBC that took place inside the Centre Court under cover. He deliberately kept his answers long and entertained the fans enormously. It was the highlight of the day.

A few years later, I met the former President of the United States by chance in a Westchester Country delicatessen. I mentioned that rainy day at Wimbledon, and he did not skip a beat. “Oh, boy, “Clinton said, breaking into a grin. “I really had to kill some time that afternoon, didn’t I?” We talked more about tennis, and his passion for watching the sport. “I love tennis, “he said. “It’s a head game. It’s like chess. There are so many shades to it. “I asked him if he had ever played and he replied, “I tried as a kid, but I had a problem with my fusion vision. Do you know what fusion vision is?” I answered that I did not. He then explained, “I would try to hit a forehand but I would swing and whiff as I turned my head. The ball would become a blur. Nowadays they could find some solutions for that but not then. But it’s such a great game.”

I never thought I would see a match that would surpass the Borg-McEnroe 1980 collision, but was I ever wrong! In 2008, Rafael Nadal had a final round appointment against Roger Federer, who had won the tournament five years in a row, from 2003-2007. The Swiss Maestro had stopped Nadal in both the 2006 and 2007 finals, although the latter of those two title round contests went to five sets. In the 2008 showdown, Nadal got an early break and won the first set 6-4. The dynamic Spaniard then rallied from a break down at 1-4 in the second set to sweep five games in a row for a two sets to love lead. A straight set win for Nadal seemed entirely possible when he reached 0-40 on Federer’s serve at 3-3 in the third.

But Federer is Federer for a reason, and he would not fade away tamely. He held on and eventually, after a rain delay, served with uncanny precision and authority to win a tie-break by seven points to five. In that sequence, Federer released four aces and a service winner. That was a remarkable clutch performance which kept an unswerving Federer in the match. The fourth set was settled in another tie-break. Nadal was serving at 5-2, two points from a four set triumph. He double faulted. Federer glanced knowingly across the net at his opponent. He realized that the Spaniard was apprehensive. Yet Nadal would twice reach match point in that tie-break. Federer saved one with an unreturnable first serve, and erased the other with a scintillating backhand down the line passing shot off a slightly cautious Nadal forehand crosscourt approach.

Federer took that tie-break 10-8, gleefully jumping into the air to celebrate. At 2-2 in the fifth set, play was halted again by rain. The players returned. And Federer was agonizingly close to putting this monumental match into his victory column. At 3-4 in the fifth set, Nadal was down break point but his body serve stifled Federer, who made a weak return. Nadal took control of the point with his forehand, coming forward to put away an overhead on the bounce. He held on for 4-4 but, in the tenth game, serving to stay in the match, the Spaniard was locked at 30-30 on his serve, two points away from a devastating defeat. But Nadal’s serve down the T set up a strong forehand approach and Federer lobbed long. Nadal fought on valiantly, and finally broke Federer at 7-7.

He served for the match at 8-7. It was so dark now that both players surely understood this would be the last game. If Nadal could not hold, presumably play would resume on Monday. Nadal moved to 40-30 and his third match point, serving sensibly wide to the Federer backhand. But the Swiss player’s angled crosscourt return was breathtaking. Nadal could barely touch it. At deuce, Nadal intelligently went wide to the Federer forehand in the deuce court with heavy spin and good velocity on his first serve. He drew the error. I was reporting for CBS radio in New York, and my pieces were normally restricted to 30 seconds because the entire sports segment lasted only about two minutes.

As Nadal produced that cagey serve to the Federer forehand and reached match point for the fourth time, I said to the sports anchor in New York on the air, “Please stay with me. Rafael Nadal has just advanced to match point again.” The anchor confirmed that they would wait for my call on that point. Federer had an opening to possibly come to the net off his forehand, but he drove that shot into the net. I was able to tell the New York area listeners, “Rafael Nadal has just done it. He has won Wimbledon in five sets over Roger Federer…..” The producer of the program was euphoric. “You were about seven seconds ahead of television breaking that news!” she said. “We loved it.”

That match surpassed Borg-McEnroe because it was of a higher quality from beginning to end, and what made it all the more remarkable was that they played such sparkling tennis despite dismal conditions, under largely cloudy skies, with capricious winds blowing, and the temperature much lower than either player would have liked. As was the case with Borg and McEnroe, here were two all-time greats— some would say the two best players of all time—contesting a major final on the sport’s most prominent stage, and they performed admirably all the way through. Federer was less than stellar for two sets but not abysmal either, and then his level rose majestically over the last three sets. Nadal actually played superbly in every set, but was outmaneuvered in two tie-breaks by a top of the line Federer. I maintain: that was the best tennis match I have ever seen.

Two years ago, Andy Murray took the top honor on the Centre Court with a nearly flawless performance in a straight set, final round triumph over Novak Djokovic. Murray had won both the Olympic Games (at Wimbledon) and the U.S. Open the previous year, setting the stage for his triumph in 2013. Murray became the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win Wimbledon. I had not experienced Centre Court atmospherics like that since watching Great Britain’s Virginia Wade oust Betty Stove to win Wimbledon 36 years earlier. In 2012, Murray had lost his first Wimbledon final to Federer, breaking down in tears during the ceremony after a four set loss.

On that occasion, the crowd was much more conflicted because they cherish Federer universally, and even a British audience finds it arduous to root against the Swiss. But Murray was given unrestrained support all through his 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 win over Djokovic. He had learned by then to connect with the crowds and use them to his advantage. I place that triumph for Murray high on my treasure chest of Wimbledon memories. He handled himself commendably, dealt with the pressure admirably, cast aside his demons and won with conviction. Murray was a worthy victor. His win did not happen by accident; he absolutely earned it.

So there you have it. I am delighted to be back this year. I now find myself reflecting on what the esteemed journalist and author Pete Hamill wrote when he turned 50. “I am no longer young, but not yet old,” said Hamill. As I celebrate my fiftieth anniversary at Wimbledon just days after turning 63, I would say essentially the same thing about how I feel at this stage of my life.

Are you wondering about my father? He’s 91, still going strong, and he will be enthusiastically following Wimbledon on television from his home in Connecticut. Along with so many other fans from every corner of the globe, he will be rooting fervently for Federer this year. I am looking forward to this fortnight as much as he is. But at least once during this fortnight, I will inevitably drift into a daydream about 1965. I am back with my father at the old Court Three. Both of us are wearing sports jackets, blue shirts and wide grins. Osuna is holding court. We are ready to start the Wimbledon journey all over again.

Originally Published Tennis Channel June 30, 2015

Steve Flink has been reporting on tennis since 1974. He has been a columnist for tennischannel.com since 2007. You can purchase Steve’s latest book “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” here.