New York 1960-1977
When Renee Richards stepped on to court to play Virginia Wade at the 1977 US Open she was making her debut in the women’s singles – 17 years after she, or rather he, had made his debut in the men’s singles. In 1975, Richards had a sex-change operation and the Richard H. Raskind who competed at the 1960 US Open became Renee Richards, who, after a ruling by the New York State Superior Court, took part in the same tournament – but different singles – in 1977. One thing remained unaltered though – the American transsexual’s tennis playing ability. Raskind lost his first-round match in straight sets, and so did Richards.
2. WIFE WHO SLAPPED THE UMPIRE
Jeff Tarango was known to flip more easily than a Zippo lighter, but he really excelled himself on this occasion – and so did his wife, Benedicte. The Californian was playing Alexander Mronz and was upset when a serve he thought was an ace was called out. When the crowd barracked him and he told them to shut up, the umpire, Bruno Rebeuh, issued a code violation, which really got Tarango going. He raged at Rebeuh and then stormed off, defaulting the match, after announcing: ‘You are the most corrupt official. I’m not playing any more.’ As Rebeuh made his way back to the changing room, he encountered Benedicte, who slapped him. Later she defended her action and said: ‘If Jeff had done it, he would have been put out of tennis.’
3. WHEN ARMSTRONG STEPPED ON MCENROE
Forget all the other John McEnroe outbursts – ‘You cannot be serious’ and the rest – this one topped the lot. It was the Australian Open and an agitated McEnroe was playing the Swede Mikael Pernfors. He collected an early warning for intimidating a lineswoman and was docked a point for smashing a racket. He thought he had one life left – the deduction of a game – but had miscalculated. He’d probably have been chucked out anyway for his next offence, an instruction to the tournament supervisor Ken Farrar to, ‘Just go fuck your mother.’ Within moments, Gerry Armstrong, the British umpire, was announcing: ‘Verbal abuse, audible obscenity, Mr McEnroe. Default. Game, set and match, Pernfors.’ And McEnroe’s response? ‘I can’t say I’m surprised. It was bound to happen.’
4. GROUNDSMAN’S BAD MARKS
Amelia Island, Florida 2002
‘I flip-flopped the distances. It’s supposed to be 21 feet from the net to the service line and then 18 feet to the baseline. I made it 18 and 21,’ said an embarrassed groundsman at the Amelia Island Plantation. But Bert Evatt, who had been doing the job for 22 years, wasn’t the only one who was embarrassed. Anne Kremer and Jennifer Hopkins, who played a first-round match in the prestigious Bausch & Lomb Championships on the wrongly measured Stadium Court, served a shaming 29 double faults. They complained to officials who discovered the mistake.
5. AN ADMIRER WHO BECAME A HUSBAND
The Riviera – and tennis – had known nothing like it. Hundreds queued all night and the Train Bleu from Paris was packed with fans eager to watch French diva Suzanne Lenglen play the coming force, American Helen Wills. In a tense finish, Lenglen thought she had won but the English linesman Lord Hope said he had not called Wills’s shot ‘Out’. Lenglen won three games later and was swept from the court by her fans. Wills, standing alone in the centre of the court, was joined by an admirer. ‘You played awfully well,’ said Frederick Moody. Three years later she became Helen Wills-Moody, the name under which she achieved her great fame.
6. QUEER GOINGS-ON IN SW19
‘I have known several connoisseurs who were present,’ wrote tennis historian Ted Tinling, ‘and all accepted the fact that a psychological, probably homosexual, relationship affected the result.’ The result in question was American Bill Tilden’s 4-6 1-6 6-1 6-0 7-5 title-match win over Brian ‘Babe’ Norton of South Africa. It has been suggested that Norton could never bring himself to beat his mentor and threw the second and third sets. In the fifth, Norton had two match points and on the first, Tilden, mistakenly thinking he had hit the ball out, ran to the net to congratulate Babe. He had even switched the racket to his left hand. Norton had an easy pass to win the title but missed.
7. THE LINESMAN WHO TURNED MASSEUR
According to Arthur Ashe, the 1972 Davis Cup final between Romania and the US was marked by ‘cheating by local officials [that] reached an abysmal low’. The most notorious of the five matches was the one in which Stan Smith clinched victory by beating Ion Tiriac in five sets. Smith ran up an unusually high number of foot faults – called by judges wanting to negate his aces, said Ashe – and Tiriac reportedly orchestrated crowd noises to disturb Smith’s game. But what really incensed the Americans was the moment when a supposedly impartial linesman openly massaged Tiriac’s cramping leg and, unavailingly, urged him on to victory.
8. TOO SEXY FOR THE ALL ENGLAND CLUB
She was White by name and, as laid down by Wimbledon convention, she was clad all in white, so what on earth did Wimbledon have to complain about? ‘Not traditional tennis attire,’ was the official line as the tournament asked the Californian Anne White to step out of her dazzling, skin-tight body stocking into something a little more demure. Her outfit had caused a stampede by photographers when she appeared in it on a miserable, wet evening to play Pam Shriver. Play was suspended by the weather at one-set all and when they reappeared the next day White was more orthodoxly dressed. She lost the match, though. ‘I think I showed a lot of guts,’ she said.
9. BILLIE JEAN AND THE PIGLET
Billie Jean King reacted angrily to the defeat inflicted on her 30-year-old rival Margaret Court by Bobby Riggs, an American showman who had won Wimbledon but was now 55. King saw it as stain on the women’s game and resolved to take revenge on Riggs. The Battle of the Sexes at the Houston Astrodome caught the public’s imagination. A crowd of 30,472 packed the arena and 48 million watched on TV in America. King was carried to court-side on a litter and presented Riggs with a live piglet as a ‘tribute’ to his male chauvinism; Riggs arrived in a rickshaw pulled by six nymphets. King won 6-4 6-3 6-3.
10. ANYONE FOR ICE CREAM?
It could only have happened in Rome where they don’t take their tennis nearly as seriously as they do at Wimbledon. Tony Pickard, the British Davis Cup player, was playing the New Zealander Ian Crookenden in the Italian championships and not only the crowd, but the line judges were losing interest. Pickard takes up the story: ‘It was a vital game point. He served and it was at least nine inches long. The umpire looked to the baseline judge for the call, but he was turned round buying an ice cream over the fence.’ Crookenden won the point and went on to win the match. ‘I felt as sick as a pig,’ says Pickard.