1967 changed Wimbledon forever, after the Centre Court finally opened up to the pros. Richard Jones' new book recalls the last amateur-only Championships
A Centre Court Memory, Ian Hewitt, London
Credit: Richard Jones. Ian Hewitt recalls the exemplary showdown between Charles Pasarell and Thomas Koch at the 1967 Wimbledon Champsionships
My first year visiting The Championships was 1967. As a junior tennis player, I had entered the famous grounds as a nervous teenager a few years earlier, playing for my school in the Clark Cup and then, even more nervously, playing at "Junior Wimbledon" (as then called) held for Britain’s Under 18s.
But that was all on The All England Club’s red shale courts, with barely a spectator around.
In 1967, however, I was at The Championships in the capacity as a scoreboard operator.
"We worked with a fantastic courtside view, from what is now the TV commentary box"
Lucky enough to be at Oxford University—much to the surprise of my parents—I was in the University tennis team and several of us were invited, as per the custom then, to join the team operating the electric scoreboards on Centre Court and nearby No.1 Court.
A tough job—and we were even required by the supervisors to work "one hour on" and "two hours off", such was the concentration involved in manually turning the right switch immediately after (not before) the umpire had announced the score.
We worked with a fantastic courtside view, from what is now the TV commentary box, and we could watch the play afterwards.
1967—it was a momentous year for Wimbledon, but it is strange how the memory works. I do not recall now that it was the first year of colour TV transmission. Indeed, I do not recall Britain’s Roger Taylor beating South African Cliff Drysdale in that first televised match or his great run in reaching the semi-final.
It would be the last year of "amateur" tennis before the "professionals" were permitted to play.
"It was the first year of colour TV transmission"
Matches and Wimbledon years pass by. Yet, indelibly in my memory is a match late on the first Saturday with the evening light casting a golden glow over the Centre Court. I was in the then standing area at the side of the court.
I recall vividly the scene as a last-16 match took place between American Charlie Pasarell (who, in an earlier round, had defeated the previous year’s winner, Manuel Santana) and Brazilian Thomas Koch.
"This for me was tennis and competition at its finest"
A close and captivating match entered a phase with both players "in the zone" and barely missing a shot. Five sets with strong serves, every return seeming to be made, lobs and magnificent passing shots—with the Brazilian clinching the match 6-4 in the final set.
Spellbinding. In the gently fading light, and in this magical arena, both players were seeing the ball "like a football". This for me was tennis and competition at its finest. I was fortunate to be there. It became a lasting memory.
Ian Hewitt is a former county tennis player and a respected researcher of sports history. His books include Sporting Justice:101 Sporting Encounters with the Law, Immortals of British Sport: A Celebration of Britain’s Sporting History Through Sculpture and the award-winning Centre Court: The Jewel in Wimbledon’s Crown, the latter co-edited with John Barrett. Ian succeeded Philip Brook as Chairman of The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in December 2019
The People's Wimbledon by Richard Jones is published by Pitch Publishing Ltd (May 17, 2021)
Banner credit: Eric Koch for Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons. The Centre Court was reserved for amateur tennis players until the 1960s, when pro players started to infiltrate the green
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