robertrfwilson@gmail.com | 1.800.562.9646 | Saxtons River, VT 05154 | © 2019 by Robert F. Wilson

The Time I Played for a Championship at the 1977 U.S. Open

April 20, 2018

 

 Jack H. Fuller The author serving at the last U.S. Open to be played at Forest Hills.

 

The 2012 U.S. Open goes away for good today, but as compelling as this year’s tournament has been, it won’t challenge the 1977 edition — the last to be held at Forest Hills and chronicled by Michael Steinberger two weeks ago — as the craziest U.S. Open ever. It also makes this the 35th consecutive year without a mixed singles champion.

 

I played in that U.S. Open. Well, after a fashion. Read on and draw your own conclusions. Perhaps inspired by a first-person account of mine that ran in New York magazine earlier that year about trying to get hired at WNBC-TV’s early-evening news program, the editor at Tennis commissioned me to find a seeded player on the women’s side of the draw willing to play for the 1977 U.S. Open Mixed Singles Championship.

 

With no more than the editor’s hearty handshake and a general-admission ticket, I was on my own. It wasn’t until Day 8 of the tournament, though — and more begging and arm-twisting than I am free to discuss — that Cynthia Doerner, an Australian ranked 15th  in the world, said she would play me. Mike Burns, executive director of the U.S.T.A., scheduled our match for 3 p.m. the following day on Court 17, just across from the press tent.

 

Jack H. Fuller

 

Here (above) Doerner waits to serve. Was she telling me to stop stalling and play? I have no idea. Much of the match remains a blur. Our “audience,” as can be seen, is modest compared with the stadium crowd watching Dick Stockton play Harold Solomon. I did win the first game, but that seemed only to incense my determined opponent, because I didn’t win another. She hit lines and corners the way I hit them in my dreams.

 

 John Newcomb


At 6-1 and 5-0, linespeople began arriving for a coming women’s quarterfinals doubles match. With one ball in my hand, I reached out to take the remaining two from Cynthia, as a gesture of finality. “I have two,” she said sweetly and, as I recall, won the last game at love to complete the bagel. Her comment at the handshake, “I ran your [expletive] off,” was meant not to be derogatory but simply to acknowledge the unreachable gap between our skill levels. After the match (above), she graciously helped me improve an ineffectual grip that probably had cost me half a dozen games.

 

John Newcomb

 

 

Driving down from Connecticut earlier that day, the photographer Jack Fuller and I stopped at a Woolworth’s on 71st Street near the stadium to shop for a trophy. In the hardware department, we found just what we wanted: a tasteful, gold-flecked cake plate bordered with red and blue flowers, for $3.49 . (Inscription also by Jack.)

 

In the end, the article I wrote about the Doerner v. Wilson match was never published. The level of negativity implicit in the shooting incident, the “spaghetti racket” scandal and the racial- and labor-related occurrences all tended (largely inadvertently) to put the U.S.T.A. and the Forest Hills Tennis Club under considerable scrutiny. This may have been one reason Tennis killed the article — it was “not respectful to tennis the institution,” I was told. Of course, maybe the results of my match or the way I wrote the story had something to do with its decision, as well.

 

At least I got some 8-by-10 color prints from the experience. They still hang on my office wall.

 

Originally posted with the New York Times

 

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