It will be long remembered as Wild Wednesday, the day the centenary Wimbledon tennis championships sprung to life and throbbed with the atmosphere, color and drama worthy of the occasion.
With an all-time record crowd of 37,395 in attendance, two seeded men, Brian Gottfried and Adriano Panatta, were upset and five former champions - Billie Jean King, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, Ilie Nastare and Maria Bueno - took turns hanging on by their thumbs before surviving.
Just for good measure, the youngest player ever in the championships, 14-year-old Tracy Austin, made her debut successfully and Nastase turned his match into a burlesque, then threatened to kill a reporter from the New York Times.
When the day was over and the huge crowd that had clogged every walkway and plugged every vantage point at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club had departed, the highlights included:
Gottfried, winner of four tournaments this year, runner-up in the French Open, and No. 5 seed here, had been eliminated by Byron Bertam, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Panatta, the 1976 Italian Open and French Open champ who was seeded No. 10, had been ousted on the center court by the sharp passing shots and precise volleying of Alex Mayer, 8-9, 6-0, 6-2, 6-4.
King, the six-time champion who was playing her first singles match here since winning in 1975, had had to go all-out to beat 17-year-old Anne Smith, a promising young American in the BJK mold, 6-8, 6-0, 6-3.
Borg, the 21-year-old defending men's singles champion, had had to come back from two sets down to beat intense, hard-swinging Mark Edmondson, the 1976 Australian Open champ, 3-6, 7-9, 6-2, 6-4, 6-1.
Connors, the 1974 champion who is seeded No. 1 and is a 2-to-1 betting choice, had had two set points against him in the fourth set before eluding the determined clutches of 35-year-old Marty Riessen, 6-4, 8-9, 6-1, 8-6.
Nastase, last year's runner-up and the No. 6 seed, had stopped play for 10 minutes and summoned the referee when he was down a break in the fourth set to Andrew Pattison.
After clowning while Pattison stewed during the interuption, which seemed carefully calculated to break up Patterson's rhythm, Nastase broke back and went on to win, 7-9, 3-6, 7-5, 8-6, 6-3.
Pattison refused to shake hands with Nastase, had words with him in the dressing room afterward, and later declared angrily, "There's no other player who comes remotely close to him in his behavior. I don't know how he gets away with it."
Nastase, angered that New York Times writer Neil Amdur asked Pattison if he thought the disruption of play was intentional, lunged at Amdur and screamed, "If you write what he says, I kill you."
Pattison broke Nastase for 4-3 in the fourth set and had only to hold his serve twice for the match when Nastase, who had been asking the umpire to summon the referee since the first set because he wanted a full contingent of linesmen on his match, succeeded in holding up play.
When it resumed after a raucous 10-minute interlude during which Nastase hid behind a canvas backtop, the annoyed Pattison lost his serve, Nastase coming up with three wonderful passing shots to break.
Nastase broke again for the set, Pattison overhitting a backpeddling overhead, and lost only three points on his serve in the fifth set. Then he went on his rampage after leaving the court to a chorus of boos, the craziest villain of one of Wimbledon's crazies days.
Bueno, 37, who is only a faint shadow of the enchantingly graceful player she was when she won the singles here in 1959, 1960 and 1964, rekindled enough of her old magic to survive a match point at 5-6, 30-40 in the third set, then ran off 10 straight points to beat Italian Open champ Janet Newberry, 1-6, 8-6, 8-6.
Austin, the 90-pound California schoolgirl with pigtails and braces who is heralded as the budding superstar, played her first match on court No. 7 and defeated Ellie Vessies-Appel, who seemed more nervous than Austin.
That set up a prbable match between No. 1 seed Chris Evert, the defending champ, and Austin in the next round. Evert's match today against Winnie Wooldridge was postponed, one of three scheduled for court No. 2 that wasn't able to start before nightfall because so much else was happening.
"I've never seen as many people, all piled around. I felt excited and nervous," said Austin, who offered that she does not expect to beat Evert - "at least not this year."
From the start of play at the traditional "2 p.m. precisely," when Rod Laver went onto the center court for the first time since 1971 and hit some shots to make most remember his four singles titles (1961-62-68-69) and record 34-match winning streak here, until Bueno's final blaze of volleys lit up the lingering shadows of twilight at 9:10 p.m. it was a day to savor.
Laver lost No. 9 seed Dick Stockton, 3-6, 9-7, 6-4, 7-5, after leading 4-1 in the second set and hitting enough of the old backhand volleys and running forehand down-the-line passing shots to stir memories of his greatness.
"I thought I could win, but it's a great feeling just to be back at Wimbledon," said the lefthanded Australian "Rocket."
At first, it seemed like a day for nostalgia. Karen Hantze Susman, champion of 1962 playing here for the first time in 13 years, lost nervously, tentatively, to a strapping young Danish player named Helle Sparre-Vrragh who had never even heard of her before, 6-3, 6-2.
Dennis Ralston, 34, the runner-up in 1966, still has the strokes but no mobility in his arthritic knees, and was cramping at the end of his 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2 loss to Bob Lutz, the No. 13 seed. Lutz is back near the peak of his aggressive game - even though he, has surgically scarred knees at age 29.
But Laver, Susman, Ralston, and Bueno were not expected to win at Wimbledon today. Billy Jean King was, and when started struggling against Smith, the No. 3 ranked U.S. Junior girl who won the French junior championship three weeks ago, it foreshadowed drama that was to build to a pitch throughout the afternoon.
The first sunny, warm day after weeks of chill overcast brought a record throng to the shrub- and flowerlined grounds of the All-England club before the gates were closed. The crowd eclipsed the one-day record of 37.390 set on the first Friday of 1975.
King lost the first set, after leading 2-0. Her first serve was erratic, she wasn't putting her volleys away and Smith's quickness, athleticism, and hunger for the net added to the queen of Wimbledon's anxiety.
As King struggled, her colleagues - including old parter Susman and old rival Bueno - pressed against the glass in the women's dressing room, which overlooks courts 2 and 3 (along with court 1 the notorious upset courts" at Wimbledon.)
King ripped through the second set rapidly but Smith, as eager a competitor as King was when she first came here in 1961, fought back from 1-4 to make the final set treacherously close. She forced King to play her net game as boldly and craftily as she knows how.
"Anne played really well. She just seemed to know where I was going to hit the ball," King said. "I'm just happy to be through the first round. That's always the most nerve-wracking. It doesn't matter who you're playing.
Bertram, 24, is a talented South African who can get into streaks when nothing but winners flow from his racket. In 1975 he allowed Stan Smith only six games in the first round, and he had the rhythm of his explosive serve-and-volley game going in the second round today against Gottfried.
Borg was in real danger of losing his crown until Edmondson, 22, lost the consistency of his blistering attack.
Edmondson spikes the second ball after serving aces on game points, behaves poorly after bad bounces and lashes at his volleys ferociously. But he ran out of steam.