It is not at all surprising that this year's Wimbledon tennis championship have, as the British say, "an American accent." What it a shock is some of the Americans who are speaking.
Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert? no surprise there since they are the top seeds in men's and women's singles. Bob won easily today as another all-time record crowd, 37,615 this time, swarmed the grounds of the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet club.
Connors dispatched 35-year-old Cliff Drysdale, 6-2, 7-5, 6-4, Evert needed only 40 minutes to brush aside Scotswoman Winnie Shaw Wooldridge, 6-0, 6-2, to set up a third-round meeting with 14-year-old California Tracy Austin, the youngest competior in 100 years of Wimbledon tennis.
But who could have possibly thought that, of the 47 U.S. players in the men's-singles draw of 128, the 10 still alive after four days would be Connors, Vitas Gerulaitis, Dick Stockton, Stan Smith, Alex Mayer, Freddie McNair, Eliot Teltscher, Billy Martin, Tim Gullikson and John McEnroe?
Or that Martin and Gullikson would be giant-killers, eliminating third-seedeede Guillermo Vilas and seventh-seeded Raul Ramirez, respectively, as they did today.
Martin, a Christmas Day baby in 1956, was the most promising young player in the world three years ago, winner of two Wimbledon and U.S. Junior championships and most of the other juvenile titles worth having. But he figures he is only now reaching adolescence on the pro tour, and his 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 victory over a strangely sluggish Vilas might herald maturity.
Gullikson is 25, five minutes younger than his lefthanded twin brother Tom (loser to Ilie Nastase in the first round), but he has only been playing professionally for two years and is coming of age late.
His was the most courageous and nerve-wracking victory of the day - 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 8-9, 6-4 over Ramirez, in just under four hours on noisy, Claustrophobic Court 2.
Gullikson had nine match points - two on Ramirez's serve at 5-6 in the fourth set; two more in the tiebreaker he lost, 9-7; one on Ramirez's serve at 4-5 in the fifth and four more as he finally served out the match after four deuces.
Gullikson also had cramps in his upper right thigh most of the final set.Four times, on crucial points, he pushed off his painful leg with all he had and served aces or near aces. On most of the match points, his brain cramped and he couldn't produce the bold shots that got him to the trembling edge of victory so often.
In the last game, Gullikson looked like a man being tortured as he netted a backhand volley and then watched Ramirez run around a second serve and buzz a forehand service return winner by him from 40-15. He grimaced, slapped his thigh, screamed at himself to concentrate, thrashed a ball into the backstop and looked as if he might self-destruct if he lost.
Then, on the ninth match point, Gullikson crunched a good first serve wide to Ramirez's backhand. It bit into the turf that, after weeks of rain and mist, has been drie dout and made fast and dusty by two days of radiant sunshine. The ball stayed low and Ramirez could only grope and deflect it harmlessly.
Gullikson's agony turned to exultation. He threw his racket high in the air, batted a ball over the stands, and sat smiling in a courtside chair despite the cramps as the crowd applauded for a full three minutes in appreciation of a match rich in both character and shotmaking.
Ramirez, 23, a semifinalist here last year, was bitterly disappointed, but he was smiling, too. It was almost as if he was as relieved as everyone else that Gullikson, an uncommonly nice fellow, was not crushed after his long afternoon of purposeful sometimes inspired effort.
Vilas, 24, a quarterfinalist the last two years, did not seem particularly unhappy after his loss to Martin. He is still "up" from his victory three weeks ago in the French Open, the most prestigious clay court tournament of Europe and his first major title.
"My goal for the year was to win one of the big tournaments, and I have done that," he said. "It is very difficult to play well on clay and then adjust to grass courts. You have to change your technique, your mind, everything."
Martin, 20, served well throughout the match, knocked countless volleys one step ahead of Vilas' lefthanded swipes, and hit his best passing shots in clusters.
"I played about as well as I expected," said Martin, the one-time "Billy the Kid" whiz of the junior ranks. "I got a little nervous when I was ahead in the third. He looked tired from the beginning and made a lot of mistakes. He gave me easy opportunities. Still, it's difficult to keep the pressure on a great player and put him away."
Martin has been taking his knocks - he lost in the first round of eight straight tournaments up to last week, most of them at the hands of "name" players - but he is learning.
"In the juniors, when it got to the tight part of a match, where it really matters who's mentally toughest, I usually won. Now I'm in against players who did the same thing . . . It's taken some growing up. But I'm working as hard as I can and I think I'm getting there. I've just got to be patient and not compare myself with anybody."
In a second-round match Wednesday, Martin came back from two sets down and saved three match points in beating Australian lefthander Ray RUffels. That may have helped against Vilas because, as Martin says, "Sometimes it takes you a set just to get used to a lefty."
Martin plays another southpaw, 14th-seeded Englishman Mark Cox, for a place in the quarterfinals. That is one of the strange pairings that has resulted from the first-week upheaval in which six seeds - including the Americans who were supposed to give Connors the most trying tests in his half, Roscoe Tanner and Brian Gottfried - have been rudely uprooted.
Californian Bob Lutz, the No. 15 seed, today joined Tanner and Gottfried on the scrap heap. beaten by the talented but volcanic Kim Warwick of Australia, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 2-6, 8-6. For a place in the quarters, Warwick will play the winner of a third-rounder between Byron Bertram (conqueror of Gottfried on Wednesday) and another Aussie big-server, Paul Kronk.
Also making his way through the depleted section of the draw - likened by one British writer to "the jaw of a man emerging from a lost argument with a dentist" - was John McEnroe, 18, a lefthander from Douglastown, N.Y., who won the French junior title earlier this month.
He is another of the horde of young American players who have chosen the centenary of the world's grandest and most famous tournament to showcase their building talents. Today he whipped Karl Meiler of West Germany, 6-2, 6-2, 5-7, 6-3, with a topspin backhand so flamboyant that one on-looker noted, "He looks like he's got a little Laver and Vilas in him."
McEnroe, ranked No. 2 among U.S. juiors behind old nemesis Larry Gottfried, Brian's brother, has been on the ascent since he won the Orange Bowl tourney in Miami in January.
McEnroe beat Lutz and Charlie Pasarell in a tournament at Virginia Beach, Va., in April, and took a set off Nastase. He now plays the winner of Jorge Andrew vs. Alex Mayer (who ousted Andriano Panatta) for a berth in the quarters.
The women's singles also has an American focus now because, assuming she beats Austin, Evert will play come backing six-time champion Billie Jean King in the quarterfinals.
King, 33, today eliminated Maria Bueno, 6-2, 7-5. Bueno, 37, was her victim in the 1966 final, the first time King won the singles here.
"It was definitely special. It kind of made me think about the past, which is exactly what I didn't want to do. But it jolted my mind," said King, who recalled that she first saw and played Bueno in 1959.
"I didn't want to play Maria because I know she has a bad arm. It hurts her, and I hate pain.
"I've been through enough of it with three knee operations. But at 3-5 in the second set I said to myself, Billie, if you're going to feel sorry for her, you might as well shake hands and give her the match."