After 15 years of frustration, Virginia Wade enjoyed her finest hour on the center court today, ending Chris Evert's reign in the Wimbledon tennis championships and reaching the final for the first time.
Proving convincingly her contention that people here have an incredibly out-to-date opinion of me," Wade thrilled the adoring home crowd with a brilliant and determined performance to beat Evert, the No. 1 seed, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1.
Wade, 31, playing Wimbledon for the 16th time, is the first British finalist since Ann Haydon Jones won the title in 1969. Her record against Evert going into today's match was only five victories in 27 attempts.
But hopes for the first all-English final since Angela Mortimer beat Christine Truman in 1961, a prospect that had Britain a twitter in this sentimental year of Wimbledon's centenary and the queen's silver jubilee, were dashed when Betty Stove upset Sue Barker, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, in the other semifinal.
Stove, 32, is the first Dutch finalist in any event at Wimbledon, but her nervous victory - she blew a match point while serving at 5-3 in the third set and another before Barker lost her service in the next game - was not impressive.
After the rich shotmaking and unbearable tension of Wade's triumph over Evert, the Stove-Barker match seemed Like an exhibition baseball game between the Montreal Expos and Cleveland Indians.
The perils of "Our Ginny" had become a long-running soap opera since Wade, the regal. Iconine daughter f an Episcopal arehdeacon, first played at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in 1962.
In her first 10 years at Wimbledon she reached the quarter-finals only once, in 1967. She was a semifinalist in 1974 and 1976, but was stereotyped as a annual victim of "Wimbledon nerves" a reputation she found hard to live down.
But this year Wade is fit, keep and relaxed. She took the advice of Billie Jean King, her teammate on the New York Apples of World Team Tennis, and prepared for Wimbledon months to advance,physically and psychologically.
She has also been working with Los Angeles teaching pro Jerry Teeguarden, father of pro Pam Teeguarden, who has helped remodel her always powerful serve and tighten a frequently shaky forehand.
All of these factors revealed themselves as Wade attacked ferociously in the first set, refused to fold when she lost the second, and had deeper reserves in the third than her 22-year-old opponent, the champion here in 1974 and 1976.
"I think Virginia just wanted to win worse than I did," said Evert, subdued, a little dazed, and choking back tears.
"I just didn't feel as eager as I usually am. The thought of losing didn't bother me as much as it did in previous matches. Such a large part of my game is emotional that if I'm not mentally tough, these girls can beat me.
"It was a kind of spotty match for me. I had stretches when I was playing well, hitting deep down-the-line forehands and coming in, playing aggressivley, and there were times I was too defensive and made careless mistakes.
"Virginia played more patiently than I did. I could see in her eyes how much she wanted to win. I just couldn't reach deep down inside myself for what I need to win. I didn't have it."
Evert made far more unforced errors than usual and didn't break up the pattern or vary her attack after torried groundstroking failed to crack Wade on either the forehand or backhand. She simply came up flat after the decisive but emotionally draining victories over 14-yearold Tracy Austin and six time champion King that got her to the semis.
"I guess I peaked too soon because I couldn't have played any better than I did against Billie Jean," Evert said.
"Against Tracy, everybody was putting the pressure on me - the press, the public, the fact that she's so young.
"My career record against Virginia is so good, it wasn't really a match to get fired up for, and as a result I lost. It's my own fault.
"Every match I play I try to give 100 per cent, no matter if it's Wimbledon or the first round of a small tournament."
The astoundingly consistent Evert has lost only 21 matches since 1973.
"I'm not the type of player who just concentrates on winning two or three major titles a year," she continued, "and a lot of people still don't give me credit for the matches I win. Today, it just wasn't there. I had a very emotional week. I think it just proves I'm human."
Wade seemed to sense that it was her day, that Evert could be taken, and she exuded a kind of menacing self-confidence from the moment they strode onto the court.
The 14,000 spectators, some of whom had waited in line for 36 hours to buy tickets or paid scalpers as much as $250 for them, buzzed in anticipation. Never had they seen Wade like this with so much will power and self-control.
Wade won the first point of the match as Evert made a forehand error that turned out to be prophetic, and immediately established her strategy of getting to the net behind deep, sliced approaches, especially off the bankhand, and lashing away volleys.
Wade broke for 2-0 from 40-15, buzzing a backhand down-the-line passing shot on her first advantage point. That was the fifth time in two games that Evert watched a winner scream by and acknowledged it with a stonefaced, "Yup."
The third game may have been the most critical of the match, though Evert was so foggy afterward that she couldn't even remember it. It was a magnificent little match in itself, Wade holding on her fifth game point after nine deuces and six break points.
Evert got her fourth break point with and incredible lob-volley off an overhead that Wade drilled at her from point-blank range, but she netted a forehand agaon on the next point. Ultimately, this was the game in which Wade showed she could stay with Evert through deep, probing rallies until she got a ray of daylight to the net.
Wade broke again for 4-0, then played her first bad game to lose her serve at 15. But after getting a "jubilee call" from a linesman in the next game, she broke for 5-1.
Wade lost her serve again, but Evert then dropped hers at love, double-faulting twice, including on the set point. She had not held her serve once in losing he set in 38 minutes.
It is a credit to Evert that she squeaked out the second set even though she wasn't playing well. But Wade never looked as if she would self-destruct.
The 1-hour 55-minute match hinged on the first game of the final set, Wade holding serve after three deuces when Evert apparently made a digging get on two bounces. The umpire thought the ball was "up," but Evert told him she thought she hd reached it on the second bounce.For the first time the partisan crowd showered Evert with applause, in appreciation of her sportsmanship.
But hey cheered even more loudly when Evert knocked a backhand down the line, wide, to lose her serve: 2-0 for Wade.
In the men's semifinals Thursday, 18-year-old sensation John McEnroe meets Jimmy Connors and defending champion Bjorn Borg faces Vitas Gerulaitis.