Virginia Wade, fulfilling a quest for what she resolutely refused to consider the impossible dream, today won the women's singles title in the Wimbledon tennis championships.
The first Englishwoman to win here since Ann Jones in 1969, Wade accepted the gold championship plate from Queen Elizabeth 11 amid an outpouring of patriotic sentiment at center court after beating Betty Stove, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, in a match that, unfortunately, had little of the majesty of the occasion.
Wade, 31, who had never gone beyond the semifinals in 15 previous Wimbledons, won nine of the last 10 games in a contest that was more interesting for its emotion, psychology and stately setting than for any memorable shotmaking.
The tennis was spotty at best, terrible at its worst. Ultimately, Wade was simply more purposeful and self-controlled than the 32-year-old Stove, who was in a big final for the first time.
At the end, when a Wade forehand return of serve forced the last low volleying error from the 6-foot-1, 160-pound Dutchwoman the crowd of 15,000 erupted.
They gave what was, by the standards of British reserve, an unbridled display of affection for the new champion, who has always had a regal bearing but seemed destined by her own self-destructive temperament never to reign as queen of Wimbledon.
It took a couple of minutes after the final shot for the applause and cheering to die down enough for umpire Harry Collins to announce, "Ladies and gentlemen, the score was 4-6, 6-3, 6-1." The name of the victor he judged, correctly, to be superfluous.
As the Queen made her way to the court where, on a round table draped with a Union Jack the trophy lay for presentation, the Duchess of Kent waved enthusiastically to Wade from the royal box.
Having put on an orchid cardigan to protect herself against the swirling breeze, Wade curtsied, chatted briefly with the Queen, and then accepted the plate and a silver salver to commemorate the Queen's jubilee. Then she held her prizes aloft for the gang of photographers who scrambled for position behind a restraining rope.
In the stands, delighted spectators waved flags and broke in to a spontaneous, moving chorus of, "For she's a jolly good fellow." Hundreds of people had queued for two days outside the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club to buy tickets, and they wanted "Our Ginny" to know that all her past failures were forgiven, if not forgotten.
"I don't think it was by any means the best match there has been this Wimbledon, but the atmosphere was just sensational," Wade said later, summing things up nicely.
"I was so friendly, and the Duchess of Kent waving to me and saying, 'Well done,' and the singing, I mean, have you ever seen that before with an English crowd?"
Any words of wisdom the Queen may have had got lost in the commotion, but that did not detract from Wade's jubilation.
"I was so excited, the whole thing was like a fairy-tale situation, with everybody cheering for the Queen and cheering for me," she said. "It was so noisy that all I heard was, 'Well played. It must be very hard work.' Honestly, the rest of what she said got drowned. But I didn't mind. It was just great to see her lips moving and talking to me.
"I said, 'Yes, it was hard work.' I don't think I was quite at my most imaginative when I spoke to her."
Wade played a completely different and much more passive game than she did in defeating defending champ Chris Evert, whom she correctly labeled "the biggest obstacle to my winning the tournament," in the semifinals Wednesday.
But although she was not nearly as impressive in the backcourt, letting Stove force the play and make the mistakes, as she was in pressing Evert ferociously with bold approaches and flashing net play, Wade successfully guarded against an emotional letdown.
Wade knows that Stove has, as she proved again today, nerves that are even more suspect than her own. She gets rattled and will make errors if given the opportunity.
"I was wanting to be more keyed up than relaxed today, and I think it's inevitable that you're going to be a little tense against Betty because she hits a couple of incredible shots and then she misses some, so you feel a little insecure," Wade said.
Stove, the first Dutch player ever in the Wimbledon singles final, covers the court in long, slow strides and pulverizes the ball. She is an extremely bright woman, fluent in four languages, but she seldom plays points long enough to reveal much in the way of sophisticated tactics. Hers is hit-or-miss tennis, more blunt than artistic, or even craftsmanlike.
"Her style put me off a little bit in the first set because I felt I wasn't even really sweating," said Wade.
Wide never did much with her serve, spinning more of them in at three-quarters pace than going for big ones. She was afraid of playing serve-and-volley tennis with a slasher, and followed few serves to the net.
Initially, she didn't hit out often off her groundstrokes either, but later she decided to answer pace with pace. In the final set Stove crumbled, and there were not many shots with pace coming in the court to answer.
Wade got into the match about the middle of the second set, after blowing a 3-0 lead.
"By the third set, I had hit enough balls and I found out I could generate the rest from myself," she said.
Wade lost her serve to 2-3 in the first set, broke right back at love as Stove served the second of nine double faults to 0-40, then was herself broken at love for 4-5.
Stove double-faulted to break point again the next game, but served out the set and exhaled a hugh sign of relief. It was short-lived. She immediately lost the next three games and, after breaking back to 3-3, won only one more. The longer it went, the more ragged she became, especially on her swinging forehand volley.
As Wade moved inexorably toward victory, she told herself to pay attention and not think ahead, lest her now very possible dream evaporate. "The hardest thing of all," she said, "is to stop letting all these stray dreams come in, to just the basic."
Wade earned $23,220, compared with Stove's $12,040, and will undoubtedly reap rich commercial spinoffs. But she said convincingly that thoughts of finance never entered her mind in all the months she prepared.
"The things I was dreaming about when I beat Chris the other day were, 'Won't it be exciting playing the final with the Queen there . . . Imagine holding up the trophy,' things like that. Those were the things that excited me.
"The other thing was just to be able to say afterward that I did it. Those were my dreams, and I felt I had to control them because even those were dangerous."
This is indeed a new Virginia Wade.
"I think I'm much more secure as a person than I used to be. You can tell, just by general behavior, who is feeling at rest with themselves and who isn't. I felt this week that I was by far the strongest person in the tournament, that I had more guts than anybody else, and that would hold me through.
"I had more incentive than ever before. I really wanted to prove that I deserved to be out there amongst the champions."