First week at No. 1: 3 June 1974
Total weeks at No. 1: 8
As World No. 1
Concerned over his drop in playing level, John Newcombe considered quitting the sport in the summer of 1973, but resolved to rededicate himself. With the backing of his wife, Angie, he trained harder than ever and, just a few weeks after his 30th birthday, Newcombe replaced Ilie Nastase at No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. He spent eight weeks at the summit from 3 June to 28 July 1974, when he was replaced by American Jimmy Connors. On being No. 1, Newcombe told ATPTour.com, “It requires a lot of dedication and effort. You really need all your powers of effort and concentration to prepare for matches.” In an amateur and professional career, Newcombe was considered the world’s best player in 1967, 1970 (tied) and 1971 (tied), prior to the advent of the FedEx ATP Rankings, and was among the world’s Top 10 between 1965 and 1974.
Grand Slam highlights
Newcombe, who made his first appearance at a Grand Slam as a 15-year-old at the 1960 Australian championships, won 27 major trophies: seven singles — including three at Wimbledon — from 10 finals; 17 doubles titles and two in mixed doubles. While Newcombe had reached the 1966 US finals, losing to fellow Australian Tony Roche, he trained hard for 1967 Wimbledon, when he beat Wilhelm Bungert for the loss of five games in just 71 minutes. Two months later, he added a second crown, the US championships, with victory over Clark Graebner. In the Open Era, which began in April 1968, he clinched five trophies in a six-year period, including five-set wins at Wimbledon over Ken Rosewall in 1970 and Stan Smith in 1971, plus over Jan Kodes at the 1973 US Open. It was during the 1970 Wimbledon final against Rosewall that Newcombe said, “I’d miss a shot, and everyone would clap.” After the fourth set, Newcombe stood at the net and decided to focus solely on the ball, not his opponent. He won the deciding set 6-1. “I was more proud of what I did in that 60 seconds at the net [than of winning].”
On home soil, at the Australian championships, Newcombe won the 1973 and 1975 titles, finishing with a 46-14 event record. After that, in semi-retirement with three young children, his last Grand Slam singles final came at the 1976 Australian Open, where he lost to countryman Mark Edmondson, who remains the last homegrown champion there. Newcombe also combined with Tony Roche to win a record 12 major crowns, a Grand Slam team titles record that was finally broken by Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan in 2013.
Nitto ATP Finals highlights
Newcombe was called for as a replacement in 1970 for American Cliff Richey at the inaugural year-end championships in Tokyo. Richey was thought to have hepatitis but, in reality, was exhausted after a 40-week year. It wasn’t until 1973, when the event was played in Boston, and again in 1974, in Melbourne, that the Australian competed, reaching back-to-back semi-finals — retiring with a calf injury against Tom Okker in 1973 and losing to Nastase in 1974.
Newcombe, the last great Australian off Harry Hopman’s production line of the 1950s to 1970s, was a precocious junior, who made an immediate impact with his serve-volleying and hard forehands. His weight transfer on shots, combined with a great serve, tremendous fitness throughout matches, and a brain as sharp as you’ll ever see were his trademarks. Having started his amateur career in 1960, Newcombe signed a three-year pro contract for World Championships Tennis, run by David Dixon, in late 1967 and was famously part of eight players (Dennis Ralston, Roche, Cliff Drysdale, Earl Butch Buchholz, Niki Pilic, Roger Taylor and Pierre Barthes) named the ‘Handsome Eight’. He made his Davis Cup debut in 1963, winning four titles for Australia (1964-66 and 1973, when he was permitted to play in the international team competition once more).
Overall ATP Singles Match Win-Loss Record 566-206
Overall ATP Singles Titles/Finals Record: 36-24
While his matches against Stolle, Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith drew attention, it was perhaps his second match against Connors, in the 1975 Australian Open final, that stands out. “A match with Connors is something I’ve wanted for a long time,” said Newcombe, ahead of the New Year’s Day clash. Connors, who’d replaced him as World No. 1, countered, “Newcombe should do more talking with his racquet and less with his mouth. He says I’ve been ducking him, but I don’t need to duck anybody. Every time I reach a final he’s missing.” Having won the second set, for one-set apiece, Connors felt he was getting stronger. Newcombe led 3-2 in the third set, when three contested line calls in a row gave Connors a 40/15 lead. Newcombe complained and fans booed, so Connors double-faulted on purpose to soothe the fans. The move backfired as Newcombe broke serve, won the set and saved two set points in the fourth-set tie-break of a 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(6) win. “I don’t regret double-faulting,” said Connors. “But from now on I’ll be meaner. I don’t ever want a crowd to put me in that situation again.”
Newcombe, the President of the Association of Tennis Professionals in 1977 and 1978 (having previously held the same position for the International Tennis Players’ Association in 1969), was one of the final greats to emerge in Australian’s golden era and remains a great ambassador. Warm, engaging and easily identifiable by his moustache, Newcombe was a role model, who didn’t suffer fools, embracing the challenge of a match that went down to the wire. His game was built on the solid foundations laid by his first coach, Harry Lindo, and he was one of the first players to use a sports psychologist, starting in 1961, running 45 minutes before every match to visualise how the match would unfold. He’d also scout his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. His huge serve and consistency were among his trademarks. His shots were out of a textbook. Today, with numerable business interested, Newcombe is honoured with the presentation of the Newcome Medal (since 2010) that recognises the performances, achievements and contribution from the Australian tennis family.
“They wrote it that my moustache was insured for $13 million,” said Newcombe, looking back to the 1970s, when his then agent Bud Stanner realised the key to the Australian’s commercial success was his face and personality. The ‘recognition factor’ became his droopy moustache on a series of marketing campaigns and products. “There was a close shave for my moustache. I was drinking a spectacular concoction called a Flaming Hooker, a cocktail that you light, and the fiery alcohol damned near burned my mo right off.”
Newcombe on Newcombe
My first and second serves were powerful and accurate, and I volleyed solidly and could do some serious damage with my forehand volley. I had an effective and intimidating forehand smash. It was generally felt that my backhand wasn’t as strong as other shots, and opponents would attack it, but I could pass and do things with my backhand inside the baseline. My court sped was not fantastic, but I was quick enough and I could smell a game. My anticipation and ability to read a match was top level. I was always fit. I can count on the fingers of one hand the matches I lost because I lacked fitness.