The Scotsman, Saturday 3 July, 1977
AMID scenes of unrestrained joy and emotion, Virginia Wade came into her kingdom yesterday when she beat Betty Stove of Holland by 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, to win the Wimbledon Centenary women’s singles. The 17,000 Centre Court crowd roared their delight, waved Union Jacks, sang “For she’s a jolly good player,” and gave three rousing cheers as the Queen, on her first visit for 15 years, presented the Challenge Trophy to Britain’s leading woman player.
The Duchess of Kent, who did not accompany the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh on to the court for the presentation, held her arms aloft in the Royal Box, hands clenched soccer style, signalling her delight to Virginia.
At last, after 16 attempts, the girl who had promised so much and failed so often, had done it. All the pent-up emotions of the crowd were released. They had suffered with her as she lost the first set, agonised collectively as she let slip a 3-0 lead in the second, and finally rejoiced as she put it all together in the third set. It was a moving scene.
The mood for the afternoon was set early on, before the players came on court and while the Queen and Duke were finishing off lunch in the All England club pavilion, a 30-yard walk from the stadium.
Inside the Centre Court the band of the Welsh Guards, their scarlet tunics and black trousers contrasting sharply with the lush green of the outer court and the light brown of the playing surface, were entertaining an already packed stadium. With the tension building up as the minutes ticked towards 2pm on the clock above the court, the Royal party entered. The band struck up the National Anthem, the first few bars to an almost silent crowd. Only at the words: “Send her victorious ...” did the singing really break out – and Miss Stove must have been the loneliest girl in the world at that moment.
On with the action now, with both girls obviously nervous. Miss Stove tossed up a lob on the first point and Miss Wade seemed transfixed as the ball floated over her head and landed inside the base line for a winner. That first game lasted six minutes before Miss Wade held her service.
The first break came in the fifth game, Miss Wade putting a dreadful half volley out the side and then hitting the middle of the net with a forehand. The crowd groaned and they could see that Virginia was not middling the ball and not moving well. Was it going to be another of those afternoons?
Still, they perked up when she levelled at 3-3, breaking Miss Stove to love, the Dutch girl finishing on a double fault, But again, at 4-4, Miss Wade played a bad game to drop serve and the set slipped away.
A confident opening service game at the start of the second set seemed to settle a more positive looking Miss Wade, and she broke immediately, hitting the ball firmly and well for almost the first time in the match. A cheer, more relief than anything, welcomed another good service game as she moved to 3-0.
Then the tensions set in again and Miss Stove, with the sun shining brightly, pulled back to 3-3. During that spell the umpire over-ruled a baseline call, and to the disgust of the British girl, ordered the point to be replayed.
In the seventh game Miss Wade, playing with new balls, made a fresh start again, playing a stop volley from off her toes and serving a clean ace on her way to 4-3. Little did we know then that this was the start of a run of seven winning games for Miss Wade, taking her through to an untouchable 4-0 lead in the final set.
Only then, with Miss Wade in full cry for the title, did the crowd really begin to relax and enjoy the action. In the fifth game of the final set, with both girls playing well, the first rally of real quality emerged.
“Ladies and gentlemen, will you please TRY to be quiet during the rallies,” the umpire pleaded at one point, with resignation in his voice. No way would they be quiet, and he knew it.
Miss Stove, however, in a last flourish, rescued that game from 0-40, but the Union Jacks came out again after the next, which Miss Wade, driving herself on, won to love. There was no escape for the Dutch girl now, and Miss Wade took the title for which she had worked so hard on her second match point.
On swarmed the photographers as a green carpet was rolled out for the Royal party, who walked to the centre of the court through two lines of ball boys. Then it was on with the singing and the cheering and the celebrations, with poor Miss Stove standing alone beside the umpire’s chair.
The tall Dutch girl, however, received a tremendous ovation as she was presented to the Queen.
Later, miss Stove said she thought Virginia played very well. “In the second set she started to come to the net more. She really got a grip of the game and pulled me down.”
What did she think of the crowd who were unashamedly biased? “I enjoyed myself on the court. I didn’t really feel lonely. I expected the crowd to be for Virginia. The pressure was on her and she handled it very well. I’m used to having double faults (she served nine in the match) applauded. It’s just the same as Team Tennis.
“The Queen said sorry to me and bad luck, and I said to her that one has to win and one has to lose.”
Miss Wade, still high with the emotion of it all, told her Press conference about her new life style and her new-found maturity, both on and off the court. She had worked hard for the last year, building up to this moment, and she wasn’t falsely modest about her achievement.
Now it has all been worthwhile and Virginia Wade, 32 years old next month, joins the illustrious roll of champions. She is our third winner since the war. And it was pleasant to see the other two, Angela Mortimer (1961) and Ann Jones (1969) watching from the Royal box and sharing her triumph.