- September 8 down the years
Murray bumps into Fed express
A big day in big tennis.
At the 2008 US Open, Andy Murray became the first British tennis player to contest a grand slam men's singles final since 1997. Still not as physically strong as some other 21-year-olds, Murray could have done with an extra day's rest instead of having to complete a semi-final win over Rafael Nadal. At the start of the final, he couldn't cope with Roger Federer's serve and all-round game, losing the first set 6-2 and dropping his serve at the start of the second. Murray did well to win the next two games and was unlucky not to break Federer when the champion's shot was wrongly called in. Murray hung on to reach 5-5, but then lost four consecutive points on his serve to drop the set 7-5. And Federer took a 5-0 lead in the third, dropping only three points, on his way to winning it 6-2. He won the title for the fifth year in a row, against his fifth different opponent. The next time Murray reached a grand slam singles final, at the 2010 Australian Open, Federer beat him in straight sets again. It was the same outcome at the 2012 Wimbledon final, but Murray would gain revenge against Federer weeks later to take Olympic gold before finally breaking his grand slam duck in New York in September.
Forty years to the day before Murray's first final, another Brit did rather better in another one. Virginia Wade became the last British player to win the singles title at the US Championships, and the first British girl since 1930. In the final, she faced the formidable defending champion Billie Jean King, who'd also won Wimbledon for the past three years. But Wade played forcefully throughout and above all kept her nerve against one of the all-time great match players. Wade had a break point in the first game of the match, saved two on her own serve at 2-3 down, then broke service with a lob to lead 4-3, taking the set 6-4. In later years, this might have been the cue for Wade to let the demons in. She had the biggest serve in the women's game at the time, but it had a lot of moving parts and was liable to break down. And she had terrible trouble upstairs: it took her 16 attempts to win Wimbledon ( July 1, 1977.). But today she didn't just hold it together, she moved up a gear. In the second set, she did break serve in the opening game, then again at 4-2, then lost only one point in the last two games to win the set 6-2. Billie Jean won the title twice more, but today she was well beaten by a very worthy champion.
The following day, Arthur Ashe won the men's singles. The first black player to reach the men's singles, he used his express serve and fizzing groundstrokes to beat Dutch speed merchant Tom Okker in five sets after taking the first 14-12.
In 1969, Rod Laver became the only tennis player to do the Grand Slam twice. When he achieved it in 1962, he was still an amateur and some of the best players were professionals. But there were no reservations this time. Having won his home Australian title for the third time, the French for the second, and his fourth Wimbledon, Laver was hot favourite before the final of the US Open at Forest Hills in New York. He'd dropped a total of one set in the other three Grand Slam deciders that year, and fellow Australian Tony Roche didn't have as many weapons, apart from a left-handed slice serve - and that was hampered by a slow and greasy grass court (the final had been delayed a day by rain). So it was no surprise when Laver served for the first set at 5-3. But he was struggling on the damp grass. The match referee, the autocratic British captain Mike Gibson, hadn't allowed Laver to wear spiked shoes. When Roche won the first set 9-7, the army man relented. It made all the difference. Roche had won the set with slithering backhands, but the Rocket could reach them now that his feet were gripping the grass. The crucial moment came in the first game of the second set, when Laver was within a point of going a set and a break down. A sliced serve saved him, and Roche won only five of the last 23 games, losing the last three sets 6-1 6-2 6-2. Laver remained a top player for the next four years, but this was the last Grand Slam singles final he ever reached. Not a bad way to bow out.
At the US Open in 1974, Chris Evert lost a singles match for the first time that year. In the semi-final, Evonne Goolagong won the first set to love, lost the second in a tie-break, then won the third 6-3. It ended Evert's run of 56 consecutive singles wins which began in April. During that spell, she won three matches in the Fed Cup, the Italian and French Opens, Wimbledon, the US Clay Court title, and the Canadian Championships.
At the US Open in 2001, Venus Williams beat sister Serena 6-2 6-4 in the final. Amazingly, it was the last Grand Slam singles title Venus ever won outside Wimbledon. She lost the next year's final to Serena and hasn't gone that far since.
In the 10,000 metres, China's Wang Yunxia set the world record that still stands. One of the stable of Chinese runners who emerged from nowhere under controversial coach Ma Junren, she was the first woman to break half an hour for the 10k. Not so much break it as batter it into submission. Her time of 29:31.78 in Beijing blasted the previous world best of 30:13.74 set by Ingrid Kristiansen of Norway seven years earlier. When three of Ma's girls ran away with the 3,000 metres at the 1993 World Championships, they were booed by a suspicious crowd. Three days after Wang ( September 11.). another of Ma's protégés set a world record that's still with us.
Another world record in track and field, this one by Britain's top dog. Daley Thompson had already set one that year, scoring 8,704 points in the decathlon. But then along came giant Jürgen Hingsen with 8,723 in August. Their winner-takes-all clash was one of the highlights of these European Championships. Thompson began as if he were about to blow Hingsen away. His first day was stronger than the West German's, and he began by running the 100 metres in 10.51 seconds, only a hundredth outside his personal best despite a slight slip as he left the blocks. Hingsen was half a second slower and way down in the long jump, where his best attempt wasn't as good as Thompson's worst. Daley then achieved a personal best 15.44 metres in the shot putt to lead by 167 points. He dropped a lot of those in the high jump, where he was below form with 2.03 metres while the tall Hingsen cleared 2.18. But Thompson was virtually a second faster in the 400 metres and led by 114 after the first day. He went further ahead after the high hurdles but then was suddenly faced with a disaster in the discus. With one throw to come, he was only 41 points ahead of Hingsen and facing defeat in the whole thing. But, as in the 1984 Olympics ( August 9.), Thompson came through with a big throw. He had the gold medal in his pocket before the last event, then jogged most of the 1500 metres before suddenly running the last lap in 63 seconds to break Hingsen's world record by 20 points. The pattern was repeated for the next two years: Hingsen would enter a major championships as world record holder, Thompson would win the gold, culminating in that second Olympic triumph.
Two other world records were broken on the same day at these 1982 Europeans. East German drug queen Marita Koch retained the 400 metres title in 48.16, and Ulrike Meyfarth from the other Germany high-jumped 2.02 metres ten years after equalling the world record at the Olympic Games ( September 4.).
John Higgins was banned from all snooker until November 1 and fined £75,000 following frame-fixing allegations which first appeared in May. He admitted "intentionally giving the impression to others that they were agreeing to act in breach of the betting rules" and failing to report the matter promptly to World Snooker, the game's governing body. However, the charges of "agreeing or offering" to accept bribes and "agreeing to engage in corrupt or fraudulent conduct" were dropped.
Vere St Leger Goold died on Devil's Island. The son of an Irish baronet, he'd lost the 1879 Wimbledon singles final in straight sets to the Reverend John Thorneycroft Hartley, who described him as 'a cheery, wild Irishman, Irish champion and a very pretty player. I think he volleyed more than any of us that year; but there was some weakness I suppose in his play'. Goold lost 6-2 6-4 6-2. In 1907 he and his French-born wife were arrested when two trunks at Nice railway station were found to contain the dismembered body of a Danish widow. Convicted of murder, the Goolds didn't last long in prison. The wife died at Montpelier in 1914, and very few survived the cruelties of Devil's Island for long.