GOING BY THE
John McEnroe expresses his
delight at having a chance
to play on the grass with
the illustrious Maury Allen.
You mean you
about Maury vs. McEnroe?
By MAURY ALLEN
This is the week
I always waited for. It is the opening of the All-England Lawn
Tennis and Croquet Club Championships at Wimbledon, England.
One fact first before we start.
It is pronounced Wim-ble-DON. Listen to how many commentators
pronounce it Wimble-TON. Not a big deal, right? It is if you
care about tennis tradition which is what tennis really is all
When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, we all wanted to play
for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Of course. Then I heard a tennis match
from Wimbledon on the radio and I saw a few kids in our neighborhood
park actually playing the game. They wore long white pants. The
word spread that, as the governor of California might say, they
were girly men.
I peeked around the fences and watched them play. I thought it
was a pretty athletic game. Lots of running and sweating.
After World War II, by the time I was a teenager--though we werent
called teenagers then--I heard and became aware of Wimbledon.
Bobby Riggs, Jack Kramer, Pancho Gonzalez, Ted Schroeder were
names that filled the news.
The gals were out there, too. Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong
and a charismatic kid from California named Billie Jean Moffitt,
later BJ King.
I was a sportswriter by now and I was writing down things baseball
players said in the quiet of locker rooms or the noise of a dugout.
The two weeks would come in late June and early July every year
and I would lose my concentration about baseball. Television
brought the game into our homes by now and the tennis players
became important American civic figures. Especially that gal
named Chris Evert from Florida, the barrier breaker from Virginia
named Arthur Ashe and the rowdy kid from Illinois named Jimmy
There was no cable TV in those early days so the matches were
heard daily on radio and watched weekends on television. Breakfast
at Wimbledon. How else could I learn the time difference between
London and New York was a mere five hours?
Finally, in the early 1970s, I convinced a reluctant New York
Post sports editor that there were enough readers who cared about
He let me go, grudgingly, to cover Wimbledon because a New York
kid named John McEnroe was gathering the worldwide attention
and that would sell papers.
I spent the next 10 years in Wimbledon over that fortnight (British
slang for two weeks) watching those Wimbledon wizards make that
tennis ball do tricks it never could at the Brooklyn parks.
I walked the grounds and read all the plaques. I entered the
locker rooms where Bill Tilden and Don Budge had dressed. I ate
strawberries and cream until I nearly exploded the way Kentucky
Derby reporters down those bitter mint juleps. I bought Wimbledon
souvenirs home for the kids and still carry a Wimbledon locker
room key chain.
It was all so glorious and glamorous. It was all another bonus
for the profession I had stumbled into out of school.
I had gotten into the game by now myself in the 1970s as a 40-year-old
and had this crazy dream. I would exchange serves on that sacred
grass with any of them.
By tradition, the Wimbledon grass is played the final Sunday
before the tournament by four little old ladies, club members,
selected to run it down for the tournament players and report
on its patches.
Would they let a few Yanks on the court the same way? They would
not. But I could dream, couldnt I?
There is a tournament played a week before Wimbledon begins at
the Queens club in London. It is played on the same soft grass
as Wimbledon and it serves as a warm-up for the contestants who
seek the most exalted prize in the game.
An American friend lives and works in London. He is a member
of the Queens club. He invited us out for a tennis day a few
days before the start of the Wimbledon tournament in the early
I bought new sneakers, new shorts and a Queens club T-shirt and
marched on to the court. My heart was in my throat. It wasnt
Wimbledon but it was close as any civilian could get. Bang, bang,
bang went the tennis balls.
Then four guys walked up to our court and chased us off. They
were Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander.
They were going to work out there before the championships began.
McEnroe, whom I had gotten to know and admire by now, agreed
to step on the grass early. He hit me a few balls. Just for fun.
Just so I could tell my grandchildren.
The other three were ready to hit now and I disappeared into
the London twilight. I peeked at them as they made the tennis
I glowed as I walked into the locker room with my London-based
friend. I had exchanged a couple of hits on grass with John McEnroe.
He went on to win Wimbledon that year. I thought I had something
to do with it.
My Wimbledon wish wasnt completely fulfilled. I came as
close as I could ever imagine. Dont dare ever tell me dreams
dont come true.
©2006 by Maury Allen. The Maury Allen
caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. The illustration is our
artist's rendition of a famous sports photo. This column first
posted June 26, 2006.
can comment on this column online. Please address your message
to either "The Editors" or Maury Allen. To send an
email, click here and don't forget to mention Maury's name: email@example.com