By Cliff Richey
Many times over the last few years I have heard many pro tennis players say, “It doesn’t get any better than playing a big match at the US Open in Arthur Ashe Stadium.”
That is, unless, of course, you actually played Arthur Ashe at the US Open!
I was one of the fortunate few to have had that privilege as I did 40 years ago in the semifinals of the 1972 US Open. It was a match I truly thought I could win. I was high on confidence having beaten my idol, Rod Laver, in the fourth round. I played well but Arthur beat me 6-1, 6-4, 7-6. I had set point in the tie-breaker but Arthur hit a good forehand volley to win it. NFL Films did a great job that year documenting the US Open and some highlights of our match can be seen on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_eYQK4jhh0
The US Open final the next day against Ilie Nastase was one match I know Arthur thought he would win. However, Ilie pulled out a lot of his “Nasty”ness and with all his great talent scored the upset to win. I actually stayed over and watched that match and that day Nastase’s magic got to Art’s power.
“Art,” as we called him, was my friend, teammate, roommate and fellow competitor for 15 years. We also teamed up as doubles partners occasionally. Heck, we are the doubles champions at the 1965 Tasmanian Championships! I have many fond memories of my time with Art spent on tour.
I played Arthur for the first time at Wimbledon in 1964 in the second round. I won the first two sets 6-4, 6-4, but then he beat me in five sets! In 1965, we roomed together on the six-tournament Australian tour. I was 18 and Art was 22. None of the other guys as part of our U.S. Tennis Association-sponsored trip wanted to room with me so, being the nice guy Art was, he agreed to be my roommate. After a few days, the mild-mannered Ashe let me know that I was using up all the hotel room towels! Of course, back then I really wasn’t house broken, but Art was a gentleman about it as he was with just about everything.
Art had almost a perfect Aussie tour that year. He won all but one of the events – finishing off with the Australian Championships. But Art was pretty superstitious. Before one of the finals he played, he left all of his rackets at the hotel. He just forgot to bring them. He borrowed fellow American Marty Riessen’s rackets and won the final! So for all the other finals he played, he borrowed Marty’s rackets! He wasn’t going to change a winning hand!
Of all the matches I played against Art, my two biggest wins came in 1970. I beat him on fast carpet in the final of the tournament in Macon, Georgia. I also beat him on clay in the final in Washington, DC. Those wins helped a bunch in my achieving the No. 1 U.S. ranking that year.
Winning the Davis Cup in 1970 with Art was very special. We were the singles players and Stan Smith and Bob Lutz were our doubles team. We beat West Germany 5-0. It was a huge thrill. I tell people all the time—‘Yep Arthur and I won the Davis Cup for the United States together.’ That is pretty cool!
Arthur was an amazing player. When you win three of the four majors, you are truly great. His 1975 Wimbledon win at age 32 was the capper of a very long career. He had a brutal serve. He tossed the ball in the same spot and could hit it three different ways. He had a great backhand. Just a power game. His forehand and forehand volley were a bit wonky but good enough.
Art was a class person. Coming up in his era, he faced the racial bigotry. I don’t think anyone could have handled it better than he did. So all you fans enjoy the tennis at Arthur Ashe Stadium this year and remember that Arthur Ashe was a true champion and a great American!
Cliff Richey is a two-time US Open semifinalist (1970, 1972), a French Open semifinalist (1970) and a member of two winning U.S. Davis Cup teams (1969, 1970). The No. 1 ranked players in the U.S. and the world Grand Prix points champion in 1970, Richey is the author of the book “Acing Depression: A Tennis Champion’s Toughest Match” – an harrowing and inspiring book of his recovery from depression, available here on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Acing-Depression-Tennis-Champions-Toughest/dp/0942257669/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1346508017&sr=8-1&keywords=Cliff+Richey+Acing+depression Richey will sign copies of his “Acing Depression” book Monday, Sept. 3 at 2 pm at the US Open bookstore.