January 1, 1975: John Newcombe downs Jimmy Connors in the AO final


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January 1, 1975: John Newcombe downs Jimmy Connors in the AO final

Back in 1974, Jimmy Connors was the best player in the world after winning 15 ATP titles and 93 out of 97 matches, leaving the rest of the field behind him and finishing as the year-end no. 1 ahead of the Aussie John Newcombe who claimed nine trophies that season.

Those were the much different times compared to the organized and unified Tour we have today and despite winning 24 titles combined, Jimmy and John had no chance to meet for the entire year, waiting for the first clash since the US Open 1973 and starting a verbal war that could have been ended at the Australian Open 1975.

The Kooyong Stadium in Melbourne had gathered some of the best players in the world just before the new year and Connors and Newcombe were the top seeds, passing all the obstacles to set the blockbuster final match on January 1, ready to fight each other in one of the most anticipated encounters in the last couple of years.

The Aussie went on to score a hard-fought 7-5 3-6 6-4 7-6 win for his seventh and the last Grand Slam crown, proving his greatness once again against the rival who claimed all three Majors on grass in the previous year. Actually, Newcombe had planned to stay away from the Australian Open but he decided to enter only after finding out Jimmy will be there as well (the American never played the Australian Open again), working on his fitness and hitting the practice court again after staying away from the action in the past month.

John was forced to dig deep already in the second round when he defeated the German Rolf Gehring in five sets, followed by another hard obstacle in the quarters, coming from two sets to one down against Geoff Masters to prevail 10-8 in the fifth and enter the last four.

Like that wasn't enough, his doubles partner Tony Roche had a 5-2 lead against him in the fifth set of the semi-final match, with Newcombe saving four match points to set the final clash against Connors thanks to a thrilling 11-9 win in the decider.

Masseur Stan Nicoles had given his best to recover John after demanding encounters and he was ready for one last push against Connors on the first day of the new year, staying focused in the closing stages of the fourth set when he saved two set points in the tie break and cross the finish line with almost nothing left in the tank physically.

The match will be remembered for a deliberate double fault that Connors made while leading 40-30 in the sixth game of the third set, losing four points in a row to suffer the break, gifting that point to the Aussie after some questionable calls and the pressure from the crowd.

Connors served at 70% and he played better on the second serve, winning just a few points less than his rival after playing better on the second serve, losing serve four times from eight chances he gave to Newcombe. John had to play against 10 break points and he suffered three breaks, doing enough to seal the deal in four sets and claim his last Major title and also his last ATP crown.

Possessing the more powerful serve, hitting more than 40 service winners and having the upper hand in the shortest points, also staying in touch with Jimmy in the mid-range rallies. Connors grabbed six out of nine longest points but that was far from enough to give him a more positive result at the end of the day.

The American saved a break point in the opening game of the match with a service winner, hitting two more direct points for an important hold and battling on the equal terms with his rival until 5-5. Then, Jimmy wasted a game point in the 11th game and he suffered a break after a forced error at the net, with Newcombe finding his best returns when he needed them the most to move ahead and secure the set with another good hold for a 7-5, dropping 10 points in six service games and never facing a break point.

Connors made the better start in set number two, breaking Newcombe in the second game after a double fault from the Aussie and fending off a break point in the following game to forge a 3-0 lead. He served well in the rest of the set, bringing it home with a service winner at 5-3 to level the overall score and improve his chances of the title defense.

John bounced back in set number three, breaking Jimmy in that controversial sixth game following a return winner but getting broken while serving for the set at 5-3. Instead of building the momentum around that, Connors gave his serve in the 10th game again, falling 6-4 behind after a return winner from Newcombe who was now a set away from the title.

After seven good holds in the fourth set it was John who made the move again, landing a return winner to forge a 5-3 lead and serving for the title a few minutes later. Jimmy saved a match point and he converted the fourth break chance in that ninth game thanks to a backhand cross court winner, reducing the deficit and sending the set into a tie break after three good holds on both sides.

There, Connors climbed back from 4-1 down, earning two set points at 5-5 and 6-6 with winners but failing to bring the set home, losing the last three points of the match and handing the title to his biggest rival at that time when his forehand landed long in the 16th point.