On this day: John Newcombe dethrones Jimmy Connors in Melbourne


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On this day: John Newcombe dethrones Jimmy Connors in Melbourne

Back in 1974, Jimmy Connors was the player to beat on the ATP Tour after claiming 15 titles and winning 93 out of 97 matches. Jimmy finished the season as the year-end no. 1 ahead of the closest rival John Newcombe who lifted nine trophies that year.

Things were wild and chaotic 45 years ago in comparison to organized and unified men's Tour we have today, with Jimmy and John failing to meet each other in that 1974 season due to various reasons, waiting for the first clash since the US Open 1973 and starting a verbal war that was about to end at the Australian Open 1975.

The Kooyong Stadium in Melbourne 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, embracing one of the most anticipated encounters in a previous couple of seasons.

The Aussie went on to score a hard-fought 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 triumph for his seventh and final Grand Slam crown, proving his class against the rival who claimed all three Majors on grass in 1974. Actually, Newcombe had planned to stay away from the Australian Open, deciding to enter only after finding out Jimmy would be there as well (the American never returned to this event again), working on his fitness and hitting the practice court after staying away from the action in the past month.

John was forced to dig deep already in the second round in a five-setter victory over the German Rolf Gehring, followed by another hard obstacle in the quarters when he came from two sets to one down against Geoff Masters and prevailed 10-8 in the decider to enter the last four.

Like that wasn't enough, Newcome's doubles partner Tony Roche had a 5-2 lead in the fifth set in the semi-final clash, with John fending off four match points for an incredible turnaround and an 11-9 win in the final set.

Masseur Stan Nicoles gave his best to recover John after demanding challenges in the previous rounds and the Aussie ready for one last push against Jimmy Connors on the first day of the new year, staying focused in the closing stages of the fourth set to cross the finish line with almost nothing left in the tank.

One of the notable moments of the big clash was 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 a break and gifting that point to the Aussie after some questionable calls and the pressure from the crowd.

Connors served at 70% and delivered better numbers on the second serve, winning only a couple of points fewer than his rival after getting broken four times from eight chances offered to Newcombe. John had to play against ten break opportunities, giving serve away three times and doing enough to seal the deal in four sets and claim his last Major title and what would be his final ATP crown as well.

With the more powerful serve in his arsenal, John fired more than 40 service winners and had the upper hand in the quickest rallies, staying in touch with Jimmy in the mid-range exchanges to cross the finish line first. Connors grabbed six out of nine most extended exchanges but that was far from enough to give him a more favorable result at the end of the day.

The American saved a break chance in the opening game with a service winner, hitting two more direct points for a vital hold and battling on equal terms with his rival until 5-5. There, Jimmy wasted a game point in the 11th game to suffer a break after a forced error at the net, allowing Newcombe to find his best returns when he needed them the most and to seal the set with another excellent hold in game 12, dropping ten 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 opportunity in the next game to forge a 3-0 advantage. Jimmy 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 thanks to a return winner, only to give serve away while serving for the set at 5-3. Instead of building the momentum around that, Connors got broken once again a few minutes later, falling 6-4 behind when Newcombe landed a return winner that moved him a set away from the victory.

After seven comfortable holds in the fourth set, it was John who made a move again, docking a return winner to forge a 5-3 lead and serving for the second Australian Open crown. Ready to fight until the very end, Jimmy saved a match point and converted the fourth break chance in that ninth game thanks to a backhand crosscourt winner, reducing the deficit and sending the set into a tie break after three good holds on both sides.

There, Connors climbed back from being 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 after spraying a forehand error.