Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
COME BACK FOR LIVE SCORES & LIVE BLOG FROM 26 JUNE
There were several august names in the draw for the tournament at the West Hants Tennis Club in Bournemouth which began on 22 April 1968 and constituted the beginning of the Open era.
Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Pancho Gonzalez, Roy Emerson, Fred Stolle and Andres Gimeno were all seeded as they returned to the formal ranks from the professional wilderness. And there was one other name among the 32 male entrants who went on to achieve greatness, but not in tennis.
On line 26 of the draw is a legend in the couple of dozen countries where rugby is played. Because the draw was written with just initials and surnames, he appears as ‘J.P.R. Williams’, which is appropriate because he went on to be known by his initials as one of the greatest exponents of rugby, and arguably the greatest-ever to play in the position of full-back.
Williams was one of the world’s top tennis juniors in the mid-1960s. In 1966 he won the British national junior championship which was played on Wimbledon’s clay courts (it was often called ‘Junior Wimbledon’ but mustn’t be mistaken for the boys singles in the Championships). He then went on to beat Dick Stockton and Sandy Mayer en route to winning the Canadian Centennial title in 1967, which in those less official days was viewed as the unofficial world junior championship.
That prompted him to fill in the form – players had to fill in a form in those days – to enter the qualifying tournament for Bournemouth. He made it through, and drew Australia’s Bob Howe in the first round, but the wily Australian weathered the early storm and cruised to a 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 victory.
"I was a bit upset because he was more known as a doubles player and I thought I might beat him," the then 19-year-old says today. "But it was quite an honour to be involved, and in retrospect it was the height of my tennis career. Having lost, I then drove back to Bridgend to play rugby that night against Newport.
"You wouldn’t do that today, but at least we won, so I won one match that day. I earned £20 for getting through qualifying, but everyone in Bridgend expected me to buy them a drink, so I ended up out of pocket!"
Having lost, I then drove back to Bridgend to play rugby against Newport that night
Like many talented youngsters, Williams excelled at two sports. Born in 1949 and raised in the rugby hotbed of south Wales, tennis was almost a bit of an embarrassment. But as both tennis and rugby union were amateur, the idea of making a career in either was far-fetched, and he had his eye on becoming a doctor.
When one of his two sports turned professional, he briefly thought about ditching the medical career to become a tennis professional, but ironically it was tennis going open that turned him off tennis. "My father didn’t like professional sport," Williams says, "so open tennis made my decision easier. I decided to go to university to study medicine and concentrate on rugby in my spare time.
"All of us in the Wales team had offers to turn professional in rugby [the ‘rugby league’ variant was then professional, albeit it was a game with slightly different rules and 13-man teams], but there was tremendous ill-feeling towards the few who had taken up such offers – they were often ostracised, and I don’t think my father would have talked to me if I’d turned professional. So the idea of going pro in tennis wasn’t one I took seriously, and rugby was so much bigger than tennis where I lived."
John Williams, as he was then known (he later became ‘JPR Williams’ when another John Williams, ‘JJ Williams’, became a regular in the Welsh rugby team), never played at Wimbledon. He had a couple of summers trawling around the then British tennis circuit, tournaments like Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton in the west, and Frinton and Felixtowe in the east. But soon he abandoned tennis to become one of the great names of rugby union and a highly respected orthopaedic surgeon, although he continued playing tennis at county level for South Wales. These days his main participation sport is squash, but he follows the tennis circuit avidly.
In 2016 many of the players who featured in the Bournemouth tournament attended a reunion in London. They included John Paish and David Lloyd, and also John Barrett who had a squad called ‘the Barrett Boys’ with whom Williams was invited to train.
So does he regret not turning professional? "If I had to make the decision now, I might have opted for tennis," he says, "but I was convinced about the decision I made then. I was a good all-round player, but I didn’t have a big serve, so I’d have made a living as a tour player but wouldn’t have won any of the big tournaments."
"I’m still glad I qualified as a doctor."