When good mates John Newcombe and Tony Roche, a potent Australian pair, won the Wimbledon doubles of 1965, it was the start not only of an extraordinary string of major titles for Newcombe but also for the two of them as a unit. Two years earlier, Newcombe, at 19, attracted international attention as one of the youngest Aussies ever to play Davis Cup. He was selected for the finale to play singles against the U.S. Though beaten by both Dennis Ralston and Chuck McKinley during a 3-2 U.S. victory Newcombe served notice that he was a player to reckon with when he pushed Wimbledon champion McKinley to four hard sets in the decisive fifth match.
Newcombe and the left-handed Roche, one of the great doubles teams in history, won five Wimbledons together (1965, '68, '69, '70, '74) a modern record until countrymen Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde edged ahead of them with six. (The English Doherty brothers won eight between 1897 and 1905, and the English Renshaw brothers won seven between 1880 and 1889.) Newcombe and Roche also won the U.S. in 1967, the French in 1967, '69, and the Australian in 1965, '67, '71, '76.
It was in singles, though, that Newcombe made his name. He and Rod Laver are the only players to win the men's singles at Forest Hills and Wimbledon as amateurs and pros. Newcombe, the last amateur champion at Wimbledon beat Willy Bungert in 1967 and repeated in 1970 over Ken Rosewall, and 1971 over Stan Smith. In all Newcombe, a 6-foot, 170-pound right-hander, won 25 major titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles to stand second behind Roy Emerson (28) in the list of all-time male championships.
John David Newcombe was born May 23, 1944, in Sydney, and was more interested in other sports as a youngster. Not until he was 17 did a career in tennis appeal to him. But he was powerful, athletic and extremely competitive, and Australian Davis Cup Capt. Harry Hopman was glad when Newcombe turned his full attention to tennis. Newcombe helped Hopman win four Cups, 1964-67. He then returned to Cup play in 1973 for Capt. Neale Fraser when all pros were reinstated, joining perhaps the strongest team ever, alongside Laver, Ken Rosewall and Mal Anderson. In the finale that year Newcombe and Laver were overpowering. Both beat Stan Smith and Tom Gorman in singles, and teamed in crushing Smith and Erik van Dillen, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, in the doubles during a 5-0 Australian victory that ended five-year possession of the Cup by the U.S. Newk's lead off taming of Smith, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, set the tone, and he and Laver took it out of reach. Newcombe also played in the World Cup in 1970, the inaugural of the since disbanded team match between the Aussies and the U.S., and helped win five of those Cups for his country.
Newcombe's serve, forehand and volleying were the backbone of his attacking game, which was at its best on grass. His heavy serve was possibly the best of his era. Grass was the setting for his foremost singles wins, the three Wimbledons plus two U.S. Championships at Forest Hills in 1967 and 1973, a tight victory over Jan Kodes. "You're only as good as your second serve and first volley," was the motto of this intelligent, fun-loving Aussie, and he lived up to it. Newcombe regretted missing successive Wimbledons of 1972 and 1973 when he felt he might have added to his string. In 1972 he was a member of the World Championship Tennis pro troupe that was banned because of the quarrels between its leader, Lamar Hunt, and the ITF. In 1973, Newcombe was a member of the players union, ATP, which unselfishly boycotted Wimbledon in another dispute with the ITF. The following year he stretched his Wimbledon match win streak to 18 before losing to Rosewall in the quarter-finals. That year Newcombe won the World Championship Tennis singles over an adolescent Bjorn Borg.
Newcombe felt, "I'm at my best in a five-set match, especially if I get behind. My adrenaline starts pumping." This was evident in two of his outstanding triumphs, both over Stan Smith, a strong rival for world supremacy in the early 1970s, in the 1971 Wimbledon final and the 1973 Davis Cup finale, rating the latter as his finest performance. In 1967, he was the No. 1 amateur in the world and, in 1970 and 1971, No. 1 of all. He was one of the first to sign a contract to play World Team Tennis (with Houston) in 1974, his presence helping give the new league credibility, although he played just that one season.
His best pro season was 1971, when he won five of 19 singles tourneys on a 53-14 match record. He totaled 73 pro titles, 32 in singles, 41 in doubles, and won $1,062,408. Overall, amateur and pro, he won 66 singles titles. Newcombe was named to the Hall of Fame, along with Roche, in 1986. He is married to former German player Angelika Pfannenburg and was appointed Australian Davis Cup captain in 1995, winning the 2000 Cup over Spain.
John was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1986.