Memories of a famous victory
This blurred but historic photo arrived in Wellington tennis legend Onny Parun’s email inbox the other day and brought back memories of one of the great – if unheralded – days in New Zealand sport.
It was taken just before the 1974 French Open tennis doubles final, in which the scratch pairing of Parun and Australian Dick Crealy upset tournament favourites Stan Smith and Bob Lutz of the United States.
Parun’s triumph was the only time since World War I that a New Zealander has won a Grand Slam tennis title, and was one of the high points in a long career of considerable achievement.
‘‘I have no memory of that photo being taken,’’ Parun said.
‘‘It was obviously taken by an official photographer, because we wouldn’t have gathered at the net before the match if it was just a spectator wanting a picture.’’
The photo was sent to Parun by his friend Vittorio Salmi, a longtime ATP official.
Unlike today, in 1974 the leading players entered the doubles as well, so in Paris that year, such players as Ilie Nastase, Arthur Ashe, Guillermo Vilas, Bjorn Borg, Jan Kodes, Manuel Orantes and, of course, Smith were in the field.
‘‘ I hadn’t played much with Dick, but he was a good bloke, and I got on well with the Aussies, so we decided to give it a go. He was an odd sort of player in that sometimes, for no particular reason, he would stay back and start playing from the baseline. I couldn’t quite figure it out, but luckily, neither could our opponents.’’
Parun and Crealy nearly didn’t survive the first round, beating Italians Giordano Maioli and Sergio Tacchini 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 (only the final was best of five sets).
They then breezed past Mexicans Luis Baraldi and Jose Reyes 6-1, 6-4 and knocked out highly rated Zeljko Franulevic (Yugoslavia) and Ismail el Shafei (Egypt) 6-3, 3-6, 8-6.
In the quarterfinals they eliminated second seeds Juan Gisbert ( Spain) and Nastase (Romania) 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Hitting their best form, they were too good for sixth seeds Borg ( Sweden) and Alex Metreveli (Soviet Union) in the semis, winning 7-5, 6-0.
Against the brilliant American team they were heavy underdogs, but began sensationally, taking the first two sets 6-3, 6-2. Smith and Lutz fought back to take the next two 6-3, 7-5, but Parun and Crealy breezed through the final set 6-1.
‘‘They were confident before the match because we were only a scratch pair,’’ Parun said.
‘‘But we led them two sets to one and 4-1 in the fourth, with a double service break.
‘‘I couldn’t believe we lost the fourth set, but it turned out OK.
‘‘We were aware Bob [Lutz] was suffering from a bit of a knee injury and he got worse as the match progressed. Stan [ Smith] was outstanding, as usual.’’
Parun said it took a long while for the significance of the match to sink in.
‘‘I look back now and I’m very proud to have won a Grand Slam doubles, especially on clay, which was never my best surface.
‘‘ At the time, I didn’t really dwell on the result.’’
The winning team split 30,000 in French francs – about US$8000.
‘‘We finished really late, and had to rush to the airport to get to Nottingham for a tournament the next day.
‘‘I don’t think we even changed and we dashed out, clutching our prize money in cash.’’