The crowd was filing through the colonnades of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club when a ticket scalper spotted a possible customer heading for the main gate. Behind his dark sunglasses, the squat little man looked like a London clerk who had slipped away from the office to watch the finals of the 1954 Wimbledon tennis championships.
"Center court seat, sir?" whispered the scalper.
The little man smiled. "No, thank you," he said. "I shall have to stand during the match."
The man in dark glasses was Jaroslav Drobny, the Czech exile who had already spent the better part of ten Wimbledon tournaments on his feet, but had never walked off the green center court with the trophy that he, and all tennis amateurs, aspire to: the Wimbledon Challenge Cup.
Political Kibitzers. Last week Drobny made his last all-out try for the trophy. An old man by tennis standards (32), he was seeded No. 11. But he was playing the best tennis of his life. In the quarterfinals he polished off Australia's hardhitting Davis Cupman Lew Hoad; in the semi-finals his booming service disposed of American Budge Patty (who had already knocked out Defending Champion Vic Seixas). In the finals, he found himself up against Ken Rosewall, a crafty, speedy and young (19) Australian, fresh from a five-set victory over top-seeded Tony Trabert of the U.S.
Unabashedly, the crowddistinguished by such personages as Sweden's King Gustave, the Duchess of Kentmade "Old Drob" its sentimental favorite. The son of the grounds keeper and the checkroom attendant at Prague's old Ice Hockey and Lawn Tennis Club, he had worked his way into the fashionable world of topflight tennis through the back door, as a ballboy.
He played in his first Wimbledon tournament 16 years ago, when Ken Rosewall was only three. In postwar Czechoslova kia, Drobny was a national sport hero.
But when the Communists took over in Prague and began to lob dialectics onto the tennis courts, Drobny refused to play along.
In 1949, while playing a tournament in Switzerland, Drobny and his doubles part ner. Vladimir Czernik. refused to go home when the Czech government told them to bow out because a German and a Spaniard had entered. Life as a stateless tennis amateur was not easy. Drobny moved to Australia, then the U.S., always broke between matches. When a wealthy Egyptian tennis fan offered him a job and a chance to play all the tennis he wanted, Drobny became an Egyptian citizen, ultimately developed his own profitable export business.
Relaxed & Careful. A canny old campaigner, Drobny took his time warming up in the Wimbledon final. He chased only the shots he was sure he could get and he surprised the crowd by pounding steadily to Rosewall's backhand, probably the best in amateur tennis. The first set went to 13-11 before Drobny ran it out.
After that 24-game marathon. Old Drob looked tired. But he stuck to his relaxed and careful plan. Rosewall won the next set, 6-4. but Drobny made it hard, hot work for the youngster. In the third set, Old Drob changed tactics, and built himself a veritable wall at the net. Rosewall could rarely pass him; when he tried to lob over him. Drobny's overhead shots spattered all over Rosewall's end of the court. Drobny won that set 6-2.