It was a classic David-versus-Goliath scenario when Mark Edmondson played John Newcombe in the Australian Open 1976 final at Kooyong.
Not in a physical sense – the 21-year-old Edmondson was a strapping player, almost six-foot-two, with a powerful game anchored by a huge serve. Describing his style in Game, Set and Glory – A History of the Australian Tennis Championships, author Bruce Matthews wrote: “For the entire tournament, Edmondson had displayed an almost reckless approach to matches, hitting everything as hard as possible.”
But in a tennis sense, Edmondson had almost no pedigree when compared with Newcombe, a former world No.1 and the defending champion who was targeting an eighth Grand Slam singles title.
The match, which Edmondson won in what remains one of the greatest upsets in Grand Slam history, is among the many you can watch in full on the Australian Open YouTube channel, which now has almost 1.5 million subscribers.
A year earlier, Newcombe overcame world No.1 Jimmy Connors in an iconic battle between the world’s top two ranked players – the first AO final ever broadcast on international TV.
Twelve months on, the match-up could not have been more different for Newcombe, who found himself facing the world No.212 “who was working as a hospital cleaner to fund his dream”.
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Edmondson was so unassuming that the New York Times reported he “took the tram home, just like all the fans leaving the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club” after beating Ken Rosewall in the semifinals.
Rosewall was world No.2 at the time, a staggering victory considering Edmondson had barely made the cut for the 64-player draw and trailed two-sets-to-one in his first-round match.
He had previously played just two Grand Slam main draws – exiting in the second round of both the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 1975 – and had never before appeared in a singles final.
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(since ATP rankings introduced 1973)
“After the semifinal they asked Newcombe about me and he says, ‘He beat Ken today, but he doesn’t realise he’s got to play John Newcombe tomorrow’,” Edmondson recalled in an interview with CNN.
“I thought, ‘That’s a bit bloody rude.’ He was trying to put a little doubt in my mind.
“I knew I was serving as good as I could serve – so if I can win my serve and we get to a tiebreaker, then who knows what happens?”
When Edmondson lined up against Newcombe, there was a 10-year age gap between the finalists. Edmondson played with a metal racquet while the defending champ wielded a trusty wooden frame.
Newcombe held an 11-match winning streak at the tournament, one he looked set to extend when he took the opening set.
But behind that strong serve – Edmondson was not broken for the entire match – the underdog worked his way into the contest.