The American, with match point in favor, decided to withdraw from the semifinal of the Masters in 1972 due to an injury that would have prevented him from playing in the final.
The history of tennis is filled with hundreds of epic victories, titles that went around the world, and champions that made all the front pages. Successes have the time it takes for the next success to arrive. However, there are times when things much more important than winning a match happen on the court, events that mark a before and after in the sports pages. It happened at the 1972 Masters, in the semi-final match between Stan Smith and Tom Gorman. A gesture of nobility and honesty that ATP has wanted to rescue as a tribute to 50 years of ATP Finals.
Barcelona, Palau Blaugrana, at that time there was no better place to celebrate the third edition of a master that had started in 1970. After Tokyo and Paris, the last stop of the course came this time to the Mediterranean, with a style of a completely different life. There appeared, among others, Tom Gorman, a 26-year-old American who had to multiply in the last months of the year collecting points to access the group of the eight best. He finally got it and his name was on the same list as the Orantes, Nastase, Smith, or Connors. With nothing to lose, the one from Seattle focused on proving his worth after a year where he had signed 46 victories.
He got through the group stage with wins over Hewitt and Orantes, two wins that made up for the loss to Nastase. A balance of 2-1 put him in the semifinals against one of his best teammates on tour, Stan Smith. “I've known Stan since we were 16 or 17 years old when he came to the Pacific Northwest to play the junior tennis circuit. That was the beginning, where I began to lose against him many, many times, ”says the American in the report. And it is that Gorman entered that commitment with an H2H of 1-9 against, but that day everything would be different.
Nastase and Connors played the first semifinal at 10:00 p.m., which was resolved with a comfortable three-set victory for the Romanian, which caused the duel between Gorman and Smith to start after midnight. "It was a very good match, perhaps the best of my career, at the level of the one I beat Borg to conquer Stockholm or the one I beat Laver the year before at Wimbledon", confesses our protagonist, who two years later would come to be top10. The truth is that he played like never before and that is why the result came to be 7-6, 6-7, 7-5, and 5-4 in his favor. One more game and I'd be in the final, but then the unimaginable happened.
Midway through the fourth set, Gorman began to notice that his back wasn't right. He already had some discomfort in that area, but he detected that this problem was beginning to get worse. Suddenly, his level of play began to drop, so much so that he even gave up that fourth round. What Tom did not expect is that the level of his rival would also begin to drop, so the scoreboard invited him to position himself with that 5-4 and 30-30. The next point was resolved with a volley from Stan Smith to the outside to which Gorman responded with a spectacular backhand that bounced all the way down the line. It is a match point, a point for the Seattle man to advance to the most important final of his career.
That point, however, was never disputed. “I hit that backhand as hard as I could…and he went in. The next thing I did was walk directly towards the chair umpire, I knew perfectly well what I was going to do”, says the man who decided to withdraw from the match at that very moment, since if he had made it to the grand final, his back injury would have prevented from jumping onto the field. “At that time, I thought that the fairest thing was for there to be an end, the season could not end like this. I remember it was almost 03:00 in the morning, and most of the fans were still there, who started whistling because they didn't know what was going on. Even Stan himself was a bit stunned,” adds Gorman, who also did not play the third-fourth place match. “That morning, when I got back to the hotel, I thought that Stan would reach the final with fewer hours of rest and that Nastase would have a big advantage, so I went to wake him up. I told him that he had won.”
That was Tom's last story that season, a player who chose to lose the best game of his career. The next day, Ilie Nastase would beat Stan Smith in five sets, revalidating his master's title, but that was no longer up to him. His victory was in demonstrating honesty and sportsmanship such as has never been seen again. “In those days there was more sympathy between the players. Whenever there was a double pot, for example, the player admitted it without a problem. In those days we didn't have work crews or entourage behind us, so we traveled alone, stayed we went to the same hotels, we had dinner together, so there was a real feeling of camaraderie”, highlights a man who finished his career making semifinals at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open.
An example to imitate
As a curiosity, the following year the master's was held in Boston and, although it seems like a movie, history repeated itself again. John Newcombe led his semi-final match against Tom Okker 6-3, 5-7, 5-3. One game separated him from playing in a Masters final for the first time, but a leg injury led to the same situation as Gorman a year ago. He decided to retire at that point and let the Dutchman compete with dignity in the title match. The next day, Nastase would again lift the title after defeating Okker, apparently, there were factors that never changed. The moral of all this is that success is not always linked to the dream photograph: lifting the trophy. Many times, a loss can serve to make even more noise than a victory. It may be an opportunity to remain forever in the history of the sport.
Hanson, S. 2022. (Tom Gorman, Seattle’s greatest tennis player 2022). Catching up with Tom Gorman, Seattle’s greatest tennis player who beat Bjorn Borg and coached John McEnroe.