With most of a glorious career behind him, it was extremely satisfying for the rugged, self-effacing Anthony Dalton Roche to make his biggest hit for Australia at 31 as a Davis Cup retread in 1977. In 1965 and 1967, alongside John Newcombe, he’d won the Cup-clinching doubles, both years against Spain. Ten years later he was recalled for singles duty before his friends and neighbors in Sydney, and came through.
In a stunning opening-day victory, he turned back Adriano Panatta (6-3, 6-4, 6-4), who had led Italy to the 1976 Cup. That set the tone for a 3-1 Australian victory. His yoking with Newcombe (Roche in the left court) was one of the all-time teams. They won Wimbledon five times (1965, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1974), the best showing of any 20th-century male pair until Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde and won a sixth in 1997. Roche, with his wicked left-handed serve and magnificent volleying, took 13 major doubles, 12 with Newcombe, setting a team record.
But Tony, broad-shouldered and barrel-chested, had the groundstrokes to succeed on clay, winning the difficult Continental double in 1966, the Italian and French singles. Paradoxically he lost three major finals on his best surface, grass, and to older countrymen whom he’d idolized: Wimbledon, 1968, and the U.S., 1969, to Rod Laver; U.S., 1970, to Ken Rosewall.
Shoulder and elbow trouble curtailed a career that spanned the amateur and open eras, but he was in the World Top Ten in both, six straight years from 1965, No. 2 in 1969, and won 12 pro titles in singles, 27 in doubles. In 1968 he turned pro, signing with World Championship Tennis as one of the so-called ‘Handsome Eight’ along with other rookies Newcombe, Cliff Drysdale, Nikki Pilic and Roger Taylor. His prize money amounted to $529,199.
He was a player-coach for Phoenix and Boston in World Team Tennis, and has tutored several pros including Ivan Lendl, Patrick Rafter and most recently Roger Federer. Roche was a country boy, born in the New South Wales hamlet of Tarcutta on May 17, 1945, a son of the local butcher. He entered the Hall of Fame, along with Newcombe, appropriately, in 1986.
MAJOR TITLES (16) – French singles, 1966, Australian doubles,1965, 1967, 1971, 1976, 1977; French doubles, 1967, 1969; Wimbledon doubles, 1965, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1974; US. doubles, 1967 Australian mixed 1966; Wimbledon mixed, 1976 DAVIS CUP – 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978; record 7-3 in singles, 7-2 in doubles. SINGLES RECORD IN THE MAJORS – Australian (33-13), French (23-5), Wimbledon (32-13), US.(25-8).
- Bio Courtesy Bud Collins