A Tom Gorman-Dick Knight tennis match was always something to see. By a wide margin, they were the Northwest's two most gifted players around the net. They were a local Connors and McEnroe without the theatrics. On May 11, 1968, the seats filled up quickly at the Seattle Tennis Club in anticipation of their last collegiate match together.
Among the 1,500 people in attendance were 75-100 enthusiastic Seattle University students who came out to show support for Gorman. And in the middle of this group, seated up high in the stands, was the very vocal Steve Conklin, a Chieftains baseball player and Gorman high school classmate from Seattle Prep.
"The rooting section was considerably louder than what the members were used to at the Seattle Tennis Club," Gorman said, laughing at the memory. "It was a soccer-type crowd. And Steve Conklin was the lead cheerleader."
Gorman didn't disappoint Conklin or any of his other followers that day. The senior dispatched Knight, a University of Washington sophomore, 9-7, 6-4, while collecting his 43rd consecutive dual-match victory.
With Seattle U returning to full Division I championship eligibility for the first time in 33 years -- when the Redhawks host Washington in a women's soccer match at Championship Field on Aug. 17 -- this is the seventh in a series of 33 stories replaying memorable SU events previously held at the NCAA's top level (1952-80).
Gorman and Knight had played once before that spring in a college match that took three days to complete. On April 4, 1968, Knight won the first set 6-3 before play was halted by rain at the Chieftains' home court, the Evergreen Tennis Center near SeaTac. Two days later, they finished up at the UW tennis courts, with Gorman bouncing back and winning the next two sets 6-4, 6-4.
The closeness of that rain-interrupted encounter helped set up the crowded and noisy matchup at the Seattle Tennis Club, where both of these players held junior memberships and spent a lot of time working on their games. Their second match got a lot of local press, spurring more spectator interest than usual.
"It was as much of a heavyweight fight as you could get in college tennis in Seattle," Gorman said. "But at the time I was supposed to beat him. It would have been more sensational had he beat me, because he was a sophomore."
Still, counting all matches, scholastic or not, Gorman held just a 5-3 advantage over Knight entering this showdown. They knew each other well. They were friends and their parents were friends. They practiced together. They even traveled together to play national matches.
Their style of play, however, showed marked a difference: Gorman, who would enjoy a 12-year pro career that would take him to Wimbledon and make him America's longest-running Davis Cup captain, liked to force the action more.
"Dick was a baseliner; I was a serve and volley guy," Gorman said. "There were probably a lot of people who said there probably wasn't a baseline I ever liked. I was more aggressive, but Dick was a very solid player."
Gorman, without question, had the louder cheering section, too.
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