There they are again—Jimmy and Patti embracing near the stands, and baby Brett, asleep back in the hotel room, makes three. And the U.S. Open makes four. One man's family. Aren't they fantastic? She, the former Patti McGuire, Playmate of the Century, or something; he, James Scott Connors, the former pain in the sport's butt. Ain't it funny how time slips away?
Well, time stood still this summer. Just when tennis seemed about to be taken over by John McEnroe, Connors beat him at Wimbledon. And last Sunday at Flushing Meadow, just when the game was ripe to be ravaged by that one-man forehand horde from Czechoslovakia, Ivan Lendl, Connors beat him to win his fourth U.S. Open. The only other year Connors has won both Wimbledon and the Open is 1974. Eight years—a long time between dinks. Connors turned 30 on the third day of this year's Open. The big 3-oh. Now everybody else is dour or sour or sick or injured or misunderstood or some kind of ornery critter or rebel, and Connors is the good guy. Ain't it funny how slime slips away?
The Open began to slip away from Lendl and toward Connors early in the final, when Lendl realized he couldn't rely on his oppressive first serve, which had handcuffed McEnroe in the semis. Nor could Lendl loosen up to whip out his slingshot forehand. McEnroe had seemed transfixed by that stroke, like a rabbit in the glare of headlights. But against Connors, Lendl knew that the hard stuff would come back just as hard. So he was tentative. Worried about the final, Lendl didn't sleep the night before, and his anxiety showed in the first two sets as he got in only 42% of his first serves. Those sets were lost quickly, in 42 and 37 minutes, respectively. Lendl had enveloped McEnroe with a devastating delivery, winning 48 of the 57 points in which he got in his first serve. By contrast, Connors, the game's finest serve returner (for how long now?), held Lendl to a virtual standoff, winning 32 of 67 such points.
Connors, in fact, was the Jimbonian oracle of old, just as he had been throughout a tournament in which he was pressed only by the high-bouncing topspin of Guillermo Vilas, whom he beat 6-1, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the semis. When he wasn't pumping his fists or wagging his fingers at Lendl, Connors was skidding low balls deep into the corners, which precluded Lendl from applying any power or aggression. Also, in his "crossroads year," as Connors kept saying, Jimbo had a new serve. He tosses the ball more out front and less to the side so he can get more body into the delivery as well as an initial thrust forward for the volley. Connors said his serve is what won him the tournament.
Two years ago, when Lendl blatantly tanked to Connors in the Masters to avoid facing Bjorn Borg—whoever that is—Connors referred to Lendl as "chicken." It's no secret that the animosity lingers. Jimbo had beaten Lendl eight times in a row until last month in Cincinnati, where Lendl routed him 6-1, 6-1. But there were whispers that Connors hid in the brush in Cincy as psychological preparation for just the meeting that took place Sunday in New York.
Clucking noises may have been heard early in the third set at Flushing Meadow after Connors mimicked Lendl's sulking over a call. Lendl then became irritated and swatted some mindless shots to fall behind 3-1. He was obviously frustrated at his inability to end the points sooner, not to mention end them at all. Afterward, Connors said, "Nobody likes to see a ball coming back at you faster than you deliver it."
Yet Jimbo couldn't put Lendl away. Just after one of the worms in the Big Apple screamed at Lendl to "go home," he broke back for three-all and then broke to win the set 6-4. Now Lendl finally was taking a full windup and confidently hitting out from both sides, and Connors knew he was in a match.
But when Lendl nailed a backhand pass to break back for two-all in the fourth set and then crushed one of his 14 aces for 30-all in the fifth game, Connors stiffened. A long baseline rally ensued. Suddenly, Connors darted in, lunged to intercept Lendl's bullet off the backhand wing and volleyed the ball into the clear. On the next point, Lendl tried another backhand pass, this time down the line, but Jimbo covered that one, too. He had another break, and he carefully protected serve to run out the match, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.
"I made one comeback," said Lendl. "I needed one more. You think Jimmy would go out there now and try it again?"
Even before he encountered McEnroe and Connors, Lendl's swashbuckling style and strange sense of humor seemed to pervade the Open. Item: target practice. While Lendl passed up a chance to pummel Connors with an overhead in the final and an even better opportunity to part McEnroe's forehead in the semis—Johnny Mac cowered behind the net after granting Lendl a setup, but Lendl blithely pushed the ball over his head—he has been known to ignore gentility and deliberately smack a rival at close range. Witness the WCT finals in Dallas last April, when he sent McEnroe to the carpet four times for an automatic TKO. At the Open it was everyone into the pool. Even Hana Mandlikova drilled Pam Shriver in the stomach. And after Chip Hooper, the towering (6'6") new black star, knocked Roscoe Tanner down a couple of times en route to beating him in a macho power orgy over five sets and 61 games in the second round, he answered Tanner's protests against being hit by quoting Lendl: "Nobody ask him to come to net." Hooper even feigned a Czechoslovakian accent.
Item: public relations. Following each match, Lendl would don a WCT cap and a shirt that read TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS—FOREST HILLS and parade all over the joint, at once alienating Grand Prix tour bigwigs (who are at war with Lamar Hunt's maverick WCT circuit), the ATP (his fellow players' union), the U.S. Tennis Association (whose officials thought they had buried Forest Hills forevermore several summers back) and Lendl's own agents at Donald Dell's ProServ, the same peace-loving, wonderful folks who represent the peace-loving, wonderful Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith.
One night Lendl impishly rambled on and on during a CBS interview while knowing full well that the network desired only a quick spot. As a result, CBS had to waste several takes, which forced the international print media, angrily stewing several foxholes away, to blow deadlines on several continents. Lendl then greeted his numerous friends in the press room by yawning. A woman asked him a question in English. Lendl, who converses with ease in that language, snickered. "Could you please translate that?" he said.
Since last year's Open, Lendl had won 117 of 124 matches. This year he had reached the final in 16 of the 18 tournaments he entered, winning 11 of them. At the Open he overcame a two-sets-to-one deficit against the bee-bees of Tim Mayotte, a Wimbledon semifinalist; avenged his French Open loss to Mats Wilander with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 rout; and rudely trashed the upset hopes of the veteran Australian Kim Warwick, who had surprised two seeds, Jose-Luis Clerc (No. 7) and Yannick Noah (No. 9), to reach the quarters. "I had to get ahead of him [Lendl] early because once he starts thinking about losing he gets nervous," said Warwick, who never got ahead and lost four, three and one. Then Warwick said of Lendl, "He won't beat McEnroe or Connors. Certainly not both. The two of them are better on this surface. Especially in New York." Warwick virtually spat out the words. He was asked if his opinion was colored by any dislike of his conqueror. "What's there to dislike?" he said. "There's no personality there. The guy's just a bleeping bighead." So much for objectivity.
In the harsh light of reality—late Saturday afternoon, shadows falling, withering 90° heat—Lendl exposed the three-time defending champion's vulnerability to a sheer bare-knuckled slugger. In baseball parlance, Lendl took McEnroe downtown with his 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 victory right there in Mac's home ball park. In one respect McEnroe's game is all junk and bully—create openings and craft shots, vary the rhythm, kill the ump. But McEnroe's kit bag emanates from and is dependent upon the effectiveness of his side-kicking southpaw serve, which raises hell with most righthanders. A suspicion gaining credence on the tour is that if McEnroe were righthanded, he would be your basic everyday losing quarterfinalist.
McEnroe overcame Borg with his serve. He still befuddles Connors with his change of pace. But Lendl is of a different ilk. He whaled away at McEnroe's delivery, not only preventing any consistent Mac attack but also sending McEnroe reeling on his heels behind the baseline, uncertain and ultimately at the mercy of the Lendl forehand, surely the fiercest weapon in the game today. On Lendl's serve, McEnroe offered little retaliation. When Mac's returns weren't crisp and deep, when he simply flipped back all those spins and short angles, the "artistry" everyone raves about, Lendl jumped on the junk and swatted it off the premises. "He forces me to do things I don't like to do. I get disorganized," said McEnroe after the debacle.
In the last 15 months Lendl now has beaten McEnroe six straight times, winning 16 of 17 sets, in three countries plus Texas, on several surfaces. Name your poison. Following Lendl's victory last week, McEnroe gracelessly whined that he felt "bleeped upon" by the crowd—an astounding revelation considering the New Yorkers' hosannahs after their native son went ahead 5-2 in the third set tiebreaker—and complained about bad line calls, a tedious refrain that was particularly insufferable from a loser.
After Lendl won the first two sets, riding breaks in the fifth and first games, respectively, and surviving a double fault at set point in the second, he fell into a shaky patch. He warded off break points in two early games in the third set and patiently waited through many shouted complaints to the linesmen from the grim weeper on the other side of the net. Lendl twice served to save the set. Still, there were doubts he could hang on, and when McEnroe led 5-2 in the tiebreaker, with two serves coming, Lendl's fortitude was once again called into question. It's over. McEnroe wins 6-4 in the fifth. The feeling buzzed through the stadium. But following a duel at the net, Lendl nailed a lunging backhand winner into the open court. Then McEnroe double-faulted. Whoosh! Just like that, from 5-2 to 5-4, a brand new tiebreaker.
Against Lendl's second serve, McEnroe floated a wounded butterfly of a return too deep. At five-all Lendl walloped, with all his might, as brave a shot as he has ever struck—another forehand down the line—to reach match point. McEnroe served and volleyed to save it, and after changing sides, he shook his fist on high to the roaring crowd. Then McEnroe stalled, fidgeted, tightened his shoelaces...and missed his first serve by four feet.
When McEnroe's second delivery came up a balloon, Lendl lashed an untouchable forehand crosscourt return that so stunned his victim he hardly vibrated a vocal chord. On this match point, Lendl cracked another forehand to put the champ out of his terrible misery of a summer—an ending fittingly grody to all the Macs.
In the locker room earlier last week there was this exchange:
Ilie Nastase: "Lendl, you have your name on your sneakers. You have your name on your rackets. What the bleep did you ever win to deserve that?"
Lendl: "I want to play you, Nastase. I want to hit you with the ball."
Nastase: "Don't screw with me, Lendl. You do, I go get Connors."
Which is exactly what happened in the finals. The Open got Connors and Connors got Lendl. Even if he had lost, Connors would have been No. 1 on the preposterous ATP computer, but now he is No. 1 in deed as well as by machine. Only four other men, Bill Tilden, Fred Perry, Don Budge, and Rod Laver, have twice won Wimbledon and the U.S. championship in the same year. That's pretty fair company. Of course, Connors also has Patti. And Brett. "They are my life, not tennis," he says. And now he had his fourth U.S. Open as well. And this time he was the good guy.
As for the distaff version of the Open, the important moments were delineated by of all things a cheesecake, a cat and a Gadusek before Chris Evert Lloyd finally righted the ship by winning her sixth Open in the last eight years as well as her 66th match in the nationals, the latter a record achieved by no other woman in history.
Evert Lloyd wasn't supposed to win this tournament, of course. Nor was the defender, Tracy Austin. No human female on the planet was given a chance against the great Martina Navratilova—the expatriate, diva and cover girl; winner of 64 of 65 matches this year and 41 straight; seeker of the Grand Slam, not to mention the Grand Strap, a million-dollar bonus for winning four tournaments designated by Playtex. However, before anybody could figure out those staggering credentials and possibilities, some weird occurrences took place. First, Navratilova went around humbly crediting herself with instant immortality and saying things like, "I don't have to play my best to win." Then Evert Lloyd got mad, or rather "a little insulted," and suggested, √† la Casey Stengel, how you could look it up about immortality. Then Evert Lloyd got sick. A piece of cheesecake was the culprit.
Next, Andrea Jaeger roughed up and four-lettered an usher for asking her to move from an aisle in the stadium. This was George Steinbrenner's personal usher, mind you. Then somebody named Bonnie Gadusek showed up in the quarters insisting she used to be a prospective Olympic gymnast who broke her neck on the unparallel bars (no wonder she broke her neck), received a K-Mart racket as a get-well present and wrote letters to 50 tennis coaches before Harry Hopman agreed to work with her. Gadusek also claimed to be from Pittsburgh. Whoooa.
Subsequently, the weirdest thing of all happened. Navratilova got beat. What was more perplexing was that nobody seemed to know whether she had lost to Shriver, her good friend and doubles partner, or to a cat who had nibbled from her bowl of nuts. Wild Kingdom. Film at 11. Navratilova would have escaped such a predicament if she hadn't squandered a 6-1, 5-4, 30-15 lead and then lost her concentration in the second-set tiebreaker, which the rejuvenated Shriver won 7-5. As Ted Tinling, the noted courtier, was to say, "You let Pamela back into a match and she knows no bounds." And it wasn't as if Shriver hadn't been there before, either.
In 1978, like a cygnet testing her feathers, Shriver had defeated the No. 1-ranked Navratilova to reach the Open final. Now, from two-all in the third set, she played four perfect games—"I was zoning," said Shriver. "...No, I don't use that word; it's tacky"—climaxed by a sharp backhand volley that seemed to knife into both the competitors' hearts. They left the court in tears and hugs, the Grand Slam gone on tiny cats' paws. "I told Martina that I was sorry," said Shriver. "I don't know why."
Afterward, somewhere between the time Navratilova belted one photographer with a towel and ransacked another one's film—freelancer Art Seitz swears he's hiring Marvin Mitchelson to sue for damages—she got around to explaining how she had recently contracted acute toxoplasmosis, a viral condition sometimes transmitted by cats that weakens the muscles. Navratilova didn't say how weak she felt in the 17-minute first set or when she was serving for the match in the second, but Seitz verified that her muscles didn't seem weak when he encountered her. In that fray she was aided by her strawberry-blonde henchperson, Nancy Lieberman—a/k/a Agent Orange—who elbowed Seitz in the back. The next day, one Gary Wadler, M.D. confirmed Navratilova's condition to such an extent in the media that the explanation produced some undesirable effects. Shriver, a tad sarcastic: "If she was that diseased, I can't believe I lost a game." Famous New York comic: "I know that doctor. He kept me out of the service." Amateur humorist: "Cat? The girl played like a dog." Yada yada yada....
With big tabby away, the mice will play. Speaking of which, Austin, the squeaking wonder, had played only one tournament since Wimbledon, because of injuries, and she was hardly match-tough. Mandlikova, her quarterfinal opponent, had learned how to beat Austin in June at the French. Their meeting in the quarterfinals was a replay of that horrid affair in which the two engaged in a wind-whipped nervous match that set back the women's game no more than a couple of decades.
This time Mandlikova won 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, but when she served for the match at 5-3 in the third, she kept few balls within the borough. When Austin—"Oust-en," Mandlikova pronounces it; "ousted" is what she was—served to tie at 4-5, she wobbled a backhand into the bottom of the net and then double-faulted as Mandlikova crowded forward almost into the service box. One observer figured both women had eaten some cheesecake dipped in cat hairs. Two days later Mandlikova drifted into one of her spasms of brilliance in the third set to defeat Shriver in the semis, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.
Meanwhile, Evert Lloyd was plodding along, losing a point here and there until she ran into the legendary Gadusek, who had dropped just 12 games in four matches. She remained a legend for exactly 11 games against Evert Lloyd by taking the first set 6-4 and breaking serve to begin the second. A visor with ruffles concealing her stern visage and a no-holds-barred athleticism all about her, Gadusek kept Evert Lloyd hopping with looping lobs interspersed with sharp drives and angles. "I'm not used to somebody so consistent," Evert Lloyd said, "but I didn't want to be another casualty." So Evert Lloyd pulled herself together, waited out the storm and won the next 12 games.
When Navratilova lost, John Lloyd was in the Ellesse showrooms in Manhattan's garment district selecting outfits for him and his wife. John immediately called Chris at their hotel and woke her with the news. "I didn't know what to think," she said later. "But if determination is any factor I would have won this tournament anyway."
In her last two alleged matches, Evert Lloyd surrendered all of seven games, defeating Jaeger 6-2, 6-1 and Mandlikova 6-3, 6-1. The former lost heart early. Evert Lloyd discovered the latter actually munching on cheesecake 10 minutes before the final. "Hana!" Evert Lloyd cried, "haven't you been reading the papers?"
Well, Evert Lloyd always keeps her eyes and ears open. After she heard that Ashe had wondered publicly if she was still "hungry," she went to him and said she was not only hungry but "starving."
"Every year more of my toughness chips away and sometimes I just want to mellow out," Evert Lloyd said after the final. "But maybe I have my place in history now. Six Opens. That ties me for the record, right?"
Sorry, Chris. Helen Wills Moody won seven and Molla B. Mallory eight. Let's hope somebody persuades Evert Lloyd to play a few more years—even if she goes home and has a baby—so she can grab that record. Somebody also should tell her that at the U.S. Open, real women don't eat cheesecake.