Talk about Strokes of Genius

With a spectacular display of shotmaking, John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova retained their Wimbledon crowns
With a spectacular display of shotmaking, John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova retained their Wimbledon crowns
July 15, 1984

There is an expression in England: at the end of the day. It means exactly the same as our "bottom line." And God knows we need an alternative to that. But you can have Wimbledon either way, because the bottom line is that, at the end of the day, this wasn't a tournament at all. It was 127 ladies and 127 gentlemen—and indeed they all were ladies and gentlemen—assembled so that two extraordinary soloists might have an orchestra with which to perform.

On occasion, one man or one woman has utterly ruled a Wimbledon. But never in the Open era—perhaps ever—has a Fortnight been entirely the shared realm of both champions. This year, though, John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova seem to have arrived at some numinous place where the longitude of majesty and the latitude of grace meet. It was all the more intriguing that McEnroe and Navratilova—McEntilova, if you will—together formed an androgynous whole, for it was the woman who won foremost with power, and the man with subtlety.

McEnroe's 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 rout of Jimmy Connors in the final was simply bedazzling, cadenza upon cadenza, and if Don Budge gave up only four games and Fred Perry but two in their greatest Wimbledon finals, no one who had the honor of watching McEnroe play tennis on Sunday could imagine anyone else ever having displayed so many gifts. Poor Jimmy. He couldn't return McEnroe's serve—the champion converted a stunning 78% of his first deliveries and dropped only 11 points in 11 service games—but neither could Connors deal with the glare from the other facets of the diamond. McEnroe made a grand total of two unforced errors in the entire match. It wasn't just that he wouldn't let Connors play; he wouldn't even let him run things down. He wouldn't let Connors be Connors.

Navratilova's triumph was marginally more gratifying, for at least she was tested for a while in her final by Chris Evert Lloyd; McEnroe was only playing against himself. Evert Lloyd began by breaking Navratilova twice to go up 3-0, but soon enough the lead eroded, and then vanished in a tiebreaker. So now Navratilova, who won 7-6, 6-2, has bulldozed through two straight Wimbledons without the loss of a set. That gives her three Wimbledons in a row, five all told, five consecutive Grand Slam titles and 38 matches without a defeat. She has lost only once in her last 93 matches. For something to do after tea, Navratilova and Pam Shriver won their fourth straight Wimbledon doubles crown.

Likewise, the day before McEnroe sliced up Connors for his 55th victory in 56 matches in '84, he and Peter Fleming won their fourth doubles at The Championships. Throughout the tournament, the boy they used to call Superbrat behaved so impeccably as a man that it was positively Borging. MAC THE NICE, the headlines cheered, SAINT JOHN. In another upset, the weather was just as benign. And what with a quarter of a million Americans flooding London, scalpers' prices for Centre Court ducats soared to dizzying new free-market heights ($655 a piece). And for what? It took two ho-hum weeks to round up all the usual suspects—McEnroe, Ivan Lendl and Connors; Navratilova, Evert Lloyd and Hana Mandlikova—and then stir Patrick Cash of Ringwood, Australia and Kathy Jordan of King of Prussia, Pa. into the semifinal pot. No wonder, amid this ennui, the Johnny-one-note British press concerned itself only with Navratilova's best friend and McEnroe's own worst enemy.

The only other sustaining issue that popped up—at least on the distaff side—was: Who's No. 2? The top women are a feisty lot, and they took after one another like so many fishwives. Mandlikova, Shriver and Jordan all rushed to welcome Evert Lloyd to the old Y Class in the back of the plane. "Chris is at our level now," snapped Jordan, who employs a rolling-pin grip on the court as well. Mandlikova went further: Referring to a match Evert Lloyd played against Carina Karlsson, a Swedish ingenue, she spoke of "Carina and the other girl."

Evert Lloyd had some good comebacks and some bad comebacks. Of Mandlikova she said, "I guess she should be cocky. She beat me three years ago." But then, of the widening gap with Navratilova: "If it weren't for Martina, I'd be dominating women's tennis"—which is rather like Gary Hart saying, "If it weren't for Walter Mondale, I'd...."

Evert Lloyd also said, "Everyone is my coach. Everyone tries to tell me how to play. And maybe when you get older you start thinking more. Perhaps it would be better for me just to go back to hitting the ball." And that's exactly what she did against Navratilova—and against Mandlikova, too, for that matter. Luckily, Mandlikova came first. Hana won the first game from the other girl and then dropped the next nine en route to losing 6-1, 6-2. Mandlikova, as is all too often the case, didn't have the foggiest. She would approach behind powder-puff crosscourt shots and then sort of mill about in the middle of the court while Evert Lloyd knocked passing shots down the line. It was interesting to see somebody back-doored in tennis. When the debacle was over, Mandlikova rushed away, curtsying on the hop to Princess Di, who was in the royal box this day.

Meanwhile, in the other half of the draw, Navratilova pressed ahead to the finals by a score of 6-4, 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 (!), 6-2, 6-2, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. Here's the highlight film: long shot, shadows, Navratilova walking onto Centre Court for first match, with Peanut Louie. Cut to sun-kissed No. 2 court action, against Iva Budarova in third round. Budarova provides good color—a canary-yellow racket. She must be the youngest player extant, male or female, to hold two balls to serve. Dissolve to mélange: the big, fiat Navratilova serve down the T, a slice backhand on the chalk, a perfect drop volley, a slice serve, a crunching overhead, the bang forehand, the deep volley. Now a kick second serve, a running forehand down the line, a lob for anyone who dares take her net. Segue into a little human interest: poor Liz Sayers, the sacrifice in the round of 16, doubled over on the baseline after the first set, knocked out by a stomach bug.

Then quick, some contrived tension in the quarters: 17-year-old Manuela Maleeva of Bulgaria is Navratilova's first bona fide challenger. She conquered Evert Lloyd at the Italian Open with the same two-handed backhand, but there is something of an original here: Maleeva's thoughtful shots tumble with accuracy, not just with the unwitting velocity most Chrissie clones have displayed. Maleeva even earns some break points against Navratilova, but the champion shuts her down. As the match peters out, the observers grow more interested in Maleeva's appearance than her game—the bow in her hair, her fetching outfit. "She's the prettiest here," says a Yank. "Too twee," says a Brit. "Game, set and match to Miss Navratilova," says the umpire. Another round, another rout.

Quick cut to Jordan, the world's No. 6, in the semis, playing as well as she can. But: boom, boom, boom-boom! And a Jordan voice-over: "I hit four good serves in one game. Four returns, back at my feet. You just say, 'What is going on? This is ridiculous!' " Reverse to Navratilova, shaking her head: everybody's- human department.

Years from now, when the oldtimers reminisce about Navratilova's '84 Wimbledon, they will say, name the player who broke Martina's serve more times in one set than everybody else did, aggregate, in the whole tournament. Answer: Amy Holton, second round, second set. Pretty blonde from Florida with a two-handed backhand, ranked 108th in the world. Navratilova has been chewing up and spitting out pretty blonde Florida two-handed backhanders for a decade now. Play the forehand. Surprise: This one has a forehand! Navratilova's mind is drifting today. Holton breaks her three times. Like that. Forehands. Still, the champion wins the set 7-5. Hold tight on the scoreboard. Long day at the office. Go to close-up.

Cut to Saturday. Navratilova spins the racket, waiting serve. She stares out, steps in, starts the stroke. Cue the slow-mo. Her dress is a stark white, cerulean blue V-front, trim and impeccable, with her straight golden hair falling as if it were aligned with the pleats below. There are such wonderful lines to Navratilova: It all works, a kind of kinetic beauty that affirms why men decided to call boats she. And now Navratilova is under way, slanting toward the ball, reaching across the wind.... Freeze frame.

Evert Lloyd tried so hard, did it so right. She did. She didn't panic. Yes, she attacked more than is her wont, showed a nice volley, returned well ("when I wasn't aced") and pinned Navratilova at the baseline on a lot of points. But the scary thing is, that while Navratilova was less than her best she still won in straight sets, thanks largely to her serve and the odd overhead. After her scratchy start, Navratilova converted 30 of 33 first serves in a stretch, banging the high, hard one down the middle on many of the big points as Evert Lloyd guessed and leaned to protect against the lefty's slice wide.

For her part, Evert Lloyd knew that if she missed her first serve, Navratilova would gobble up her second and pile into the net. The tiebreaker was shaped by the seventh point, an Evert Lloyd double fault, of all things, which put Navratilova in command at 5-2. But Evert Lloyd didn't choke that serve. On the contrary, knowing that she had to keep Navratilova back caused her to punch too hard. It was a brave double fault, a game effort. But: "I saw Ken Singleton in Baltimore before I came over here," said Shriver, "and he was bitching about the Tigers. I said, 'Now you know what we have to put up with all the time.' "

At Eastbourne, the week before Wimbledon, the women had a party one night. A bu~nch of them crooned this ditty to the tune of Michael Jackson's Beat It: "Martina, you're too good/Just give us a break/You're beating us so bad/It's too hard to take/Quit eating that food/And lift no more weights/Stop it! Stop it!/ Have some more sex/Have some more booze/It doesn't matter if you win or lose." Eastbourne is also where the other Wimbledon began, the one in which the players and press Exocet one another. Nevertheless, while the British press is forever, by turns, capriciously adulatory or vitriolic, it went to new extremes this year. Of course, McEnroe and Navratilova set themselves up as inviting targets even before the Fortnight began.

After a tranquil several months, McEnroe had stuck out his chin by acting up in the two preceding tournament finals, MCENROWDY! the headlines screamed. (That's a new one.) THROW HIM OUT! Buzzer Hadingham, the genial new chairman of Wimbledon, was so appalled that he wrote McEnroe a personal note. Dear John? No, too patronizing. Dear Mr. McEnroe? No, too stuffy. Finally, Hadingham began: "Dear Champion...." He went on to offer assurances that whatever the papers said, the club wasn't gunning for McEnroe. Then, the day before The Championships began, Hadingham came round to the locker room. "Did you get my note, John?" he asked.

Indeed, McEnroe had, but he was embarrassed to say he thought it was just another form letter and had tossed it unopened into his locker. Unperturbed, the chairman handed him a copy and moved discreetly away so that McEnroe might read it in private. When Hadingham circled back in a few minutes, McEnroe thrust out his hand. "I appreciate that," he said. With that one gesture, McEnroe and the All England Club were drawn closer together than they ever had been. And good grief, during the awards ceremony on Centre Court, as McEnroe cradled his trophy, he and Hadingham laughed and jostled each other as if they were best pals, planning to go out afterward and chat up some birds together at the Hard Rock Cafe.

At the time of the locker-room meeting, however, the battle with the press was just beginning. McEnroe refused to engage in television interviews until after Sunday's final, and he signed an exclusive contract with The Sun, Rupert Murdoch's raunchy daily, which features a bare-breasted beauty on page three each and every day. The McEnroe series began with an ominous threat from The Sun: "Any unauthorised breach of this copyright will lead to legal proceedings. Our lawyers are watching." At our peril be advised that McEnroe provided earthshaking views on everyone from Princess Di to Boy George, from James Dean to the Mona Lisa (loves him, hates her), complete with catchy headlines: I KNOW THEY'RE OUT TO GET ME... I'M NOT SOME KIND OF A MONSTER...THE ONLY GIRL I EVER LOVED. Wasn't this all a bit hypocritical for someone who professes to despise sensational journalism? "Absolutely not," said McEnroe. "Number one, this way I get my point across. Number two, I get paid for it." Number three, the other tabloids redoubled their efforts to stick it to him.

Navratilova had begun going after Fleet Street at Eastbourne, calling writers "scum" to their faces. This philippic and several subsequent ones had to do with references to her newest traveling companion, Judy Nelson, 39, an erstwhile Maid of Cotton beauty queen from Fort Worth, who was usually identified in print as "blonde Texas mother of two." Scandal reporters and paparazzi camped on the lawn at Navratilova's rented cottage, woke her at all hours and generally harassed her, as indeed they did McEnroe. To be blunt, some of the prose—notably that dished out by Sir John Junor, editor of the Sunday Express—violated basic human decency as much as it did journalistic canons.

But as bright as she is, Navratilova continues to exhibit a curious naiveté in matters of the media. Her very valid claims that her privacy is invaded are diminished because she flaunts her private life. One doesn't fight innuendo with coyness. Besides, she selects generally newsworthy friends—professional athletes, a lesbian writer of romans √† clef—and now the blonde Texas mother of two whose heretofore unrevealed talents for publicity put her on the short list with Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ed Koch, Hollywood Henderson and Pia Zadora. At Wimbledon, B.T.M.O.T once actually sent a note to Navratilova on court in the middle of a match. On another occasion she blew kisses to her while seated in the press gallery. Then, Nelson, who had filed for divorce on the day Wimbledon opened, flew back to Texas in mid-tournament, leaving a trail of headlines in her wake.

The titillation only made the naturally curious unnaturally so, and the insensitive vile. When Evert Lloyd, president of the Women's Tennis Association, at last labeled the whole business "horrendous," a meeting was called at the club. The All England issued a statement supporting the players' right to abandon any press conference when the interrogation strayed from tennis and became "provocative or repetitive."

In one way the brouhaha was overblown, because apart from the odd story about Evert Lloyd still wearing her wedding band and a "Wimblebum" photo feature for the "rear-watchers," the press really only bothered about the two champions. "It's amazing," Arthur Ashe said one day. "It's like Jimmy Connors doesn't even exist here anymore."

If the aging urchin faded back into obscurity, you can say this much for Jimbo: that losing one, one and two in the finals of Wimbledon is like losing 20 games in the majors. You have to be awfully good to get the opportunity. Connors earned his by whipping Lendl 6-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-1 in the semis. If Lendl still doesn't have the vaguest idea how to play on grass, he can still pound enough people with his serve and forehand. Even against Connors, in the pivotal third set, he had two points to go up 4-1 and two break points for 5-3. But in each case he failed and then folded up his tent again.

McEnroe's semifinal opponent was Cash, who had eliminated the injured fourth seed, Mats Wilander. Cash was unseeded but is a comer, just past his 19th birthday, and he's already something of a bad boy. At the U.S. Open in September, he drew three fines, and during one match there, he turned away from the umpire and tossed his hindquarters at him in the manner of a cancan dancer. This was Cash's first go with McEnroe in singles, but, as we know, he's no angel. Two days before their match he spouted off that when he had played McEnroe in doubles not long ago, he'd returned his serve "as if it were a girl's." But then, the Cash clan isn't easily intimidated. Patrick's father, Pat Sr., a burly lawyer, fires off letters to reporters he doesn't care for. In one long, memorable response to a column John Newcombe wrote, he castigated that Aussie institution as being a jealous has-been with an "insatiable ego." Once Pat Sr. tore a note pad out of a writer's hands and ripped it to shreds. Significantly, although Pat Sr. was in London, Cash bivouacked with Neale Fraser, his Davis Cup captain, and his doubles partner was the mature Paul McNamee, a steadying influence that carried the tandem to the finals, where they extended McEnroe and Fleming to five sets.

In the singles semi, the only girl server that McEnroe resembled was Salome, presenting a head on a platter. Nonetheless, Cash was a most honorable contender, and when McEnroe faltered a bit in the middle, Cash went up 4-1 in the second-set tiebreaker and had an early break in the third set. It was all to no avail ^as McEnroe prevailed 6-3, 7-6, 6-4. At the conclusion of the match, McEnroe seemed to make an effort to reach way over the net and give Cash an especially firm grip. Then, as it came time to bow to the royal box, McEnroe cued the kid, nudged him, showed him the ropes. One couldn't help but think then of a day not so long ago when McEnroe observed, "I know when I'm gone they won't just remember me, but they'll remember the great rivalries—me and Borg, me and Connors, me and Lendl, me and Wilander. You get five or six of those, you know you've had a long and successful career."

There was a time, three summers ago, when Navratilova finally understood that, for all her God-given talent, she must deal with her body, whip it into shape. It was in this summer of '84, after McEnroe had blown the French final by "wasting energy" on some silly dispute, that he understood that he must deal with his temper, keep it under wraps. She did, and he has. And now, at the end of the day, tennis has not one but two of the best that ever played.

PHOTO THREE PHOTOSAgainst Lendl, Connors showed a light touch at net during and between points and a strong olfactory reaction to a warning. PHOTOEvert Lloyd didn't sustain an early charge. TWO PHOTOSEn route to stretching her winning streak to 38 matches, Navratilova had to endure repeated press queries about Nelson (right).
PHOTOShe may have a two-hander, but the promising Maleeva is more than a Chrissie clone. PHOTOA qualifier, Karlsson, 20, made the quarters, where she was beaten by "the other girl." PHOTOA throwback, Budarova holds two balls while serving.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)