If the Australian Open was tennis's long-awaited this-settles-everything playoff for No. 1—jostling at the bottom of the world to get to the top—obviously we should all stick to bowl games. Boris Becker, for example, competing on grass for the first time since his stunning victory at Wimbledon, stared the No. 1 spot in the face in Melbourne and lost in the first round to Michiel Schapers, whose ranking on the ATP computer (188) is surpassed by the likes of Alessandro De Minicis, Alejandro Ganzabal, Eleuterio Martins and the legendary Givaldo Alves Barbosa. Schapers is a Dutchman. But Becker, 18, closed out his season really in dutch.
For another example, John McEnroe, the touring pro out of Bic, had an extremely close shave with sanity. After scuffling with a reporter, spitting on a photographer—well, how is a guy supposed to react when somebody wants to take a picture of him with Ryan O'Neal's daughter, smile?—complaining about the court and insulting most everybody in the country but the koala bears, McEnroe lost 2-6, 6-3, 1-6, 6-4, 6-0 to Slobodan Zivojinovic in the quarterfinals. Mac then hightailed it out of Kooyong Stadium so fast that he skipped a compulsory meeting with his close pals from the media. Maybe Junior was hurrying to the bank to pay the $3,750 in fines he had accumulated during the tournament. Whatever, as he departed the court after losing, he screamed at his conqueror, "You're going to pay for this." Zivojinovic, a 6'6", 200-pound Yugoslav whom his manager, Ion Tiriac, calls "Rambo in sneakers," is known around the circuit as Bobo. For his verbal transgression Mad Mac may hereafter be referred to as Dumbo.
As for Ivan Lendl, he came to Australia riding a 27-match, five-tournament winning streak that started at the U.S. Open. However, Lendl's No. I ranking was about as solid as his golf, which, incidentally, he played more of in Melbourne than tennis. In October, Lendl opted out of a Czechoslovakia-West Germany Davis Cup singles confrontation with Becker in Frankfurt because of an "injured elbow." The next week he was seen blasting away in exhibitions in Jericho, N.Y. and that other tennis mecca, the Meadowlands in New Jersey.
In Melbourne, Lendl seemed ready to quit in his semifinal with Stefan Edberg. This time he complained of a bum knee. "I consider myself fortunate to have escaped serious injury," he said after bravely finishing the match, which he lost 9-7 in the fifth set. Oh, well. As Lendl pointed out, Kooyong "should be paved over" and the Australian Open was a "second-class" event anyway. What does it matter?
December 16, 1985
It matters to Mats Wilander, who had won the tournament in 1983 and '84 and made it to the finals this year before losing 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 to Edberg on Monday in the first All-Swedish final of a Grand Slam championship. Just 19, Edberg is the only player ever to win all four Grand Slam junior events in a single year, but this was his first appearance in an adult Slam final. Edberg will be in many more.
So who's No. 1? Wilander? He won the French Open, coming from behind to beat Lendl in the final. He also reached the semis of the U.S. Open and can enhance his claim with a victory next week over Becker in the Davis Cup finals in Munich. But Wilander went five months without a tournament victory, and he suffered two embarrassing losses to Thierry Tulasne. Also, his cumulative head-to-head record against the rest of the contenders—McEnroe, Lendl and Becker—in '85 is 3-5. (Lendl is 9-4, McEnroe 6-4, Becker a kaboom 1-5.) But what most hurts Wilander is a first-round loss at Wimbledon to Zivojinovic. Make Bobo spoiler of the year. Wilander, however, avenged that defeat with a 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 win over Zivojinovic in the semifinals last week.
Is McEnroe No. 1? Are you kidding? For only the second year since he began semidominating the game in 1978, Mac didn't win a major title, and he reached only one Slam final, the U.S. Open. What's more, McEnroe was just 4-2 against Bjorn Borg—who?—in their Rip-off Over America tour.
Another sneakered fossil, Jimmy Connors, didn't bother traveling Down Under to challenge the Big Four. On the year limbo was 0-6 against them, not to mention 0-1 against Mike DePalmer and 0-1 against Jose Higueras, now retired. This must be the first year Connors has gone without a tournament victory since he was in swaddling clothes. He did, however, show up last week on The Tonight Show with Joan Rivers. Can we talk? Can I play?.
So who is No. 1? Heinz Gunthardt, who reached the late rounds in three Slam events and won Wimbledon doubles with Balazs Taroczy? Ken Flach, for his hair ball that basically won the U.S. Open doubles for him and Robert Seguso? Bobo, for his twin humongous upsets? Shlomo Glickstein? Borg?
Mostly by default, all the tennis magazines, human-rights organizations, dating services, political-action groups and whoever else names a No. 1 will choose Lendl. After all, he did put together winning streaks of four and five tournaments and did not suffer what the players call a "bad loss" all year. Last week he also matched McEnroe in diatribes and punishments, going over the fine limit that draws those gossamer 21-day suspensions covering a period in which neither man planned to play anything anywhere anyway. Still, go ahead and give Lendl No. 1.
Not since 1968 had both the men's and women's titles at the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open gone to six different players. But at least the scramble for the top spot among the women was settled definitively in Melbourne. Wimbledon winner Martina Navratilova barely got by U.S. Open champion Hana Mandlikova to meet Chris Evert Lloyd, who won at Paris, for the 67th time. Navratilova prevailed 6-2, 4-6, 6-2—"one set for the world," according to the inimitable Bud Collins. Navratilova finished the year with a 4-2 record against Evert Lloyd.
Back on the men's side, the most perplexing question in Melbourne wasn't who's No. 1 but what's up with McEnroe. Might he retire behind a picket fence to raise Little Darlings with Tatum? Might he go off to string rackets with the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh? Might he stay with demon tennis long enough either to retire all the trophies or to zap all the lines persons, or both?
In Melbourne, McEnroe was at his most enigmatic. Once he demanded referee Peter Bellenger's presence on the court and then asserted just as strongly that Bellenger had no business there. McEnroe also told colleagues he didn't know whether "to try or to tank" in Australia—and there seemed plenty of the latter in his debacle against Zivojinovic. That was the first time Mac had ever been shut out in a fifth set.
Maybe it was merely the surroundings. Aborigines once stalked winged meals with boomerangs on the site of what is now Kooyong. The name means "haunt of the wild fowl" in their native tongue. In Melbourne, tennis again produced weird birds.