LONDON, JUNE 29
So sorry you canceled your European vacation and went backpacking in the Ozarks instead. Well, the weather at Wimbledon has been better than the Jersey shore's, and a terrorist hasn't been seen in London all week. And you'll be happy to hear that the British still have their priorities straight. Signs at The Championships advising spectators not to leave any luggage lying around, lest it contain bombs, are not nearly so large as the adjoining signs that admonish gentlemen not to remove their shirts.
Even without you and Da-Da McEnroe, the attendance records for a single day and for the whole first week were broken. The only real question was whether there would be more sunstruck fans lost to the heat of the day or seeded players to the heat of battle. More than 350 spectators had to be treated on Friday, when it hit 92. On the courts, 41% of the men's and women's seeds—13 of 32—were eliminated in the first two rounds, and well before the week was over, there had been enough additional bloodletting among the favorites to assure that, for the 10th consecutive year, an unseeded player would reach the men's semifinals.
The most prominent early departure was, of course, third-seeded Jimmy Connors, the American bellwether. For the first time in 15 trips to Wimbledon, the 33-year-old Connors fell in the opening round. The executioner was Robert Seguso, 23, of Sebring, Fla. Known as Goose and ranked No. 31 in the world, Seguso is primarily recognized as a doubles practitioner.
Connors gave neither an artful nor a graceful performance in what may well have been his Wimbledon valedictory. He was a day late getting round the court and a dollar short getting round with his swing. Although Seguso hardly possesses the ground arsenal to pin Connors back deep, Jimbo never ventured from the baseline. Nor could he contend with Seguso's first-rate service, which, especially in the tiebreakers, sealed Connors's fate, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6.
It was well past eight in the gloaming when Seguso lowered the final curtain. Connors hurried off the court without extending the traditional courtesy of awaiting his conqueror. Before leaving the club, he dismissed the defeat by saying Seguso had been "unconscious." When a British journalist politely wondered if this might not be the last hurrah, Connors launched into a sort of neo-Nix-on kick-around outburst.
"Why? D'ya wanna get me outta tennis?" Jimbo railed. "You don't know what you have until you lose it, and that's what you're feeling toward McEnroe right now. You're so quick to jump on him and call him every name in the book. Then when he doesn't come here, you miss him. Are you going to do the same with me?"
In fact, as the box-office figures and scalpers' prices indicate, John McEnroe, across the great water changing nappies, wasn't missed all that much. Oh, the London tabloids could have used him; so far these Championships have produced precious little controversy. The most outrageous journalism has been a comic strip in The Daily Mail that featured a tennis player named Igor Lentil, who rested in a casket on odd-game breaks and was suspected of being Wimbledon's first vampire champion. Pretty tame stuff. Nobody even seemed to mind that a ball girl worked Centre Court for the first time or that the balls themselves were yellow.
Hence, when Kevin Curren, last year's runner-up, lost in the first round, he earned the distinction of being the only person in history to lose successive Wimbledon rounds with different colored balls. The fellow who put out Curren, by the score of 6-4, 6-7, 2-6, 6-4, 12-10, was Eric Jelen (the J is pronounced as in yes, yuppie or Jarryd), a West German soldier with grass-court skills. Jelen's effective return to civilian status (he's earning his stripes by representing his country on the Grand Prix circuit) gives Boris Becker an imposing Davis Cup colleague.
For the first time in memory more Europlayers were in the men's draw than Americans (49 to 38). The U.S. contingent declined from 54 in a single year. And egad, as if that weren't enough, Coca-Cola, the liquid embodiment of America, the very nectar of the republic, signed a European, Herr Becker, to be a new Bill Cosby. "I have enjoyed drinking Coca-Cola for years, and I am enthusiastic about my role in promoting the company's products," Becker says, right here in the press release.
Indeed, the emergence of the Euro-player is such that England even appears to have recovered one from Kansas. And just in time. In the space of barely 72 hours, the poor English got knocked out of the World Cup, got whomped by India in cricket, saw their Northern Irish brother, Barry McGuigan, lose the only boxing title in the British Isles, and lost their best young woman player, Annabel Croft, and perennial best male, John Lloyd, in the first round of the fortnight. Lloyd's defeat was so disastrous that he promptly quit, thereby reducing the singles players in his household by half.
Then, out of the blue, came an engaging, thatch-haired string bean named Andrew Castle, a wild card from Somerset, ranked somewhere in triple figures. And what does Castle do but almost whip Mats Wilander, the No. 2 seed, in the second round. Granted, Baby Mats has been so unpredictable recently that one might say he has become a male Mandlikova, but against Castle, Wilander scratched back with uncommon spirit, slamming his racket to the turf, slapping his thighs, cursing, spitting like a relief pitcher. Nonetheless, until Castle, who had never played a four-set match, let alone a five-setter, gave out (not gave up, mind you), Wilander was very nearly through. Well, not through, but finished. In England if you see a headline that says WILANDER THROUGH! it means Wilander got through to the next round. Being through in England is a good thing to be. Remember that.
Castle, who was immediately fitted for John Lloyd's sneakers, had been virtually unknown at home, largely because he was off in America, first at the suddenly world-renowned Seminole J.C., where he and Mikael Pernfors, the surprise French Open finalist, were teammates, and then at Wichita State, where he was infused with the kind of spunk that once made this country and Cola-Cola great. "If ever you've seen Wichita State play K.U. in basketball, that rubs off," Castle explained to a befuddled British and world press that didn't have the foggiest idea what this Kay-Yew thing was.
Still, it was more a week for the prominent losers: Connors and Curren; Swedes Anders Jarryd, Joakim Nystrom and Stefan Edberg; Guillermo Vilas, halted in his comeback; the uneven Johan Kriek; Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, Zina Garrison and Pam Shriver. "Well," said Shriver, after her first-round defeat, "all that's left for me to do is go find John Lloyd and start a family."
But a big cheer, please, for Betsy Nagelsen, who beat Shriver and who is, as far as anybody knows, the first married woman ever allowed to play The Championships under her maiden name. For nearly four months, Miss B. Nagelsen has been Mrs. Mark McCormack, which is sort of the equivalent of the Queen having a horse in the Derby. Her husband is the marketing agent for Wimbledon—as well as for the pope and Arnold Palmer, who was best man at the wedding. Thus Nagelsen, 29, was the house entry.
And, oh yes, a cheer for Wimbledon, too, for this is The Hundredth Championships, a journey begun in 1877. "The poppies which bloom in foreign fields—that are forever England—remind us why we had to wait 109 years for The Hundredth Championships," the official program explained to those whose history may not be up to their math. Wouldn't it be nice for this world—especially in a summer when madmen make us cower at home—if the next 100 championships take only 100 years?
YOUR FEARLESS CORRESPONDENT,