Search

SMASH ACTS ON CENTRE COURT

July 13, 1987
July 13, 1987

Table of Contents
July 13, 1987

New York
Wimbledon
Muirfield
Television
Sugar Ray
First Person
Spotlight
Point After

SMASH ACTS ON CENTRE COURT

Martina Navratilova and Pat Cash turned on the power to triumph at Wimbledon

In the beginning, Wimbledon seemed to be just another tournament for West Germany's wunderbar babies, Boris Becker and Steffi Graf, to win. However, by the end of the fortnight, during which London was mysteriously transformed from dank, wet gloom into brilliant sunshine, the competition had produced far more questions than answers. Among the more pressing:

This is an article from the July 13, 1987 issue Original Layout

Is Navratilova-Evert now and forevermore a warmup act?

Will Australia's Pat Cash, the new gentlemen's singles champion of the All England Club, be a fair dinkum facsimile of a brilliant, hotheaded Yank who wasn't there? Or will he be a true gentleman, in spite of his calling women's tennis "rubbish" and of his unprecedented climb up the Centre Court stands to embrace his family and friends?

Is Ivan Lendl, a defeated Wimbledon finalist for the second straight year, headed for Ken Rosewall Land as a top player who never won the top tournament? Or is he destined for La La Land to play the fearsome Skeletor in the film version of Masters of the Universe?

Did Graf turn down that $270,000 offer to pose nude for the West German edition of Penthouse because she's about to win 37 major titles in a row? Or was it because $270,000 is merely pocket change for Steffi?

Finally, if Jimmy Connors, 34 going on 64 going on 14, street-urchin-turned-diplomat, didn't save Wimbledon, who in the name of Helen Wills Moody did?

Does the name Mar-teen-ahhh ring a bell?

This year's tournament underscored the sorry ennui that plagues men's tennis these days, what with John (Daddy-o) McEnroe injured and/or burnt (out) to a crispy critter, Becker's ascendancy nipped in the bud and Lendl achieving more notoriety from his agent's desperate make-over of his cryptopersona than from the efficiency of his robotic game. Before Cash lit up the grounds on Sunday with a scintillating exhibition of grass-court serve-and-return tennis in the men's final, which he won 7-6, 6-2, 7-5, a grinding, cramping Connors, one year shy of the veterans' competition and nearly three years past his last tournament victory, upstaged this crew. And Graf blew them all away. Then Navratilova knocked Graf out of the box to win her first tournament in '87.

Navratilova played two wondrous matches—6-2, 5-7, 6-4 over Chris Evert in the semifinals and 7-5, 6-3 over Graf in the finals—to win her sixth straight Wimbledon crown. Hence she now has passed Suzanne Lenglen for most consecutive titles in the modern era and is tied with Moody for most overall singles trophies, eight.

Graf, afterward: "Geez, how many more do you want?"

Martina: "Nine's my lucky number."

Before the twin killings, however, Graf had been the distaff star: victorious in seven straight tournaments and 45 matches, the only player in history to enter the gates of the hallowed greensward unbeaten for the calendar year. So formidable was Graf in matches preceding the final—after conceding her usual set to her handmaiden, Gabriela Sabatini, in the quarters, she won the next two sets 6-1, 6-1 and then humiliated Pam Shriver 6-0, 6-2 in the semis—that Navratilova proceeded through the draw virtually forgotten.

Even Martina's fluctuating entourage—they're called "minders" in Brit-speak—attracted but cursory attention. Debuting as "weight trainer" was Joe Breedlove, a junior high basketball coach of Bales Nelson, a son of Martina's companion, Judy Nelson. Breedlove threw high fives every which way, while Sugar Ray Leonard turned up to bestow upon Navratilova a miniature racket, which Martina tucked inside her sock for the final.

"Martina's fine," Evert said one evening, squeezing close to her new guy, tall, dark and Aspen's Andy Mill. "Let her have her basketball coach.... I've got my ski instructor."

Unfortunately, what the Navratilova-Evert semi had was a tedious aura of inevitability. Let's face it, gang, baseliners, Evertians: The party's over. Not to mention the drama. In the 1980s Evert is 3-12 against Navratilova in Grand Slam events, oh-for-the-decade at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. This time Navratilova took control early, faltered at the close of the second set and then broke serve in the first game of the third to regain command. During the match Navratilova threw in a Becker-bounce-diving-somersault winner, and when Evert got her only break point of the last act, Navratilova rapped three huge deliveries for the victory.

When Martina called last week's "the best match we've ever played," Chris scrunched up her best little pursed-lips face and then actually agreed. This assessment preceded an extraordinary mutual-praise session in which the old rivals sounded like Cagney & Lacey visiting Johnny Carson (a Centre Court spectator, by the way, enjoying his honeymoon). Ladies, enough!

On the other hand, the dominant variable in Navratilova-Graf has become electricity. That and the fact that the 18-year-old Graf hits the forehand like no mortal being. On Saturday, Navratilova wisely stayed away from that scythe, especially on serve. Martina persistently nailed her skidding southpaw delivery into the ad court, working on Graf's fragile backhand return. Unlike any other woman, the champion can hit and run with Graf. And she is surpassing at net. While Graf was tentative, Martina roared in and covered nearly everything, converting 34 of 42 points in which she approached the net.

Graf drew most of the hosannas in the first set, an instant classic. Yet Navratilova never trailed. She kept lucking out on net cords as well. And such a tough front-runner! A Graf flick-wrist forehand put her ahead 30-15 on Martina's serve in the ninth game, but Navratilova saved herself with two of those hook serves to go up 5-4.

She then had six—count 'em—set points, three each in games 10 and 12, on which Graf pounced as if she were, yes, the great Bjorn Borg. Service winner...ace...running crosscourt forehand monster. Then service winner...ace...backhand pass. Hot hands, cold heart. Graf hit 'em and walked. Navratilova read 'em and wept. "Steffi should wear pinstripes out there," said former Aussie pro Owen Davidson of her businesslike demeanor.

Navratilova finally connected on a ferocious pass from deep in her backhand corner. The shot not only won her the first set, but it frightened Graf away from the tape, as well. She came to net just three times in the second set. Nobody, not even the rocket-hurling Graf, can beat Navratilova on grass by staying back. Graf reached break point only once in the second set—in the opening game—whereupon Martina uncorked another curveball on the outside corner.

Leading 3-3, 30-15 on Navratilova's serve, Graf slid a nifty backhand cross-court, but Martina made a pickup winner thanks to one more net cord. "I said, O.K., this was really meant to be," said the champ afterward. "Thank Zeus or whoever is up there." A couple more acrobatic volleys reflexed out of her belly button, a break for 5-3 and Navratilova served out what might have been her finest performance ever in a championship match, while her minders high-fived as if they wanted to cut down the net. Of course, it had to be.

"This was one for the old guard," said old Martina, 30. "You really think I was thinking about her?" Yeah, boss woman. Everybody knows you not only saw the future on the lawns at the All England, but you also may have held it back for the last time.

No one came close to holding back Cash—he dropped only one set the entire fortnight—including the mighty Lendl. In the final, Cash, a 22-year-old native of Melbourne, made just 11 unforced errors and held serve nine times at love. He pitched a perfect middle set, winning all 16 of his service points. It was a triumph of the naturalist over the mechanic, of a man acting and reacting on his favorite spongy underfooting over a man who hates the surface because he has to think first and then shoot.

The outcome was not a shock, despite Cash's being seeded only 11th while Lendl was No. 2, behind Becker. Cash had defeated Lendl at the Australian Open last winter. Both won the Wimbledon junior title. But while Cash crowds the net instinctively and uses his terrific footwork as a commanding presence on the lawns, Lendl is still not comfortable anywhere but in the backcourt.

While Lendl says he knows other surfaces "by heart," grass seems neither animal, vegetable nor mineral to him. But it's like a brier patch for B'rer Aussie. Cash's Davis Cup captain, Neale Fraser, describes his charge as "the quickest Aussie since Roy Emerson, the strongest since Lew Hoad, the toughest mentally since Ken Rosewall. And he has got Rod Laver's ability with the ball." Pressure? What pressure? We aren't talking any old wallaby here, Jack. No Peter Doohan, either. In December, Cash singlehandedly wrested the Davis Cup from Sweden on the grass at Melbourne by beating Stefan Edberg and, from two sets down, Mikael Pernfors.

With his spiked hair, checkered headband, diamond earring and attitude, Cash has become something of a tennanarchist in his country, a MateEnroe replete with disdain for officialdom, an agent-lawyer-father and a taste for media-bashing. He's a regular Crocodile Dunderhead. Now in his self-described "mellowing" stage, Cash still found the energy to be fined $5,000 for behavior on court at Düsseldorf last May and to throw a punch at a cameraman off it before the Davis Cup tie with Sweden.

Cash has always had the temper. He has always been a big-occasion guy, too. "That's his competitiveness coming out," says his coach, Ian Barclay. "Pat doesn't know how to step back. He tries his guts out."

At 15 he won a junior competition for Australia by partnering a hobbled mate to victory in doubles. At 19 he was a semifinalist at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Guts? Last summer, after having been sidelined for six months with a back injury, which left him at No. 413 in the rankings. Cash received a wildcard entry into Wimbledon. Then three weeks before the tournament he had an appendectomy. He considered defaulting but decided to play and reached the quarterfinals.

Who can forget Cash flinging his racket into the stands after he lost to Lendl in the semis of the '84 U.S. Open? When he won on Sunday in the Wimbledon meadow, he threw a ball into the crowd instead. Now that's mellowing.

Based in a new flat in London and buoyed by his girlfriend, Anne-Britt Kristiansen, his 14-month-old son, Daniel, and his sports psychologist, Jeff Bond, Cash has settled down to the point where he can follow his beloved Hawthorn Hawks in Australia's Victorian Football League and emerge with a Grand Slam title now and then. At Wimbledon, Cash said he played "the match of his life" when he drilled Mats Wilander 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 in the quarters. But he made 75% of his first serves in beating Guy Forget 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 a round earlier, and Barclay said that was Cash's career match.

Speaking of careers, America should be grateful that the compelling Methuselah, Connors, has not yet called it quits. Once again he had to carry Old Glory alone. This time Jimbo was the only U.S.-born male to advance past the third round. American men have not fared so poorly at Wimbledon in 20 years. The Eagle doesn't land here anymore. But when the Jimbo did, he tore up the strawberry patch, overcoming a 6-1, 6-1, 4-1 deficit to defeat Pernfors with a miraculous fourth-round recovery that recalled the legendary comebacks of Gonzales, Rosewall and Cochet. Jimbo then eliminated Bobo the Ace Machine, the massive Slobodan Zivojinovic, who had 24 Z-bombs in taking out Becker's conqueror, Doohan, 25 more against Connors and 111 for the tournament. "I think when I got going the whole country got back into Wimbledon," said Connors.

Jimbo's run finally came to an end in the semifinals against Cash, who beat him 6-4, 6-4, 6-1. "He's an amazing player," said Cash, who had lost to Connors two weeks earlier at Queens. "We don't know what to expect from him next. I just hope I'm not playing at 34."

And what will he be doing at 34? "Lying on the beach," said Cash. "Vegetating. Gaining to about 20 stone. Going to the pub. Bending the elbow. Being a Yobbo."

In other words, just one of the boys. The last Aussie to win Wimbledon was John Newcombe, in 1971, and more than a few Yobbos were bending the elbow when Cash threw that ball into posterity last week. It was 2:45 a.m. back home in Melbourne. More than one country was back into Wimbledon.

PHOTORUSS ADAMSCash and Navratilova played classic serve-and-volley grass-court tennis to win their first and eighth Wimbledons, respectively.PHOTOMANNY MILLANPHOTOMANNY MILLANDiana and the Duke of Kent were front and center in the royal box.PHOTORUSS ADAMSThe light-footed Graf spent much of the final giving chase to Navratilova's crisp volleys.PHOTORUSS ADAMSAfter 73 meetings, Martina's and Chris's friendship is tighter than their matches.PHOTODAVID WALBERGWith his never-say-die play, the 34-year-old Connors gave the tournament a needed lift.PHOTORUSS ADAMSThough things looked up for Lendl in the semis, Cash bounced the Czech in the final.PHOTORUSS ADAMSOn Sunday, Cash, who was ranked No. 413 a year ago, covered the net as if he had wings.PHOTOCHRIS COLECash savored his win with Anne and Daniel, who found a new use for Papa's trophy.