Bad Behavior at Wimbledon
It's Jimbo's Tennis Legacy
Jimmy's children descended on Wimbledon last week, settling on the place like a plague. It was all there again at the besieged All England Club, everything Jimmy Connors made the sport safe for—stage-managing tennis parents, boorish players, ridiculous antics on court and off. It's been awhile since tennis has seen such a parade of unseemliness, not one moment of it redeemed by anything resembling Connors's talent and drive. But all the second-raters who stepped forward to reveal themselves last week were following Connors's example, for the mind-set displayed was his: Even in its greatest cathedral, tennis is about me, me, me, and any thought of history, tradition or decorum isn't worth having.
On June 28, Anna Smashnova smacked a fan with a ball while trying to hit the husband of her opponent, Katalin Marosi-Aracama, during their second-round match. Smashnova later explained that she'd been "provoked" by the man's "laughing at my mistakes." On Centre Court, meanwhile, Wayne Ferreira shattered his racket during a four-set win over Richard Krajicek after screaming at chair umpire Kim Craven, who had overruled a line call and cost him a point in the first set, "It was a f——— disgrace. You guys are so high and f——— mighty."
That same day Jeff Tarango refused to shake Paul Goldstein's hand after losing to him 12-10 in the fifth set of their second-round match. Tarango accused Goldstein of gamesmanship and then, angry that Tom Gullikson, who runs the U.S. Tennis Association's stable of coaches, had warmed up Goldstein, heatedly charged Gullikson with favoritism when they met in the locker room. "I don't know what would have happened if I hadn't come between them," says USTA coach Scott McCain, who works with Goldstein.
Last Thursday, if you can believe it, things got worse. First Damir Dokic, the father of 1999 Wimbledon quarterfinalist Jelena Dokic, smashed the cell phone of a British TV reporter and declared, inexplicably, "The Queen is on the side of democracy! The rest of the country is fascist!" Escorted out of the club by police, Dokic was warned that any future outburst would result in his banning from the tournament. Later Alexandra Stevenson, who during her run to last year's Wimbledon semifinals had feuded with Jelena, shrugged when told of Damir's actions. "I played doubles with Jelena in Hilton Head," Stevenson told reporters. "I kind of made amends with her. She wasn't very nice to me before. We played, and her dad showed up drunk. My mom said, 'You're not playing with her again.' "
Those remarks were, however, overshadowed by Stevenson's assertion (made as her mother, Samantha, nodded encouragement nearby) that French players were "ganging up" on her and her mom. Alexandra said that French player Amelie Cocheteux had called her a "piece-of-s—- black girl" during a match between the two in Strasbourg in May and later "hit me" in the locker room at the French Open. What's more, Stevenson said, French player Anne-Gaelle Sidot had pulled down Samantha's hat during an altercation over a practice court in Strasbourg. The WTA said last week that it had investigated the incidents and found no wrongdoing, although it confirmed that Sidot had tipped Samantha's hat. The WTA also said Sidot had claimed that she had been verbally abused by Samantha. "She asked me if I called her a bitch," Samantha said of the alleged incident. "I said, 'No, but I probably should have.' "
Sidot and Cocheteux denied the Stevensons' claims and did little to hide their contempt for both mother and daughter. Alexandra has alienated many on tour since her breakout at last year's Wimbledon. Last fall she spouted off in a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED FOR WOMEN article about her animosity toward French players, alleged hostility toward her by fellow U.S. player Lindsay Davenport, Jelena Dokic's looks, and how she found Spanish player Conchita Martinez's habit of walking around the locker room naked "disgusting." The flimsiness of Stevenson's most recent charges won't help her standing among players. Alexandra doesn't speak French ("I understood merde" she says) but claims a security guard in Strasbourg translated what Cocheteux said across the net. Samantha says she feared Alexandra would be the victim of a " Tonya Harding incident" because of her clash with the French, but as evidence she cites nothing more than "a feeling."
"I guess because I've gotten a lot of attention and I have a personality, they don't like it," Alexandra says. "But that's too bad. That's me."
Hear that? That, of course, is the song of Jimbo. Connors didn't invent bad behavior, but he, more than anyone else, made it acceptable to those in power and somehow got it translated into personality. Connors was tennis's most consistent draw through the 1970s, '80s and early '90s, and if he called an umpire "an abortion," well, that was the price a tournament paid to get him. Connors has always been the sport's ultimate lone wolf, unresponsive to any appeal to camaraderie or the good of the game.
That's why, when Wimbledon held its Millennium Parade of Champions last Saturday, no one was surprised that the 48-year-old Connors turned out to be the only healthy champion who didn't show. He never even responded to Wimbledon's invitation. Reached at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif., last Friday, Connors said, "I'll lay it out for you. Tennis isn't what I do anymore. I have other business activities that occupy my time. To be honest, I'm not one for pomp and circumstance. I played. I did it."