You think the Swedes had a tough U.S. Open? The West Germans (teen preen division)? John McEnroe? Jimmy Connors? Chris Evert L'Old? Well, we can lay much of the blame for that on Czechoslovakia. By the time the men's and women's finalists came around on Sunday, dancing Czech to Czech, four native-born Czechoslovakians had become the first quartet from the same country ever to contest the final rounds.
Moreover, as Martina Navratilova and Ivan Lendl routed Helena Sukova and Miloslav (Milo) Mecir, respectively, they cleared out the National Tennis Center stadium faster than a bomb threat. And to think that the USA Network chose to pre-empt that alltime cinema classic. Monkey Kung Fu, to carry the women's final. Not that it was difficult to tell the champs from the chimps. Why Madame Nav lost but five games to Sukova, the six-foot-two, nerves-of-goo lass who 48 hours earlier had made Evert Lloyd look like a 31-year-old woman who might immediately start stocking up on Pampers. Following the women's final, Ivan the wonder cipher easily solved and then whomped the same obscure, beguiling Milo who had the Minderbender game to upset Boris Becker one round short of a showdown for No. 1 with Lendl.
Realistically it is daft to identify our familiar national Czech champions as anything but Americans. Lendl, the transplant, has long been ensconced in his Connecticut estate, which he left only rarely to fit in the Open between his regular rounds of golf. Like any other well-to-do Texanette, Navratilova, the naturalized cowgirl, flew in all five of her dogs from Fort Worth (Ruby, Yonex, Puma, Teets and Killer Dog, if you're scoring by the canine must system) and then drove to the Open each day from Trump Plaza in a snappy red Corvette.
As Navratilova herself cracked when the subject of tennis nationality was raised one more tedious time, "Come on, I'm an American. You can't go on where we were born. If you do that, McEnroe is German."
West Germany did produce the star of the whole shebang, 17-year-old Steffi Graf (about whom, later). As for the Wiesbaden-born McEnroe, his unfortunate demise in the first round seemed to create a malaise that filtered through American headquarters, took an awful toll and finally left standing a triCzechta of competitors resembling not the boys next door but Saturday Night Live's wild and crazy Festrunk brothers. (A 6'8", 22-year-old monster named Milan Srejber reached the quarterfinals against Becker before quitting the way his countryman, now a dominating champion, was once accused of doing.)
Lendl said the rise of the Czechs—note that they filled the Final Four slots even without Hana Mandlikova, the women's defender—was "bound to happen" and vaguely explained that American tennis had been overtaken because of "the climate." But nobody is overtaking Lendl. This was his second straight U.S. Open title, and the fifth consecutive year he has reached the finals. In that time he has won 32 of 35 matches, and almost as many fans.
It's not that Lendl is liked or disliked. It's not even that he's still a foreigner. If he were born on Plymouth Rock on the Fourth of July he would be dull. And it's not that Lendl doesn't try, either. His girlfriend, the smashing Samantha Frankel, is an 18-year-old preppie from one of Manhattan's finest, the Spence School. At the Open he entertained his usually stern adversaries in the media with stories of his golf, his youth and the thrills of playing Davis Cup in Paraguay. ("A couple of guys in the first row, they show a knife and call us zucchini and say, 'Pfft, why don't we help cut you.' ") He also exchanged jokes with a real live robot—he was not peering into a mirror at the time—and even patted the heads of little girls. This is hardly the behavior of a supposed paranoid who is guarded by attack dogs behind the walls of a mansion labeled Fort Greenwich.
Nonetheless, in the early rounds of the Open a certain "Lendl Factor" emerged. As soon as his matches were announced, multitudes would abandon the stadium and the outer courts would jam up like the Triborough Bridge in a blizzard. Lendl may someday empty entire cities. In Sunday's final, after Lendl recovered from an early break and began outclassing the forlorn, duck-walking, junk-balling Mecir (pronounced Me-Cheers, but Milo didn't even do much of that), what was left of a once-capacity house averted its eyes from the carnage to focus on "real" celebrities.
Johnny Carson was spotted when he caught one mishit and threw the ball back. Linda Evans showed up to shill for Clairol but departed early. CBS cameras caught Arthur Ashe reading the Sunday paper. Just how woebegone was the 6-4, 6-2, 6-0 rout? What about the wonderful Alan King? Hey, did you see Mariel Hemingway? Isn't that Carl Bernstein in the Former-Lovers-of-Elizabeth-Taylor box? Is Nancy Kissinger a chain-smoker or what? Is Mike Wallace leaving out of boredom or to catch the beginning of 60 Minutes?
None of the celebs who dropped by for the final weekend saw any American men play because they had all lost. Truth is, U.S. tennis is in deep trouble and all the heads USTA president Randy Greg-son has lopped off in his thankfully soon-to-end tenure and all the pink jackets he wore at Flushing Meadow cannot put Humpty Dumpty together again. Speaking of which, how about the American humpties that reached the men's round of 16? Seven got that far, but they were hardly magnificent, not to mention recognizable. Brad Gilbert, an ornery cuss who refers to himself by his initials, as in "C'mon Beej," is vaguely known for being the guy across the net the night that McEnroe committed himself to the burnout ward. But the rest of the gang could easily qualify for an American Express commercial.