But then, Ion Tiriac, Becker's steely manager, who has taken to mocking his young charge, calling him Lover Boy in tribute to his emerging libido, snorted at journalists who suggested that Becker was mature for his age. "Talking to you guys, yes, hitting a tennis ball, no," Tiriac growled. "He's been getting by on power for two years, and now he needs about 50 percent of Lendl's game." It's also been suggested that Becker needs a coach to replace Gunther Bosch, whom he fired earlier this year for being too smothering a presence. Marty Riessen, coach of the U.S. women's teams, is considered a prime candidate and met with Tiriac during the Open.
Becker's fourth-round conqueror was Brad Gilbert, who had gained distinction of another sort earlier in the week when he returned a towel to a ball boy, complaining to the dumbfounded youth that it was insufficiently fluffy. In the quarters the 35-year-old Connors, by far the oldest man in the draw, eliminated Gilbert in four sets. Jimbo ended the summer having advanced further in Paris, London and New York than any other American male.
John McEnroe, who was out on bail while awaiting sentencing for his misbehavior in a first-week match, suffered a fate worse than suspension when His Crudeness caught Lendl in the quarters. Lendl's 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 victory was almost surely the finest match he has ever played. It approached the purest triumphs of the Open Era—McEnroe's rout of Connors in the 1984 Wimbledon final, and Connors's belittling of Ken Rosewall in '74 at Forest Hills.
Lendl fired back everything McEnroe served, and he never faced so much as a break point. Lendl's lobs traced rainbows to the baseline, and he passed McEnroe at midcourt with lightning bolts. Lendl's ratio of winners to errors was 34-15, an extraordinary figure. Even more astounding, he won 79% of the points that began with his second serve. Normally, a player can win a match if he converts around half of his second-serve points.
Lendl treated this tour de force as if it were some sort of commuter bus trip. "Nothing special," he said. Can he find no romance in the game, not even in his own singular majesty? Perhaps trifling his own efforts is Lendl's way of punishing another ungrateful crowd, which showed no enchantment whatsoever with the masterpiece painted before its eyes. "They appreciate how good a player I am," Lendl says of the New York audience. But, in fact, the fans at Flushing Meadow offer him only grudging acceptance. It's almost as if tennis lovers resent that someone so tall and strong and long-legged stays back at the baseline, refusing to come in and mix it up.
"If you want tantrums or comedy, don't come and see me," Lendl says. However, his mechanical superiority isn't what puts off people. It's his refusal to get involved—with his opponent, with the atmosphere, with the crowd, with (at last) the game itself. "My mission is not to beat up on McEnroe," he says. "It is not for personal satisfaction; it is not to make anyone happy. My mission is to win."
Is there a more amazing example of group psychology than the way the Open audience continues to embrace McEnroe? As one perplexed tennis official pointed out, whenever he is in New York people fall over themselves to tell him McEnroe is a jerk. Then, the instant a McEnroe match starts, every soul in the joint is rooting for McEnroe. Surely it must pain him to hear the crowd cheer so for something that is not there anymore. He, the perfectionist, the artist who cannot accept anything less than perfection from the mortals about him, must quake inside knowing that his glory—probably the greatest genius ever seen on a tennis court—has fled him forever. Yet the crowd still cheers.
So Lendl, Wilander and the other interlopers from afar are renting out Flushing Meadow now. Just a decade old, and the place is already haunted.