To be sure, Mac's Friday match with Lendl, a 24-22 loss that the Connecticut Czech likened to a good fifth-set tiebreaker, was a tournament final in miniature. Upon losing a point at 21-all, McEnroe flung his racket to the ground, where it snapped in two. While the chair was busy fining him $500 from his stake, McEnroe examined the handle's innards as if he were Harry Wendelstedt inspecting a Howard Johnson bat for cork. In his 15-12 defeat of Cash on Saturday, McEnroe lost a $3,800 rally, the most expensive of the event to that point, after a Cash shot, which appeared to have landed an inch or two beyond the baseline, was called good. Mac whacked a ball into the photo gallery, drawing another $500 docking.
On Saturday, until Lendl blew a second-serve ace past Junior at 8-8 and "knew he was gone," McEnroe still had a chance to reach the finals. But he said he wasn't even trying to serve the aces, which, along with the $30,000 he would have received for winning the match, might have boosted him past Cash in the money standings. "I could have reached the finals and lost all of it against Lendl in five sets," McEnroe said. "I was just trying to win the match and the $30,000. To come in last and make $182,000—it's pretty hard to complain with that." Especially when you move up to third place in the money-winning standings the following day without lifting a racket.
Indeed, the event offered largess on a truly embarrassing scale. Had you (yes, you) wangled an invitation, you could have lost all six round-robin matches, gotten skunked 15-0 in each of them, sustained no rally longer than two shots, and still have walked away with $34,000 of your $250,000 stake. That's more than a circuit lifer wins for slogging unbeaten through six rounds of many Grand Prix events. "There are no guarantees and no side deals," said Dell proudly. "All four players are on the same money footing." Do tell.
A special event that makes a Grand Prix-circuit first prize look like crumbs couldn't possibly be good for tennis. It siphoned the game's top draws from the tour and helped turn McEnroe's suspension into a fiduciary mockery. Dell argued that no player who's anybody would have gone to last week's Grand Prix event in Itaparica, Brazil, anyway, because it falls just before this week's Masters. In fact, Brad Gilbert and Andres Gomez were in Itaparica, battling for the eighth and final Masters slot ( Gilbert got it), and had Cash not qualified for the Masters two weeks ago by winning the South African Open, he would have needed to go to Brazil. Said Lendl, "This event could attract people who aren't tennis fans. On the other hand, it maybe turned a lot of tennis fans off."
Of course, the Stakes Match was for the TV viewer, not the tennis fan, so it should be judged by that standard. And by that standard it suffers in comparison with the Skins Game. In the Skins, the players start at zero and earn what they get. Tension builds as they move from hole to hole, fully aware of the value of that skin, bantering with each other like club duffers on a Saturday morning. In the Stakes, the lion's share of the money wasn't earned, just built on or frittered away. Shots developed so quickly that, except after the occasional ace or double fault, the players had no time to contemplate the stakes, much less to yap—unless it was McEnroe, who hardly needed Dell, Fairbanks, Roone Arledge and the mind of Minolta to help him chat up a linesman.
"Yeah," said Cash on Friday, nonchalant after winning his first three matches and building a pot of $350,000. "But I'll lose it all tomorrow, or the next day." Lose it all he did, every penny.
A monument to greed? That it is. But we need monuments. Without them, whatever would the pigeons do?