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Curry Kirkpatrick
September 18, 1989
A day after his countrywoman, Steffi Graf, repeated as U.S. Open champion, Boris Becker powered his way to the men's title for the first time
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September 18, 1989

Boom Boom

A day after his countrywoman, Steffi Graf, repeated as U.S. Open champion, Boris Becker powered his way to the men's title for the first time

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In addition to determining who was No. 1, the Becker-Lendl concerto returned the Open to the land of the living after the tournament had nearly been swallowed up by a pair of ghosts of tennis past. As both Chris Evert, 34, who had announced this would be her final major competition, and Jimmy Connors, 37, who hinted he would also quit soon—like when hell freezes over—reached the quarterfinals, they even diverted attention from Donald Trump. When Trump wasn't trying to escape the shadows cast by the Dale Evans-autograph cowgirl hat worn by his wife, Ivana, or sitting with the courtside entourages of both Evert and Gabriela Sabatini, his helicopter, with TRUMP emblazoned across it, was buzzing the stadium to thunderous boos. And you thought New Yorkers had no class.

But not even Trump's considerable ego could diminish the spell Evert cast over the tournament where Americans had adopted her 18 years before. If it had not been for Evert's taste for symmetry, she might have taken the advice of numerous friends, who tried to persuade her to pass up the Open, thereby making her emotional farewell after losing to Graf in the Wimbledon semifinals her grand finale. Evert's good buddy, Ana Leaird, the WITA publicity director, even flew to the player's home in Aspen to express her concern that Evert might suffer an ignominious early-round upset at Flushing Meadow.

The doom watch reached a crescendo in the fourth round, when Evert faced 15-year-old Monica Seles, the elegant urchin from Yugoslavia who had defeated her at the Virginia Slims of Houston this spring. All the ponytailed Evert did was apply an exquisite, call-back-the-years 6-0, 6-2 spanking to Seles, who, while leaving the court, started to raise her hand to acknowledge the tumultuous applause before realizing that all the noise was being directed at her conqueror. "Chris has had one more lifetime than me," said Seles charmingly.

Two days later, after 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 157 tournament victories and 1,304 match wins—more than any man, woman or child, living or dead—Evert's glorious career came to an end at 4 p.m. on a leaden Tuesday afternoon. The audience, which was peculiarly subdued, seemed to realize it was too late to do anything but remember.

Her opponent, fifth-seeded Zina Garrison, gave an inspired and heady performance to win 7-6, 6-2. Evert owned a 5-2 lead in the first set, but Garrison rallied by keeping her composure in the face of a crowd that was clearly behind her opponent and by chasing down everything Evert hit. Afterward Evert mused about her erratic play. "This is why it's time," she said. Everyone knew what the Goodbye Girl meant.

At the end, Garrison wasn't the only one sobbing. Diana Nyad, the former distance swimmer and longtime acquaintance of Evert's from their common hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who was covering the tournament for the USA Network, had to leave the studio to compose herself. There was hardly a dry eye anywhere in the sport.

The emotions surrounding Connors's exit could not have been more different. Jimbo had been infuriated with Agassi ever since he correctly predicted a straight-sets victory over Connors at the 1988 Open. In preparation for last week's quarterfinal meeting with Agassi, Connors concocted another of his vampire-by-night conquests. In the Round of 16 Jimbo stunned third-seeded Stefan Ed berg 6-2, 6-3, 6-1, along the way indulging in a characteristic curse-fest against chair umpire Richard Ings that cost him $2,250 in fines.

Meanwhile, between hurling sweaty shirts to his distaff wannabes and gulping sincerity pills, the frosted-locks Agassi was obviously reconsidering his humble opinion of himself. "My image is not bigger than the sport," he said, "just a slight detour around the sport." This reassessment may have helped him to a 6-1 lead over Connors but did nothing to gain him support from a crowd that sounded like rejects from the cheap seats for a Ranger hockey game at Madison Square Garden. Just as Connors overtook Agassi to win the second set, a wave of nausea overtook Connors in the stifling heat of the stadium pit. "I'm not going to make it," he told his wife, Patti, who was in a courtside box. Then a funny thing happened. Agassi tanked. Slugging overheads into the seats and trying ridiculous drop shots, Frosty the Showman lost a 6-0 set to a sick old guy who could barely keep his balance.

"Jimmy raised his game," Agassi would say later. However, at the end of the second set Agassi called out to his coach, Nick Bollettieri, "I want it to go longer." And, shades of Muhammad Ali-Floyd Patterson, sure enough it did. Give Agassi credit for being talented enough to orchestrate a match so that he could boast about how he "toughed out" the first five-set victory of his career. But give Connors more for never backing down, for clawing almost all the way back from 1-5 in the fifth and stoking the fires of the Open yet again before falling 6-1, 4-6, 0-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Neither John McEnroe, who was shocked in the second round by the best little 115th-ranked (Paul) Haarhuis in tennis, nor defending champion Mats Wilander, who was a second-round victim of a promising young American serve-and-volleyer named Pete Sampras, could attribute his defeat to the heat. In fact, McEnroe was downright cold throughout his four-set defeat, but he warmed up enough to win the doubles with another lefty, Mark Woodforde of Australia. Their final-round victory over Ken Flach and Robert Seguso, the longtime U.S. Davis Cup team, gave the newly goateed Mac his first Grand Slam title in five years.

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