SI Vault
Joe Jares
February 10, 1975
In a ballyhooed big-money match in Las Vegas that actually lived up to its billing, young Jimmy Connors blackjacked Rod Laver
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February 10, 1975

A Two-armed Bandit Hits The Jackpot

In a ballyhooed big-money match in Las Vegas that actually lived up to its billing, young Jimmy Connors blackjacked Rod Laver

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"It won't be as tiring as having to play several days in a tournament and my experience should mean a great deal against Connors' youth," said Laver. "I am very happy with my form. I've been going four or five hours on a daily program because I feel my game needs that kind of work. My adrenalin is pumping hard."

There was an undercurrent of hostility between the two lefthanders that was no gimmick. It was as obvious as a 200-watt light bulb covered by a flimsy curtain. When Connors was late for the Friday press conference, Laver was annoyed and needled him about not playing for the Davis Cup. When they left the Pavilion to go around to the front of the hotel to pose for photographs, they went in separate cars. When Connors overheard someone say, "Those bastards won the coin flip," he glared at the man and said, "Mister Bastard to you."

There were not many friendly moments, but one was provided by Vin Scully, the broadcaster for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who was making his first foray into tennis announcing. He was at courtside every day carefully doing his homework, digging for background and tidbits, just as he does in baseball.

" CBS went to a lot of time and expense to get me—for one reason," he said. "I'm left-handed."

The hassles followed in rapid succession, coming and going faster than the silver dollars in the casino—The Great Ball Dispute, The Great Can Opening Dispute, The Great Pipe Dispute and The Great Referee Dispute. All so earthshaking that they took the minds of public and press off the really vital news on the Strip—singer Paul Anka catching the flu, a bill being introduced in the State Assembly to outlaw silicone injections.

Connors found out that Laver was working out with Wilson heavy-duty balls when he had understood that Dun-lop balls would be used. Wilson won out, but no matter.

"Jimmy's grown up on Wilson balls," said Riordan, "and I'm sure he can use them for the match."

Then Laver wanted the cans of balls to be opened two days before the match, so that they would not be so lively in Las Vegas' high altitude. Connors said he had never heard of such a thing and that the cans of balls should be opened just before consumption, like beer or black cherry soda. There was a coin flip to decide, and Emerson, deputized to call for Laver, called it right. The pressure on the balls, at least, would be off two days early. Then there was the crucial matter of the pipe which divided the court in half directly under the net. Would a ball dribbling over the net and bouncing off this pipe be in play? Yes, under certain conditions, said Laver. Under no conditions, said Connors, whose opinion prevailed.

"Laver wants everything his way," said Connors." He's like a big baby."

When Pancho Gonzales, the tennis director at Caesars, was named as referee, Connors and Riordan protested and made noises about calling off the match, which no one believed. Naturally, Laver leaned in the opposite direction.

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