At midweek Newcombe cast aside all regard for taste and joined the Vegas-inspired flakkery. From his ranch in San Antonio he riddled his adversary with verbal abuse. "Connors has no class," Newcombe said. "Tell Chris Evert I'm going to beat her man and then teach him how to dance as a favor to her. She'll know what I mean."
Promoter Riordan, back home in Maryland, must have shouted with glee at that one. But before Connors could get in a counterblow, his opponent in the Denver semis, Sandy Mayer, replied. "Newcombe was vulgar," he said. "All he does is go around sticking his head in front of TV cameras at basketball half-times. This whole thing is getting worse than two fight pugs shoving each other on the Mike Douglas show."
Connors' first appearance on the WCT tour was enough of a curiosity. Though he encountered no malice, there was an undercurrent of tension whenever "the James Gang," as Connors calls himself and his retinue, encountered the peer group. Connors and his doubles partner, Bob Kreiss, stayed at a different hotel from the rest of the players and dressed and changed there rather than in the locker room. But Connors was always on his best behavior. "I don't want these guys to think I'm invading their territory," he said.
Laver, whose dislike for Connors knows few bounds, didn't want to pose for publicity pictures with Jimbo, but that was the only thing approaching an incident. Ray Moore even invited Connors to a player "roast" on Thursday night at the Colorado Mine Company, a restaurant that WCT had taken over as their basic eat-drink-and-talk-to-foxy-ladies headquarters.
Connors would have gone, too, were it not that his doubles match with the Chileans, Jaime Fillol and Patricio Cornejo, went on and on and he was drained. That match, in which Connors and Kreiss were ahead 4-0 in the third set tie break only to lose 5-7, had the crowd on its feet and WCT officials practically bellowing for a Connors defeat.
In singles Connors raced through the field with the loss of only one set (to the articulate hippie, Moore). It was obvious that his presence alone was affecting the play of others.
First, it appeared Connors would meet Tanner, the defending champion, in the quarters. But Roscoe, looking ahead, went down at the hands of Thomaz Koch. Then, with a Gerulaitis-Connors semifinal and a Laver-Connors final looming on the horizon, suspicion reared its ugly head. Cynics believed Connors was sure to tank to his friend, the 20-year-old Gerulaitis. This defeat would aid Vitas on his late run for points to gain the May WCT playoffs in Dallas while at the same time avoid a match (perhaps a loss) to a revived Laver, which might diminish interest in Vegas/Newcombe.
Connors dispatched such talk with venom. "C'mon, dammit," he said. "Whoever says I tank will get punched in his chops. I hate losing more than I love winning."
Such speculation became academic anyway when Gerulaitis folded against Mayer after Laver was upset by his Egyptian nemesis, Ismail El Shafei. Then Gottfried beat El Shafei to reach the final against Connors, who had put away Mayer 6-4, 6-1.
Connors' shots in that confrontation were matched only by his angled licks at Newcombe. "My mom and dad and Chrissie always tell me to respect my elders," he said, "but Mr. Newcombe makes it very difficult. How can a 30-year-old act like such a baby? He must be scared."