The continuing saga of the multi-talented and semi-precious left-handed litigant, Jimmy Connors, reached a milestone in the Mile High City last week. Rampaging into Denver like an April blizzard, Connors, in what seemed a matter of seconds, entered his first WCT tournament ever, bluffed John Newcombe out of it, angered Rod Laver in it, terrified two television networks and caused mental anguish to so many seeded players it was a miracle anybody was left to play him in the final.
The one who was, Brian Gottfried, went down 6-3, 6-4. As Connors is fond of saying, it was a week of "31 losers and me."
Having been hit with myotasis—"call it chest pains," the winking Jimbo said—and laid up for a while, Connors wanted to play Denver as a competitive warm-up for this week's rendition of the Match of the Millennium with Newcombe at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The hitch was that Newcombe also had applied to play Denver for the same reason. The prospect of their meeting in the final on Sunday afternoon left officials of NBC, which regularly televises WCT events, gulping oxygen in bewildered ecstasy and forced CBS, the network for the Vegas match, into alternate paroxysms of fear and loathing.
Aware of Connors' unequaled record in the subtle art of disappearing—in tennis, they call this a default—Denver tournament director Ray Benton insisted that Jimbo and Newk post a $12,000 appearance bond if they wanted to play. "I was skeptical," said Benton. "Was Connors using us? Would he show, or was it a con? My concern was he would drive Newcombe out and then quit himself, and I'd lose both of them."
Bill Riordan, Connors' big-bout manager, said, "The Vegas match was getting dull with Newcombe losing all the time. We needed to hype the gate. Anyway, my man needs the work." Then Riordan rushed back east to watch old films of Cus D'Amato in action.
Before the tournament, WCT Blue Group regulars were amused by the entire charade. Bets were placed on what round Connors and/or Newcombe would either default or dump—in tennis, they call this a tank—to avoid facing each other. "It's probably worth 12 thou to them to play a couple of matches, then go home," said Vitas Gerulaitis.
Laver, who is in a death-lock struggle with Arthur Ashe for WCT's $33,000 regular-season top prize from Haggar slacks, stood to be hurt by a loss to one of the interlopers. He called Connors "a spoiled brat" and said it was unfair of WCT to let Connors or Newcombe play.
When Connors heard all this grumbling, he offered to buy his victims "a pair of Haggars" to soothe the wounds, an announcement that nearly shellshocked the slacks company. "We've been sponsoring WCT for two years and none of these turkeys has mentioned our name yet," one Haggar official was heard to say. "I'm sending Connors a dozen pair. What's his waist size?"
If Connors is the epitome of evil to many of the players (who are sharing the legal costs of a $10 million lawsuit he has filed against the Association of Tennis Professionals), Newcombe is not exactly their Mister Marvelous. Even his fellow Australians regard Newcombe as something of a "Jack Man" (after the British phrase, "I'm all right, Jack," meaning selfish, looking out only after one's own interests), and one player called him "the cockiest guy around, cockier than Connors."
When Newcombe canceled his appearance in Denver, the players agreed that Connors had "outjacked" the Aussie. "A typical Riordan-Connors gambit," Charlie Pasarell called it. "Jimmy made a fool of Newk, a laughing stock."