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From the same hardy New England folks who gave us maple syrup, granite and the empty Senate seat came a nifty little tennis tournament that should be painted in watercolor and preserved on a postcard.
Rod Laver called it "just a little country hit." Ken Rosewall commuted to it in a twin-engine airplane. And Jimmy Connors and Ilie Nastase shared a condominium cabin in the woods while growing mustaches and dazzling the neighborhood laundromat.
Called the Volvo International and played at the brand-new Mount Cranmore Tennis and Recreation Club, which is nestled in the breathtaking hills of New Hampshire, it is just another stop on the Commercial Union Grand Prix summer circuit. But last week, as one weaved through the scores of Swedish sponsor cars honking along the quaint streets of North Conway, it became obvious that the Volvo International was something very special.
The town is a bit of Gstaad and Kitzb�hel and H�nsel and Gretel all rolled into one. The site was a just-completed 8,200-seat stadium bulldozed out of the south slope of Mount Cranmore, whose bleacher seats had no sooner been hammered in the day before the tournament than hang-gliders and turf skiers and freshly planted gardens and six ducks in a pond appeared over the horizon. The world's only sit-down tramway skimobile was a few yards away from court-side, and the players relaxed in the shade of a skiers' first-aid station.
The whole unique scene, in fact, threatened to overshadow what was happening on the slow European-style red clay courts. Until the weekend. Then the rain stopped, the sun came out and a dream of a draw produced a set of bloodcurdling rematches the likes of which network television honchos and multimillionaire Las Vegas entrepreneurs would have given their safari jackets for.
These turned out to be Connors vs. Laver in a summer rerun of that old TV game-show favorite Greed and Loathing at the Challenge Match, and Rosewall vs. Nastase in another installment of the April Battle of Tucson, in which the Rumanian pulled off perhaps his finest heist in a lifetime of unsportsmanlike artistry.
When Connors and Rosewall emerged from this state of affairs—Connors winning 6-4, 6-4, Rosewall surviving every form of trickery and weaponry from Nastase short of a machine gun to win 7-5, 1-6, 7-6—North Conway had itself a replay of the 1974 Wimbledon and Forest Hills finals.
The supposition was that the mucky pudding of a surface would enhance the sly chipping artistry of Rosewall and enable him to avenge those debacles in which he won but eight games in six sets against Connors. But on Sunday Connors proved he was a Red Dirt Cowboy on the slow stuff as well as Captain Fantastic on grass. He never let Rosewall up, and won 6-2, 6-2.
The first set was easy, and the second set even easier as Connors gave up only one point in four service games. That one came in the last game and saved Rosewall a match point, but on the next rally he flipped a backhand into the net and the slaughter was over.
Connors' youth still is a major factor in his confrontations with representatives of the Australian Antique Show. At 22 he is 18 years younger than Rosewall, and after his semifinal victory over an obviously off-form Laver, both men dwelt on the miseries of age.