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America's longest-running tragicomedy, Waiting for Jimbo, came to a breathtaking conclusion in a Davis Cup match in Tucson last weekend when a Venezuelan named Humphrey Hubert Hose struck two serves that appeared to have been unloaded from a Gatling gun past an American named James Scott Connors.
Connors looked puzzled, then retreated to the back fence, wagged a finger, shook his Raggedy Andy locks and did a tiny jig. Eighty billion controversy fans, not to mention a few USTA officials sweltering nearby in their blazers and button-downs, breathed a sigh of relief. For it was indeed true. Old Blue Mouth was back and the Davis Cup had a new life for the U.S.
If it seemed unlikely that Connors of Belleville, Ill., the Los Angeles freeways, Caesars Palace, Chris Event's heart, Manuel Orantes' palm and Paul Anka's vocal studios would make his first Davis Cup appearance on a turquoise-colored court in the middle of the burning desert battling against Venezuela, it really wasn't. Where else should a legendary patriot show up but in the land of Barry Goldwater? And what other match should a nervous rookie be thrown into but one against the 6'4" Hose, the best player ever to come off the island of Cura�ao?
All week Connors had admitted to a "special feeling" about Davis Cup play, but he didn't seem able to make up his mind just what the feeling was. One day he would say something like "It's great to be playing for 210 million Americans instead of just Jimmy Connors." Another day it was "super to be here with these guys helping each other in a team atmosphere." Finally, his debut as this country's cup savior was "no bigger than the finals of Wimbledon and Forest Hills or the first round of the Belleville Open, they're all big."
The sum total of these thoughtful pronouncements went a long way toward reassuring everybody that our Jimbo was indeed experiencing the strange and wondrous vibrations that evidently come over tennis players when they represent their country.
The atmosphere, the very aura of the event was exactly what cup adherents had been telling Connors he was missing since he left the team in 1972 (without playing any matches) because of differences with then- Captain Dennis Ralston. So it must have been satisfying even to old cup hands to see so tough a competitor as Connors consumed by butterflies as he opposed Hose in the second match of what was to become a U.S. rout of Venezuela.
Hose won love games the first two times he got his huge hands on serve and, in between, he took Connors to four break points before the shaky American finally held his own serve. Burly and unorthodox, Hose was batting his forehand with the grace of a bear falling off a log, but his service arrived like a tumbling redwood. With a combination of these serves, some slow, looping backhands, drop shots off his toes, net-cord winners and even one carry shot that officials failed to call, Hose broke Connors, held his own serve and, leading 4-1, came to two more break points in the sixth game for a possible 5-1 lead. On the first he rifled a forehand passing shot down the line that was barely out. On the second he set up Connors perfectly with soft stuff to the baseline only to rush net and miss an easy backhand volley. A wry grin crossed Hose's face, undoubtedly because he knew the spell was broken.
Connors, hitting strongly and with confidence now, won the game and ran out the match 6-4, 6-1, 6-3, literally beating the pants off his opponent. After the first set the popular Hose split his shorts and had to retire to the locker room for a change.
In the normal course of events, a Davis Cup second-round American zone match would have drawn only the occasional society-set groupies and a passing Gila monster to the Tucson Racquet and Swim Club. What made the event so special—and attracted sellout crowds of more than 6,000 all three days—was the magnetic presence of Connors. This and the public knowledge that in five of the last 10 years the U.S. team has gone up against enterprising Latins—who were supposed to be easy pickings—and ended up losing. Most recently, Colombia and Mexico handed the gringos their heads while Connors was off sulking and knocking over Las Vegas for a lot of ugly old money.
However, when the USTA replaced Ralston with Tony Trabert—a move subtly dictated if not outright demanded by Connors and his managerial Svengali, Bill Riordan—the prodigal son agreed to participate in 1976 cup play. It should be pointed out now that 1976 Davis Cup play begins a good three months before the conclusion of 1975 play in which Sweden will meet Czechoslovakia in the December finals.