According to a recent survey conducted by M. T. (Rip) Off, the well-known former garage mechanic turned sports pollster, 25% of the human race approve of World Heavyweight Championship Tennis Challenge Matches staged in Quonset huts in front of droopy-eyed celebrities wondering who made them wake up so early; 23% do not; 15% are undecided; 30% "couldn't care less"; 5% favor reruns of The Montefuscos; and the remaining 2% prefer Milton Shapp.
Be that as it may, and through circumstances nobody seems able to control, there was another one in Las Vegas last Saturday. This time it was brought to us in living boredom by CBS-TV, Caesars Palace, the one and only Bill Riordan and all the other usual suspects. If it had been a prizefight, they would have stopped it; a play, they would have closed it. Somebody—anybody—should have been ashamed.
After the left-handed American Jimmy Connors got through whipping the left-handed Spaniard Manuel Orantes in about 10 minutes, everyone agreed the actual challenge was to stay awake during the 6-2, 6-1, 6-0 affair.
"I played today the way I'd like to play forever," said Connors.
"Sure, it embarrass me to not put on good job, but this thing sometime happen," said Orantes.
As it was, both men cleared well over the $250,000 advertised as the winner's share. Somebody figured Connors' total haul—including TV moneys, motion picture rights, book advances, radio re-broadcasts and bubble-gum-card royalties—must work out to more than $20,000 a game. (And they say pro basketball players are overpaid.)
This supposedly classic matchup between slugger and stick-and-jab artist materialized after Orantes upset Connors at Forest Hills last September by employing tricks, wits and guile, not to mention a few delicate rainbow lobs and the softest underspin junk this side of the public parks.
In his U.S. Open victory, Orantes managed to lull Connors into lazy rallies, waiting until his impatient opponent made a move on a short ball before either passing him with lethal backhands or wearing him down with top-spin lobs. But in Las Vegas the Spaniard did not have any soft clay on which to run and slide nor soft skies in which to lift his balloonlike floaters.
Surrounded by the charming airplane-hangar ambience and stumbling around on the faster Supreme Court surface, Orantes appeared to be a man on a long mescaline voyage. A couple of times early in the match, Manolo was so tight he barely got the racket around on Connors' high-kicking serves.
On the other side of the net the defending champion came out smoking, not joking, determined to establish a fast pace and attain length on his shots, especially from the backhand. Though Connors has yet to prove he can play well when he gets behind, on the lead he is as tough as anybody has ever been.