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Following the early departure of Borg, Nastase et al., Roche was given the best chance to upset Connors, but though the veteran lefthander put up stiff resistance, he lost his fourth-round match to the defending champion 6-2, 6-2 and afterward admitted he "had no say" in the contest. Roche let it be known that he now rated Connors on a par with Rod Laver at his peak and that the American had only to play and win the European clay championships—Rome and Paris—to become "the best in history." This would not have been a shocking revelation except that it came from one of the great former Australian champions, a breed ever loath to pay Connors his due.
The damage that the new series of instant-hype, four-man quickie exhibition matches can wreak on established tournaments like Philadelphia, which boasts the strongest indoor field every year, was never more evident than on Wednesday. In the space of 90 minutes Borg, Nastase and Orantes (seeds two, three and four) were eliminated.
The surprised losers had arrived on the robin's-egg blue Supreme Court surface fresh from the soft Florida clay of the previous Sunday's Grand Slam. As had Adriano Panatta. As had Connors. While Nastase faked some TV announcing in Florida, the others competed for a first prize of $100,000, which must have made Philly's purse of 40 grand seem like just another Vuitton suitcase.
Connors would be favored under any conditions including, as Sandy Mayer said, "mud in the dark," but the other players simply could not adapt. Or could not motivate themselves. Or would not do either. In the second round Nastase performed his increasingly tiresome "I am a clown" routine before losing to the latest phenom, Bill Scanlon, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4; Orantes was defeated by doubles specialist Fred McNair 2-6, 7-6, 6-4, and Borg aimlessly gave away the last few games while being disposed of by Ray Moore 7-6, 6-4.
And by sundown the next day seeded players five, six and seven were also gone, those being Panatta, Harold Solomon and Eddie Dibbs. Two other possible drawing cards, Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith, never showed up, both claiming injuries. Yet Smith was seen the week before at the—you guessed it—Grand Slam hitting away in teaching clinics.
This puzzling business contrived to bring about the following exchange, which included the first nastiness ever recorded by the former teen angel, Borg.
Borg: "What exhibition? If you call that exhibition, then I don't answer you."
Barrett had a point, but so did Borg. Aside from his Wimbledon championship, Borg considered his victory over Connors the most important of his career. To label it an exhibition was to belittle the fruits of a magnificent struggle.
Connors, in effect, agreed. "An exhibition is fun, smiles," he said. "I fought my guts out against Bjorn. When we play, it's never an exhibition. It's death."