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Connors did, in fact, play brilliantly in the preliminaries. Dibbs said, "Jimmy is attacking more than I've ever seen him." With Wimbledon and Forest Hills to come, Jimmy was also attacking his conditioning. After beating Dibbs, he didn't even stick around to scout Stockton, preferring to "go back to my room, get a massage, have a couple beers and watch television."
Connors vs. Stockton made a classic confrontation. Clown prince vs. stoic. Champion little man vs. challenging big man. At 6'2�", 180 pounds, Stockton was the biggest player in the tournament. Connors the slightest at 151 pounds. Connors does not beat anybody with his serve. He does it with tenacity, quickness and with stinging, deeply hit ground strokes, especially off his two-fisted backhand. He has always hit his forehand a little flat, and the tendency is to attack him there, make him run to it. So much for vulnerability. He actually makes fewer errors, on the average, with his forehand. And, of course, he is at his savage best when the chips are down.
As a quick knockout artist, Connors said he would prefer getting Stockton over with quickly. "The longer the match goes, the less I will like it," he said. "But I know what it is to play five sets." He accepted Stockton's recent triumphs ("It wouldn't be any fun if I won all the time"), but said he did not consider him a growing threat, "just another guy I play. A very serious, very intense opponent." He grinned. "But I think I can make him smile if I want to."
Connors got his smiles, but mostly he coaxed from Stockton the resolve that marked his earlier matches. There is no telling how much those marathons had taken from Stockton ("One night of sleep out of three isn't bad," he said), but whatever was left Connors slashed from him with a barrage of exquisite pressure shots that broke open what one British television commentator heralded as a "thundering he-man's match—tennis in boxing gloves."
Stockton won the tense 58-minute first set in a tie breaker, chasing Connors wide with aggressive first and second serves and boldly attacking Jimmy's service. But Connors got the match's first service break in the second game of the second set, and Stockton's play abruptly flagged. He began hitting one loose shot after another, spraying them around the court's perimeter, and Connors' superior quickness made Stockton look tired and weak. From then on it was all Connors.
The winner got $100,000 for his time, plus a redundant $1,000 wardrobe and a diamond pendant for his lady. The tournament drew record crowds—capacity of 9,000-plus at SMU's Moody Coliseum for the semifinals and finals—and was well handled. The WCT format still leaves a lot to be desired, however. Not all the best players participate in every one of the 12 preliminary tournaments, and some do not participate at all. Bjorn Borg pulled out in January, "breaking a promise," said Hunt. Connors himself had never played in it before. "But I've heard a lot about it," he said grandly. Hunt perked up Jimbo's ears by guaranteeing him $750,000 just for playing in the WCT series. Because Jimmy's WCT earnings after last weekend totaled $258,123 for the year, that meant only $491,877 would have to come out of Hunt's deep pocket.
The WCT's place in the overall confusion of professional tennis' strata and substrata is, nonetheless, hard to fix. Even the players don't seem to have it quite figured out, except when the nitty-gritty is applied. For example, Dibbs, when beaten by Connors in the semis, did not fancy having to stick around for the solitary third-place match on Saturday. He wanted to go home.
"What's the difference, anyway, between third and fourth place?" he asked.
"Eight thousand dollars," he was told.
"I think I'll stay," he said.