SI Vault
Curry Kirkpatrick
September 18, 1978
And, appropriately enough, it was at the Meadow, the U.S. Open's new home, that Jimmy Connors walloped his nemesis to win the title and to vindicate himself
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 18, 1978

He Mowed Borg Down

And, appropriately enough, it was at the Meadow, the U.S. Open's new home, that Jimmy Connors walloped his nemesis to win the title and to vindicate himself

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

•In the course of the evening Walts' father. Ken, climbed into the players' box and warned Vilas' coach, Ion Tiriac, about the new, never-enforced "no coaching" rule. The two exchanged angry words, after which Walts Sr. took a position two seats from Tiriac and stared him down the rest of the night as, on the court, a puzzled Vilas searched in vain for his coach's signals.

•After he had surrendered his title, 6-4, 7-6, 4-6, 6-7, 6-2, just before midnight, Vilas walked away, painfully concerned about the direction of his career. "This is new kind of game," he said. "I don't know. I have to change. But what is the price?"

Tournament scalpers could have charged any price for the second breathtaking match of the week. Or rather, for the single most breathtaking shot of any week, a stroke of manufactured genius that James Scott Connors happened to pull off just in time to defeat La Dolce Vita himself, Adriano Panatta, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 7-5.

The situation was this. After Connors had blocked back approximately 486 of his opponent's oppressive serves and overheads; after Panatta had forgotten about Queens groupies or pizza parlors or whatever it is that normally causes him to play like a zombie on American courts; after he twice went ahead a break in the fifth set and served for the match at 5-4; after a screaming and strutting Jimbo positively lathered two winning returns to break back, tie the match and then hold serve to go ahead 6-5; after all this, they came to sundown.

In the 12th game, Panatta fell behind 0-40, triple match point. But he saved two of them and then—whap!—he burned in a second serve that Connors couldn't handle. Again it was tied, and again Panatta faltered. Match point No. 4. This one Panatta saved with a ferocious ace.

After two more deuces it happened. Panatta thought he had ended a wondrous rally with a crosscourt volley that went bounding at least 10 feet out. But Connors scrambled desperately after the ball, caught up, reached behind him and somehow managed to rip a rare one-handed backhand on the run around the net post and inches inside the sideline. On the next point Panatta double-faulted to lose the match.

The brilliant save not only lifted Connors over his toughest hurdle on the way to Borg, but it also inspired him to grant an audience to the press, those lowlife sleazes whom Connors had sworn not to recognize for the duration of the tournament. Except for witnessing—and reporting—the charming Jimbo dropping his pants in front of 150 spectators in a practice session, the Fourth Estate had been rendered wordless for two weeks while Connors rushed with his lackeys from the court to a waiting limousine and disappeared into Manhattan.

Following his survival against Panatta, however, Connors relented. "That's as good a match as I can play," he said. "The backhand? I knew I'd get to it but I didn't know what I could do with it. It almost took the net judge's head off. I'm fired up. I've been fired up all summer [his match record up to the final was 38-1]. They're going to have to take this one away from me. They all know that."

That they all did, too. Brian Gottfried, who had not lost a set while cruising through the toughest quarter of the draw, and John McEnroe, the precocious punk next door who had disposed of an exhausted Walts, both collapsed in straight sets before the Connors onslaught in the quarters and semis. Said Gottfried, "Fighting Ali might be tougher."

Meanwhile, Borg was first toying with and then destroying Raul Ramirez, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-0, and Gerulaitis, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6, in his warmups for the final.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4