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Well the game of tennis finally got a new Jimbo. Yes, sir. Just in time to make the new U.S. Open, too. First the new Jimbo bared his rear end to the spectators. Then he raised his middle finger to the sky, pointing out something or other to the officials. Mostly the new Jimbo refused to talk to some people with pencils and microphones. And he cursed and ran off to hide in a big car with his friends. Oh, yeah, the new Jimbo also kicked the living daylights out of Bjorn Borg to win the tournament. What's that? Oh, it was the old Jimmy Connors who did all those things? Oh. Sorry.
There have been as many new Jimbos as new Nixons, of course. But old or new, Jimmy Connors last week did what a lot of people were saying he was no longer capable of doing. When his nearly perfect 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 dismantling of Borg was over, Connors had not only blurred his nemesis' grand vision of the Grand Slam, but he had also lifted himself back onto that lofty plateau that both men seem to take turns occupying high above their fellow practitioners of the sport.
To explain the charade that Connors and Borg made of still another major championship, it is necessary to understand that the U.S. Open—which this year moved to a new stretch of New York cement from its old Har-Tru home at Forest Hills—could just as well be played on parquet, Sealy Posturepedic, Crunchy Granola, anything—and it would still come down to the same two finalists.
There would be Connors raging and snorting and charging himself into a frenzy, and there would be Borg shrugging his shoulders and falling asleep as they marched in tandem into the record books. This time the man marching in front turned out to be Connors.
Surely Borg's straight-set thrashing of Connors at Wimbledon last July was an embarrassment that Jimbo seemed determined to exorcise in the very first game. Connors came out blazing, forced five break points, and though he didn't win the marathon 20-point game, he gave notice that there was more of the same to come.
Relentless on the attack, Jimbo broke Bjorn's serve early in each set—the fifth game, then the third, then the third again. He slashed penetrating returns, brushed the corners with ground strokes and covered all of Borg's angled offerings with lunging volleys. Connors' pressure had Borg looking hangdog even before he could decide how much his blistered right thumb would affect the outcome.
Borg had taken an injection in the thumb ("a long-acting anesthetic," the doctor called it) earlier, and the thumb undoubtedly bothered him—he double-faulted five times and on two other serves the racket flew from his hand, landing by the net. But in the face of Connors' spectacular performance—"such great tennis, such force, such aggression. I don't know if I've ever put on so much pressure for so long," Jimbo said afterward—Borg might have looked all thumbs anyway. Not once did Borg break serve. Not once did he even earn a break point against Connors' improved flattened-out deliveries. In a reversal of their usual form, Connors fired in 80% of his first serves, Borg 58%.
'The thumb didn't make any difference," Borg said afterward with a less-than-reassuring grin. Of the lightning-quick rubberized asphalt court he had been complaining about all week, he said, "Jimmy was born on this stuff. This is his court. I saw he was on top of his game from the beginning. There was not much I could do."
For those who wished to avoid the scenes of carnage left by Connors and Borg en route to the final, there was plenty to do just concentrating on the pluses and minuses and question marks of the USTA's all-new, all red-white-and-blue National Tennis Center, a $10 million, 16-acre, 34-court (indoors and outdoors) complex to which the American championships had been moved after 54 years on the hallowed grounds of the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills.
Flushing Meadow is barely a topspin lob over the delicatessens from Forest Hills, so of course there is no meadow. (There was no forest and no hills at the tournament's old home, either.) But what with large, open plazas, scattered groves of sycamores, wide walkways and the towering eight-story Louis Armstrong Stadium seating 20,000. Flushing Meadow seemed to have solved the problem posed by Forest Hills' small, impossibly cramped facilities. As to how the U.S. Open could possibly maintain any tradition in this bustling, noisy new site, an obscure 20-year-old South African named Johan Kriek said it all after he had won his fourth match of the tournament. "I can't believe I'm in the quarterfinals at Forest Hills," Kriek said. Kriek had never even seen Forest Hills, much less played there.