"Got to go now," Hammond called down from the chair.
"If that's the case, Frank, I can't make it," Connors said.
With that, McEnroe, in order, threw down his racket in disgust, walked over to shake Connors' hand, then went back out onto the court and raised his arms on high to the crowd of 16,100 as if to say, "So what? Let's hear it for me anyway." He heard it. Later McEnroe said, "I'll take it. A win over Connors is a win over Connors."
However hollow, that is what it was, all right, a win. And just like that the tournament was over three days before it was truly over, which isn't the most outr� occurrence to befall the event.
Set up to unify international tennis by connecting selected tournaments by means of bonus points and prize money, the Grand Prix originated in 1970, with the Masters as its culminating playoff. The first two Masters were uneventful: then, chaos. In Barcelona the ball boys punched holes in the balls with ice picks. In Boston the line umpires went on strike just before the final. In Melbourne swirling winds and 120� temperatures plagued the contestants. Then came the defaults: in Stockholm Ashe and Ilie Nastase were defaulted from the same match. In Houston Raul Ramirez was defaulted, then reinstated by the then-sponsor, the Commercial Union Insurance Co. Last year, with the tournament now under the banner of Colgate-Palmolive, Bjorn Borg and Guillermo Vilas both found a loophole in the rules and, claiming they were suffering from various maladies, defaulted round-robin matches, presumably in order to rest for the semifinals. Thus the new rule which eliminated Connors this year: any player who fails to start or finish a match is out.
For a long time there was some question whether Connors would even be in. Neither Borg nor Vilas nor Jimbo had played in the requisite number of tournaments to be eligible for bonus-pool money in 1978. Angered by this rule, Borg and Vilas gave notice that they would not grace the Masters. Ultimately, however, Connors was prevailed upon to save the tournament and the sponsor and—gasp—tennis itself. (Connors emphatically denied reports that what induced him to change his mind was a chunk of appearance money.) He also must have been prevailed upon to notice that New York and the Masters might be a nice forum to express his displeasure at the 1979 Grand Prix rules, to which he and Borg and Vilas—not to mention McEnroe and Vitas Gerulaitis—also strenuously object.
Specifically, five of the top players in the game—as well as numerous spear carriers—had refused to sign up for the Grand Prix circuit (making them ineligible for all Grand Prix tournaments, including such mini-events as Wimbledon and the U.S. Open), because of their disagreement with several regulations, the most oppressive of which required them to play in six tournaments designated by the Men's International Professional Tennis Council. The Association of Tennis Professionals, the players' union which the five have never seen fit to join, obviously hoped to isolate Connors and convince him of the error of his ways. But the ATP didn't reckon with John McEnroe Sr., a Wall Street lawyer who was incensed by the new rules. He and a group of players' representatives sat down with the Pro Council.
"I'm not used to being dumped on in my business," McEnroe Sr. said. And sure enough, the outcome of the meeting was that the deadline for the players' signing was extended from Jan. 10 to March 5, by which time a compromise may be worked out.
Meanwhile, back at Madison Square Garden there wasn't a whole lot else that Connors and McEnroe Jr. could agree on. The fun started when Connors warned the media against getting excited about his rival. "Remember, he's still a young boy," Jimbo said of McEnroe. "When I was young and won the U.S. Pro, everybody said I was lucky. Maybe luck doesn't mean as much anymore. McEnroe will be good practice for me."
Informed of this compliment, McEnroe replied that Connors "is in a good position to say that. I just hope it's a great match. I don't want to win 1 and 1. I'd rather win 7-5 in the third."