Waiting For John McEnroe. That play has been running for some time now. Since summer, 1977: TEENAGER REACHES WIMBLEDON SEMIS. Since fall, 1978: KID UPSETS BORG IN SWEDE'S HOMETOWN. Since winter, 1979: JUNIOR STOPS CONNORS ON DEFAULT.
It was in the warm springtime of Dallas last week that the waiting ended. In two extraordinary matches that should be frozen forever, or at least replayed in every teaching clinic, the 20-year-old McEnroe positively overwhelmed Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg back to back to win the WCT finals.
On Friday night, after McEnroe rid the tournament of his personal demon Connors in straight sets, the loser was sufficiently humiliated to hire a private plane to whisk him out of town before midnight. Then on Sunday afternoon McEnroe took the fight to Borg, ripping apart the green Supreme Court surface with his stiletto service, deftly maneuvering his opponent to every nook and cranny of SMU's Moody Coliseum, ultimately using his deft touch and angled placements to defeat the world champion 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6.
Through the first 27 games of the final, both McEnroe's and Borg's deliveries were so effective that only two games got to deuce. Then, from 2-2 in the third set McEnroe swept four games, at first slowing the pace with balloon balls to confuse Borg and break him in the sixth game, then warding off two break points to hold serve in the seventh.
"I could see Bjorn was tired, mentally tired," McEnroe said. But the dogged Swede kept throwing aces and serving out love games. Two of those earned Borg a 5-3 lead in the fourth set. At deuce, on McEnroe's serve, Borg was two points from tying the match, but again he couldn't handle Junior's slashing spinners from the service line. A game later at 5-4, Borg aced McEnroe and passed him down the line to come to deuce twice more. But he could come no further. After Borg's backhand approach flew long and a McEnroe backhand drive grazed the line, Junior had the sixth, the last and the most crucial break of the match.
"I felt slow and always too late," Borg said later. "When you play John you have to be absolutely on top of your game, or you lose immediately."
Though the tie-break was taut and fiery, Borg's first serve had long since deserted him. When McEnroe kept hauling out his trunkload of shots in the overtime session, Borg must have realized—as Connors had two days before—that McEnroe's immense talent and court sense had brought him to the top much sooner than expected.
World Championship Tennis has fallen on hard times, what with a curtailed circuit of eight tournaments plus a championship and no live network television contract. But, surprisingly, last week Lamar Hunt and his brown-blazered minions were throwing lavish parties, providing cushy limousines and trotting out fabulous celebrities—Tom Landry, Princess Caroline and old, back-from-the-dead himself, Frankie Avalon. Just as surprising was that Borg, Connors and McEnroe were ready, willing and able to play in the same tournament for the second week in a row.
Before the first serve had been delivered, however, sure enough Connors informed tournament officials that he had suffered an infected callus on the little finger of his left hand while playing the previous week in Las Vegas, where he lost to Borg in the finals of something called the Alan King Caesars Palace Tennis Classic. Connors' finger got him a day's delay for his first-round match against Gene Mayer, and the McEnroe- John Alexander match was moved up to open the tournament on Tuesday. On cue, the younger of tennis' lefthanded children of churl began to squawk.
"I thought I was getting two days' rest," McEnroe beefed. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm still playing Wednesday. It's not my fault he's got a blister. I've got things wrong with me, but I'm not going to hope people feel sorry for me. I've got a callus on my hand. I've got blisters on my feet. I'm calling my father. He'll handle it with the WCT people."